Snow, Citizens, and Stewards

It has recently been announced that Steven E. Snow will replace Marlin K. Jensen as the new Church historian. Elder Jensen has been a wonderful historian for our church, bringing both compassion and honesty to the work.I expect this good work will continue under Elder Snow’s direction. I am curious to see what his areas of emphasis will be. I wonder if one of those areas might deal with the pioneers’ settling of West and environmental issues because in the past, Elder Snow has written on this particular stewardship topic.Elder Snow wrote an essay published in New Genesis entitled “Skipping the Grand Canyon.” In it, he reflected on the struggle to survive his grandfather Erastus faced when colonizing the St. George Valley under the direction of Brigham Young. He wrote that although those “early settlers didn’t appreciate the beauty of southern Utah, they preserved it” (243). That preservation was done out of necessity, not out of an aesthetic appreciation. Without careful stewardship, especially of the agricultural lands, those pioneer settlers would not have survived.

We are no longer an agrarian society, no longer tied so closely to the land that we feel immediately the effects of our stewardship, for good or bad. Part of that may be because we own such tiny little pieces of land instead of family farms, grazing ranges, and ranches. Even if I do everything I can to improve on my own .21-acre lot in downtown Provo, even if in that small realm, I am the perfect steward, I will have a negligible impact on the larger environment of which I am a part.

For that reason, much as I hate to admit it, stewardship cannot be a completely private enterprise. I own little land myself, but I am a citizen of a country that owns vast tracks of land, much of it in my own state, administered by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the  National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. And although my vote, my voice may be just as insignificant in shaping the policies that govern the use of that public land as my .21 acres is relative to the 1900 million acres of the contiguous United States, I still have a obligation to speak up, because that is a real exercise of stewardship in our country today. The fact that we don’t personally own the land neither excuses us when we fail to speak against environmentally destructive policies nor protects us from the ill effects of such use. We must come together collectively as stewards or suffer collectively the loss and damage allowed by our disagreement and apathy.

I don’t know what the best policies are concerning public land use, preservation, and development. I suspect that they would best be decided locally by people who balance immediate gains with long term needs. I do know that unless we have the discussion, and weigh our interests against our obligations, we cannot claim to be good stewards.

Elder Snow did not explicitly advocate political action in his essay. He did, however, talk about stewardship in relationship to our roles as citizens.

“I believe the Lord expects up to act as good stewards. We have many stewardships, not only in our family, church, and citizenship responsibilities but also in temporal things. That principle is clear in LDS scripture:

I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine…

Behold, all these properties are mine,…And if the properties are mine, then ye are stewards; otherwise ye are no stewards. (D&C 104:14, 55-56)

…it is required of the Lord, at the hand of every steward, to render an account of his stewardship, both in time and in eternity. For he who is faithful and wise in time is accounted worthy to inherit the mansions prepared for him of my Father. (D&C 72:3-4)

As Mormons we tend to focus on our ecclesiastical and family stewardships, which is well and good. But I believe we will also be held accountable for how we treat one another, the community in which we live, the land that surrounds us, even the earth itself (244).

I welcome Elder Snow as our new historian, and I’m thankful for the opportunity his appointment has given me review his essay and reflect on my own stewardship responsibilities as a member of the Church and a citizen of the United States.
New Genesis. Terry Tempest Williams, William B. Smart, Gibbs M. Smith, eds. 1998. (Apparently the one circulating copy owned by the Provo City Library was stolen from the stacks. The other copy housed in special collections is available for perusal, but not for checking out.)

8 comments for “Snow, Citizens, and Stewards

  1. Looks like Elder Snow has an interesting background, thanks for highlighting this.

    The supply side solutions of land conservation is a big piece of the stewardship puzzle, but I’d also call out the importance of recognizing our ability to shape the demand side of the equation by encouraging good local land use policies and infrastructure are in place to ensure we don’t chew up land in an imbalanced way (which has happened all over the country, as numerous studies have clearly shown).

    To bring it local to your circumstances, a conservation mindset within Provo would look something like this: enable the development of places that will satisfy the growth demands of the region in a way that reduces growth pressures on the fringe. Unless you want your kids and grandkids living in Scipio and removed physically, economically, and socially from the benefits and services you enjoy as a Provo resident (or any other urban center, big or small), this has to happen.

    Incidentally, study after study are showing this is what the private market (milennials and boomers especially) is demanding this and outdated government regulations at the local level are often what is preventing it. Local governments are often mistakenly accused of “social engineering” with these types of efforts. In reality, they are simply “re-engineering” in response to market forces.

    Enacting this sort of change at the local level is a lot more attainable for average citizens, as the large-scale conservation efforts at the federal level are generally outside our sphere of direct influence. So go earn some stewardship cred by shouting down some NIMBY’s down at the next city council meeting where there is a contentious development project proposing higher densities.

  2. Good points, JamesM. I do spend quite a bit of time following the local zoning regulations and talking with my city councilman about the need to balance preservation and rehabilitation of historic neighborhoods and downtown with increasing density through new developments and making our community more bike and pedestrian friendly. I love our little city here, and the more work I do to care for improve it, both on a private and public level, the more I love it and my neighbors.

    It’s good to know what’s going on and to know the people who both shape the debate and make the decision, even when it is frustrating or emotionally draining. And if you want to get involved, people are more than happy to help you get informed and listen to calmly presented, well-thought out questions and opinions.

  3. Yeah, keeping those historic neighborhoods intact is important, and there are plenty of opportunities throughout downtown Provo that would serve everyone well, imo. Same goes for any town…

  4. I believe a key part of achieving rational regulatory policies for land use is that, when the community (local, state or national) wants to place a special burden on private land, it should provide special compensation. In other words, if the government believes it is important to preserve the land you had planned to use for building your vacation home, and using it primarily as wildlife habitat, it should take full responsibility for taking the development interests from you and compensate you for the loss of value.

    If the principle of “just compensation” for takings of property interests in order to serve the public interest were more fairly applied, there would be a lot more cost for government at all levels in enforcing preservation land uses, but it would force governments to prioritize and really weigh how real the supposed preservation benefits are. When a commoduity costs nothing to the government, the government will want to acquire all of it with no limit, regardless of the value of any given acre.

    I would have no objection to raising existing fees for public use of public lands in order to cover the added cost of acquiring restrictive easements to protect wetlands and sensitive species. Compared to the cost for entertainment in movie theaters and via electronic devices, recreation in the parks and public lands is very cheap. Yellowstone has entertainment value comparable to Disney World, but costs less than taking the family to a movie (once you are at the park entrance).

  5. I’d just like to mention that even though Elder Snow didn’t necessarily explicitly advocate political action in this essay, he certainly engaged in it himself. Before being called as a mission president and then general authority, he was one of the most outspoken and active democrats in Southern Utah, and his strong environmental advocacy work angered many a rancher and developer in that area.

  6. We are no longer an agrarian society, no longer tied so closely to the land that we feel immediately the effects of our stewardship, for good or bad.

    This is a good point.

  7. Great post Rachel, thanks for taking advantage of this opportunity to remind us all of our responsibilities.

    For all you Utahns, a hot-button item of public land use right now is the leasing of land next to Bryce Canyon for coal mining. My dad worked at coal mines the whole time I grew up. On the one hand, the overall environmental impact of the sort of coal mining that takes place in the west is dramatically less than what happens in places like WV and PA; on the other hand, it’s generally dramatically more than what the mining industry claims. I certainly hope that the grassroots effort in Utah is successful on this one.

    NG: I wonder if Elder Snow will become the new Mormon General Authority Democrat poster child. With Pres. Faust and now Elder Jensen leaving, we’ll need another one!

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