PRESERVING PUBLIC LANDS: THE IMPORTANCE OF CONSERVATION IN THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE
Article by: Craig Gillock, Pennsylvania Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Board Member
Photos by: Beau Martonik and Craig Gillock
Since the birth of our nation the wild and untamed lands of this country have called to many of its citizens. Legends such as Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, and more recently, Fred Bear were born from their exploits in these places. The true beauty of these lands is that while certain men have gained fame from their adventures, all men and women are free to visit and explore.
The President and the Man from Yosemite
In May 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir, embarked on a three day camping trip through the Yosemite Valley. It has been called the most important camping trip in U.S. history and the results of this undertaking have influenced our laws and public policy for over a century. Muir’s goal was to convince Roosevelt, already a staunch conservationist, that the Yosemite Valley needed to be preserved and protected. Muir and Roosevelt spent their time there discussing the importance of America’s wild places and the animal and plant life that lived there. Their biggest concerns were the commercial hunting and logging that was occurring at this time and the negative impact these activities would have on America’s natural resources.
The conversation between these two historical giants can only be described as a resounding success. Roosevelt returned to Washington D.C. and pushed to add Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the Yosemite Grant that Abraham Lincoln signed into law in 1864, resulting in the expansion of the park into its modern day form. More importantly, the three days spent with Muir inspired Roosevelt to lobby for the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act would authorize the President to protect landmarks, structures, and objects of historic or scientific interest by designating them as National Monuments. He would sign the bill into law on June 8, 1906. It has served as the basis for all conservation efforts and legislation that has followed.
Roosevelt’s efforts as a conservationist didn’t stop there. Using the Antiquities Act, he created 5 national parks, 150 national forests, 18 national monuments, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game reserves, and set aside 230 million acres of public land. Roosevelt also laid the groundwork for and helped establish the National Park System which would go on to become the National Park Service.
In a speech given in August of 1910, in Osawatomie, Kansas, Roosevelt said, “There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value”.
Roosevelt and Muir both believed that it was the responsibility of government to protect our nation’s natural treasures and pass them on to future generations. Roosevelt echoed these sentiments in an address he gave at the Grand Canyon in May of 1903, “I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see”.
During their trip through Yosemite, Roosevelt and Muir discussed what they would like to see in a government agency to oversee the well-being of these resources. Their ideas and the steps they set in motion became law in 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act. This Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System and instructed federal land management agencies, including the National Park Service, to manage wilderness areas and preserve wilderness character.
The Role of Outdoorsmen in Conservation
Of all the groups who concern themselves with conservation, perhaps the most involved are outdoorsmen. They pursue the game that roams the forests, mountains, and plains. They paddle its waters and draw the fish from their depths. They set up camp sites and enjoy the beauty the natural world provides. They understand that protecting the lands and wildlife of this country goes hand in hand with enjoying all that it has to offer.
To ensure that future generations can enjoy these same activities outdoorsmen and women have adopted the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. While this model has no direct legal authority, it does serve as the basis for policies developed by NGO’s and conservation groups. There are seven core principles that make up the Model:
1. Wildlife as Public Trust Resources – No one individual owns our fish and wildlife. It is held in public trust by state and federal governments.
2. Elimination of Markets for Game – Outlaws the commercial hunting or sale of wildlife to prevent detrimental declines in the species.
3. Allocation of Wildlife by Law – Wildlife is allocated to the public by law, not market demands or land ownership. Wildlife access is kept fair and equitable through democratic principles and public input in policy making. Examples of this would be the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
4. Wildlife Should Only be Killed for a Legitimate Purpose – Killing should only be done for food, fur, self-defense, and protection of property. The taking of wildlife without making all reasonable effort to retrieve and make use of the resource is unlawful and unethical.
5. Wildlife is Considered an International Resource – Management of these resources must be done internationally through treaties and management agency cooperation.
6. Science is the Proper Tool for Discharge of Wildlife Policy – Most of the basis for this principle is drawn from the writings of Aldo Leopold. It calls for science as the basis for decision making and should include studies of population dynamics, behavior, habitat, adaptive management, and national surveys of hunting and fishing.
7. Democracy of Hunting – Inspired by Theodore Roosevelt, it supports the idea that open access to hunting would be beneficial to society. It also supports access to firearms and the hunting industry, which is where much of the funding for conservation is derived.
According to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, one of the leading conservation organizations in North America, every year hunters contribute more than $1.6 billion for conservation. A breakdown of the figure is as follows:
· $796 million through state licenses and fees
· Over $440 million through donations to groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, National Wild Turkey Federation, and many others
· $371 million through the 11% tax imposed on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment established by the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937
When it’s all said and done, every single day U.S. sportsmen contribute $8 million to conservation.
Getting Involved and the Future of Conservation
We are now at a defining moment in history. The safety and certainty of our public lands is in danger. Industrial interests and a policy process that is sometimes motivated more by profit rather than the public welfare seeks to encroach upon the wilderness set aside for all Americans. Almost every day legislation is introduced at the state or federal level that seeks to limit access to, decrease the size of, or allow the privatization of our public lands. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we stand together to protect what the forward-thinking giants of the past realized was necessary for our future. How do we do this? The answer is simple, we get involved.
Getting involved and taking an active role in conservation is easy. There are hundreds if not thousands of organizations you can join that work towards protecting and preserving our heritage. Some of these groups have a national presence, some work at more of a grass roots level. Some concern themselves with specific species or issues while others use a broader brush stroke and defend us on a wider range of issues. And once you become part of the process there are countless ways you can help. Fundraising, membership development, legislative affairs, raising issue awareness, youth education programs, habitat improvement, and volunteering are just a few of the things that these groups are always looking to get help with.
Now is the time to act. Now is the time to stand up and make your voice heard. Don’t allow the free places that are yours by birth to be taken and turned into a billionaire’s private resort or a tycoon’s next drilling site. In today’s world of twenty-four hour businesses, non-stop kids’ activities, and too little personal time, it can be difficult to justify giving even more of yourself to another venture. However, given what is at stake this is a sacrifice I believe must be made. Our public lands are uniquely American and make us who we are as a people. They are a part of the American spirit and a dwelling place for at least a small part of every American soul. To lose these places would be tantamount to losing our national identity. Now is the time to declare, for any and all to hear, that our public lands are ours, now and forever.
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