There are few things in this world that have affected the life and death of humanity more than land ownership. Land is not simply physical space for growing crops or building homes, but a symbol of stability, prosperity, and perpetuity; as Euripides once mused, “What greater grief than the loss of one’s native land.” Civilization cannot succeed without it, and yet civilizations fight and perish for it; even though our world is enormous, there will always loom over us the physical limits of growth and sustainability. There still exist vast stretches of uninhabited earth, places where few have visited and even fewer have resided. The problem with sustainability is not defined by a lack of space, but by the diminishing amount of fertile land that provides food for our growing population. Agriculture is our lifeblood. As Allan Savory, a renowned biologist and environmentalist, once said, “Agriculture is not crop production as popular belief holds — it’s the production of food and fiber from the world’s land and waters. Without agriculture it is not possible to have a city, stock market, banks, university, church or army. Agriculture is the foundation of civilization and any stable economy.” As human population increases, its need for both habitable land and arable land also increase; unfortunately, those two necessities naturally breed conflict.
In various parts of Utah, including Provo, a great deal of former farmland has been bought for residential development or government projects. As farmland disappears, the stress on the remaining farmers and landowners often becomes too much; many sell their land due to pressure from family, government, or businesses. In some ways, the purchase of land by the government can be positive. In the Provo area, for instance, a large amount of land is due to be converted into a spawning delta for the June sucker, an endangered fish found in the Provo River. The plan is to divert the Provo River north and create a new delta that flows into Utah Lake; there are also plans to add many acres of wetland and new trails to the area, which would require the purchase of currently private land.
Although many projects are beneficial, sometimes development can be detrimental to both private landowners and the environment. Recently, the Utah Department of Transportation has proposed the construction of a new highway through current farmland and wetlands near Utah Lake. The new highway, officially christened the Lakeview Parkway, will purportedly connect 1100 N and 2000 N, cutting through a series of pastures and ranchland and increasing traffic to the Provo Municipal Airport. This area is divided in ownership among many families, some of which are willing to sell their plots and others who are reluctant to relinquish their land. LaDonn Christianson is among the concerned parties. While her family does not own the land in the path of the new highway, she fears that many people aren’t aware of the highway and feels that there is not enough public concern about its impact on the land and the bordering wetlands. As she put it, while pointing out a roaming hawk by the Provo River trail, “Sometimes it seems like me, the hawk, and the eagle are the only ones concerned about this region.” The area is one of exceptional natural beauty that offers a bucolic retreat for both landowners and those who frequent the nearby trail, and a new highway would not only be an eyesore but could have unfavorable effects on wildlife.
A map of the proposed highway, the Lakeview Parkway.
LaDonn and her family have been attached to this particular region for many years. Her father, a now-retired pediatrician, originally rented the land to raise cattle as a hobby; the family also bred and showed quarter horses there. Her father purchased the land as soon as he was in a position to do so, and the family has owned it ever since. LaDonn feels a special connection to the land, one which she believes is both physical and spiritual. She believes that humanity has a responsibility before God to care for the earth and to use it wisely and responsibly, and in return God blesses us with what we need. She also believes that human greed and desire for easy solutions are harmful both to humanity itself and the natural world, of which we are meant to be stewards.
LaDonn has spent a good deal of time traveling and living overseas with her husband, who is in the military. As such, she’s been exposed to different perspectives on land ownership and care. While living in Italy, LaDonn frequently visited Austria. She noticed there that the government and the people took care of their land and made sure that it was used responsibly. Only 1/5th of Austrian land is arable, which means that the Austrian people are aware of how precious that small amount of fertile land is to their sustenance and sustainability. It’s difficult for Americans to share that perspective on conservation when we are blessed with so much fertile land, but many people including LaDonn understand that responsible stewardship of resources is vital to a sustainable future. If development and misuse of fertile land is allowed to continue unhindered, healthy food and water resources will become scarce. The aforementioned land in Provo is an example of such misuse; the local farmland is currently rich and produces grains and fruits, and Provo’s sustainability will depend on that land’s capacity for food production. A quote from a November 2014 article in UtahValley360 gives more details on the value of this land: “Developing this area for any other use would be a great loss to our community as we have no alternative lands to serve that purpose. Is it wise to put ourselves in a position where we rely solely on imported foods? As history has taught us, one way to lose our freedom is to lose control of our food supply.”
While LaDonn may feel like she, the hawk, and the eagle are the only ones aware of the proposed Lakeview Parkway, many others are becoming aware of this issue through her actions and the actions of other dedicated conservationists. However, increased publicity is crucial for the preservation of farmland and natural habitats in the area. The families and wildlife that have a stake in this land need the support of other concerned citizens. For more information on the Provo River Delta Restoration Project, visit www.provoriverdelta.us/. LaDonn encourages Provo residents to keep up to date with the Lakeview Parkway project by frequenting the city council blog.