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Check Dams Restore Watershed Life

Stonemasons build check dams to restore water to the West Turkey Creek watershed landscape while conserving the land.

| February/March 2020



We’re experiencing unbridled divisiveness in North America today. Yes, we’ve always had cultural differences, and those differences have inevitably led to social and political countercurrents as well as periodic conflicts. But that doesn’t mean we’re fated to live on a battleground where stalemates keep our best intentions from being realized.

Of particular concern to me is the palpable anger on either side of what James Gimpel has called “a gaping canyon-sized urban-rural chasm.” This urban-rural divide has reshaped both state and national elections into “us vs. them” battles to determine who controls access to natural resources and social services. Americans appear to be at war with one another rather than at work with one another.

Left: Waterway restoration project in Arizona site 10 check dam in 2009, looking upstream. Right: Site 10 check dam in 2012.

Individuals of all classes, races, and ethnicities have felt increasingly disempowered by the prevalence of top-down decision-making about lands, wildlife, and plants they’ve known and loved. In many cases, they’ve become disenfranchised from policymaking processes that ignore their local knowledge, dismiss their cultural or faith-based values, and disregard impacts on their livelihoods. Whenever I’ve visited rural communities over the past decade, I’ve overheard seething frustration that environmental decision-making was increasingly being done by some confederation of self-appointed experts who hardly seemed to care whether their communities were engaged. I could feel a perplexing disconnect between people’s love for their home ground and their disillusionment at having no ability to shape what would happen to it.

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