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Sierra Club Conservation Policies


Agriculture -- the raising of plants and animals for food and fiber -- is an essential human activity. Its use of land, water, energy and other resources merits high priority, but its impacts on these resources are many and distribution of its benefits far from equitable. We must strive for an equitable and sustainable balance between human population and agricultural supply.

Goals: Agriculture must be carried out in an environmentally sound manner which:

  1. Protects land, soil, and water resources and maintains their long-term productivity.
  2. Conserves wilderness and other natural land and aquatic ecosystems.
  3. Protects genetic diversity.
  4. Reduces energy and materials input per unit of production.
  5. Minimizes dependence on manufactured chemicals.
  6. Promotes innovative techniques, such as low-energy, labor- intensive technologies; solar energy for crop drying; crop, livestock and sewage waste usage; minimum tillage; and  agricultural training for urban residents.
  7. Meets the essential nutritional needs of a balanced world population.
  8. Promotes long-term, stable associations of those who raise crops with the lands upon which their livelihood is based.

Land Use: Two trends are of intense concern: the loss of productive agricultural land to urban, industrial, and mining development and the conversion of marginal lands and underdeveloped areas to agricultural use.

  1. In general, land should not be converted from those agricultural uses which protect long-term resource productivity.
  2. In areas not now in agricultural use, land-use classifications and policies should be developed and implemented before conversion is permitted.
  3. Those seeking to convert land to other uses should bear the burden of proving that the proposed new use is more important to current and future public welfare and that there is no other feasible location for the proposed use.
  4. Comprehensive land-use planning is necessary to ensure a balance of lands for all purposes. It is important that there be wide public and professional participation in the planning process and that farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural professionals participate in land-use decisions.
  5. Zoning and land-division policy and practice should be restructured to serve as a substantive control over conversion of agricultural lands.
  6. Tax policy, to the extent that it encourages conversion of agricultural land, must be reformed. Examples include adoption of differential assessment and tax deferral techniques, restructuring of estate and inheritance taxes to promote continuity of family farming, and elimination of tax shelters.
  7. The concept that "highest and best use" of land and water resources is that which can pay the highest immediate price must be modified to reflect the long-term goal of preserving agricultural productivity and natural resources.
  8. Soil erosion control should be focused on prevention of the problem at its source. Special attention should be given to restoration of formerly productive eroded lands.
  9. In general, smaller, more diverse production units such as family farms, to the degree that they result in increased environmental responsibility, are preferable to the extensive monoculture characteristics of larger units.

Water: Agricultural use of water is of critical concern both quantitatively and qualitatively.

  1. A comprehensive water allocation policy is necessary in many regions to balance finite supplies between the needs of agriculture, industry, municipalities, recreation and ecosystem maintenance.
  2. In general, conversion of present or potential supplies of agricultural water to short-term industrial activities, such as mineral extraction and conversion, should be carefully limited.
  3. Use of water for any purpose should not result in undue loss of aquatic ecosystems, adverse effects on groundwater, or construction of storage and conveyance projects whose total social, economic and environmental costs exceed their benefit to society.
  4. Agriculture must strive for improved efficiency in water use and reuse.
  5. In water-deficient areas, proper grazing or dryland farming techniques are more acceptable than water-intensive agriculture which often involves interbasin water transportation, massive construction of new water works, and groundwater mining.
  6. Agricultural pollution control should be increased and should be preventative, being focused on the source and causes of contaminants
    rather than on elaborate downstream treatment facilities.
  7. Public irrigation water projects should be accountable for their full social, economic and environmental costs and these costs, in general, should be fully reflected in the price of water to the irrigators. Subsidies are not per se objectionable to the extent that they are used to advance specific public policy goals and are explicitly acknowledged.

Meat Production and Grazing: properly  regulated stock grazing is an acceptable activity on many of those public and private lands which are suitable for sustained-yield forage production.

  1. Rangelands should be managed to provide a sustained-yield forage which also supports healthy and diverse wildlife populations.
  2. Grazing fees on public lands should reflect the total social, economic and environmental costs of the use of this resource.
  3. Grazing and pasturage, which recycle animal wastes back into the soil and which have the potential to transform vast amounts of coarse forages into useable protein, are preferable to present large-scale feed-grain production and feedlot operations, which, while producing large quantities of meat protein, also have solid waste management problems, air and water pollution, and high energy use.
  4. Any control of predators should be aimed at individual problem animals.

Agricultural Chemicals: Overdependence on manufactured fertilizers and biocides, which has caused pollution of the environment, increased the energy intensiveness of agricultural production, induced increased disease and pest resistance, and increased human and animal morbidity and mortality, is of great concern.

  1. Fertilizers should be used sparingly, according to soil test recommendations for the specific crops to be grown.
  2. Crop residues and other natural fertilizers should be used in preference to manufactured fertilizers to the maximum extent possible.
  3. Dependence on environmentally damaging pesticides should be phased out in favor of natural management practices and biological pest controls.
  4. In growth and processing of food, application of chemicals to improve product appearance without significant qualitative contribution should be stopped.

F. Genetic Diversity: Diversity is an important factor in the stability and survival of all ecosystems.

  1. Agricultural practices which could destroy the gene pools preserved in diverse varieties of native and agricultural plants and animals must be controlled and discouraged.
  2. Diversity should be promoted so as to minimize large monocultures which are vulnerable to pests and disease.

    Adopted by the Board of Directors, February 21-22, 1976

Food Policy:

  1. Agriculture should optimize output of critical nutritional needs, rather than only maximizing  quantities per acre.
  2. Particularly in developed countries, there should be a reduction in excessive food consumption and waste patterns to allow maintenance of diet quality at lower   environmental cost. An important first step would be to develop a greater reliance on vegetable protein.
  3. Within environmental constraints, we must develop standby food reserves. However, efforts to expand drastically North American food production, at potentially great environmental cost, must be viewed with caution.
  4. In recognition of the excessive pressure that expanding populations place on prime and marginal agricultural lands, stabilization of population in all regions of the world should be a central focus in conserving the resources which sustain these populations.
  5. Greater reliance on indigenous foods should be encouraged so as to minimize transportation of agricultural products. Research  into fruit, vegetable, grain and fish varieties which will grow in various climates should be encouraged.
  6. Where the export to developed countries of agricultural products from a developing country adversely affects the ability of that country to meet its own nutritional needs, such export should be curtailed.
  7. Use of highly processed, or so-called "convenience foods," should be discouraged, as these are wasteful of nutritional values, processing energy, and packaging materials.

Research and Education: To attain the goals of this policy, there is a need for a basic redirecting of agricultural research and education at all levels, including the agricultural extension system.

  1. The teaching of agriculture, and other associated educational activities, should emphasize restoration and maintenance of land productivity, while minimizing dependence on energy-intensive practices.
  2. Research should be promoted which develops productive agricultural practices based on (a) low-energy alternatives, (b) water conservation practices that would reduce irrigation requirements, and which would (c)maintain long-term sustained yield for soil and water.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 1-2, 1976

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