'Conservative Environmentalist' Discusses Restoration Work

Dan Dagget, former 'ecoradical,' recounts his shift in philosophy

October 05, 2010

By Matt McKinney '13

Self-described "conservative environmentalist" Dan Dagget disagrees with the approach of many environmentalists that people must first remove their own influence before any of nature's problems can be solved.

Dagget, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated author and founder and president of EcoResults!, presented a lecture at Knox College on September 27, titled "From Ecoradical to Conservative Environmentalist."

The event was part of the EquiKnox series of events sponsored by Knox College's Presidential Task Force on Sustainability.

Dagget, who is a respected force in land restoration, was named one of the top 100 grass-roots activists in the United States by the Sierra Club in 1992. He has written several books on environmental theory such as his 1992 work, Beyond the Rangeland Conflict: Toward a West That Works, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His most recent book, Gardeners of Eden: Rediscovering Our Importance to Nature, was published in 2005. Dagget has presented more than 100 lectures on topics ranging from environmental law to marketing advice for ranchers.

When he first began his work as an environmentalist, he was a self-described "ecoradical" who backed liberal environmental causes around the country. Dagget was a member of non-profit groups such as Save Our Rural Environment and EarthFirst!, which protested strip mining in Ohio and promoted wilderness land designation in Arizona.

However, Dagget's philosophy on environmentalism changed after spending years in the western United States observing alternative land restoration solutions.

"I knew about politics and I knew about the environmentalism that I read about, which said, ‘You shouldn't do this' and ‘You shouldn't do that,'" he said. "What I didn't know was how the ecosystem actually functioned."

Dagget soon learned about the intricacies of the ecosystem firsthand. He was influenced by several ranchers in Austin, Texas, who were extremely pleased with the methods they had developed to restore their land. Instead of vacating the barren, eroding soil to allow for independent recovery as conventional wisdom would suggest, they took action by planting seed and hay to attract their cattle.

The animals then roamed the land, providing natural fertilizer to promote growth. The results were staggering, he said, showing photographs to prove the point.

"Everyone was blown away," Dagget said. "It was the first time this was ever done, and a year later, that area had gone from the deadest place near Austin, to the greenest place." Watch the video to learn more about the project.

In introducing Dagget to the Knox audience, Tim Kasser, a professor of psychology and member of the Presidential Task Force on Sustainability, said that regardless of his politics, Dagget is "just as sure about the importance of sustainability and the environment" as anyone else.

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 45 states and 48 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.