The Most Valuable Things

World and national affairs have moved a little closer to the Island these days. The state of the country is affecting everyone, rich and poor, young and old. And all hopes are now pinned on President Obama as he navigates a minefield of global and domestic problems so enormous, so beyond the grasp of everyday life that ordinary citizens can only sit back and read and watch in awe and wonder — and more than a little trepidation.

But happily the news is not all bad.

This week Mr. Obama signed into law a bipartisan bill that represents a giant stride for the land protection movement.

The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 grants wilderness status to two million acres of public land in nine states from California to West Virginia, and is the largest expansion of protected national wild lands in fifteen years.

Closer to home, the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, a charter member of the land trust movement on the Vineyard, celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year. A series of walks will go on throughout the year on the foundation’s many properties, from the original landholding in a quiet glade tucked in a residential neighborhood in Edgartown, to the ancient and spectacular Cedar Tree Neck on West Tisbury’s rugged and pristine north shore.

And as Sheriff’s Meadow, which was founded by the late editor of this newspaper, marks a milestone, it is a good time to pause and consider the importance of protecting the land, whether in the national parks of Utah or on the coastline of the two Islands, which at one time just over thirty years ago were considered for possible national park status themselves.

Listen to the words of the forty-fourth President:

“It is fitting that we meet on a day like this. Winter’s hardships are slowly giving way to spring, and our thoughts naturally turn to the outdoors. We emerge from the shelter offered by home and work, and we look around and we’re reminded that the most valuable things in this life are those things that we already possess.

“As Americans, we possess few blessings greater than the vast and varied landscapes that stretch the breadth of our continent. Our lands have always provided great bounty — food and shelter for the first Americans, for settlers and pioneers; the raw materials that grew our industry; the energy that powers our economy.

“What these gifts require in return is our wise and responsible stewardship. As our greatest conservationist, President Teddy Roosevelt, put it almost a century ago: ‘I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.’

“That’s the spirit behind the legislation I’m signing today — legislation among the most important in decades to protect, preserve, and pass down our nation’s most treasured landscapes to future generations.

“. . . This legislation — just to give you a sense of the scope — this legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments and wilderness areas for granted; but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share. That’s something all Americans can support.

“And that’s why so much of this legislation, some of it decades in the making, has the backing of Americans from every walk of life and corner of this country. Ranchers and fishermen, small business owners, environmentalists, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats on the local, state and federal levels — all united around the idea that there should be places we preserve; all doing the hard work of seeking common ground to protect the parks and other places that we cherish.

“We’re talking about places like Colorado, where this bill will realize a vision 35 years in the making by protecting the wild back country of Rocky Mountain National Park, which attracts three million visitors a year.

“Folks in communities around this park know they don’t have to choose between economic and environmental concerns; the tourism that drives their local economy depends on good stewardship of their local environment.”