There are also
scientific reasons for preserving or conserving many parts of the landscape.
Richard H. Pough, one of the country's leading naturalists and the former
chairman of the department of conservation and general ecology at the American
Museum of Natural History, is actively at work attempting to save certain
ecologically valuable areas. "As a scientist," Pough says, "I am
concerned with the fact that here in North America nature has spent two billion
years evolving widely varying communities of plants and animals. These
communities, or ecosystems, maintain a terrific volume of living stuff and
science is now beginning to study them. We have the opportunity to preserve
these undisturbed fabrics of nature that serve as valuable laboratories for
scientists. Right now biological sciences like ecology and genetics are in
their infancy. Once we break the DNA code, the potentials are unlimited, and
studies of extensive plant-animal communities are vital.
have to argue with any scientist that these natural areas are most useful,"
Pough continues, "so why not preserve them? Unfortunately, practically none
of the scientists has any money. I remember poor Dr. Shull at Princeton when he
was trying to save Island Beach. He used to say, 'Oh, if I had only patented
the hybrid-vigor principle in corn, I could have bought the place
is most people are ecologically illiterate. Look at Khrushchev and the Virgin
Lands scheme. Look at Shell Oil on Delaware Bay. One bad spill on a high tide
could do tremendous damage, yet the Shell people had never heard of an oyster
It is easy to
look around the country and find areas that have been ruined or maltreated by
ecological ignorance. The Dust Bowl of the '30s is a prime example; so are the
depressed areas of the once great Northern Forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin and
Michigan. The citizens of New York state are still paying for the idiocy
unloosed by the New York City Bureau of Water Supply. Instead of drawing water
from the Hudson River, or even laying pipe to Lake Ontario, the city decided to
move into upstate counties, damming trout streams and drowning some of the best
dairy land in the East. This is bad enough, but ignorance perpetuates itself.
In the last two and a half years drought conditions have prevailed in the
reservoir areas, and the water department has reacted to the crisis by asking
restaurants not to serve a glass of water to a patron unless specifically
requested to do so. Mail has also been stamped SAVE WATER. Yet, as the same
RAND scientists who studied the southern California water problems pointed out,
New York City need not face a water shortage if officials would take three
simple steps: 1) meter all customers, 2) repair leaks and 3) charge realistic
rates. Alas, politicians do not get their names on plaques for fixing leaks,
and so next year, to the blare of trumpets, a new $140 million reservoir will
situation appears bleak to hopeless from one end of the country to the other,
there are practical steps that can be taken to help offset some of the
wreckage. These steps will not solve all our problems, but at least they can
help postpone (and with luck, avert forever) the day when all of us are
crucified on a concrete cross.
To begin with
the most practical step, all conservation interests in the country must join
together on a national level, no matter how contradictory their aims appear.
The Audubon Society must work with Ducks Unlimited and Remington Arms; trout
fishermen have to talk to water skiers. All conservationists and sportsmen must
realize that their basic aims are the same. Too often conservationists have
been at one another's throats and left one another dead. At present, the
profusion of conservation interests, as Ernest Swift writes bitterly in
Conservation News, "is comparable to a huge circus with some 300 sideshows
with their respective barkers and pitchmen each selling a special brand of
conservation elixir.... Noninterested citizens and politicians are often
bewildered by the number of splintered factions all supposedly aiming at the
same target, and throw up their hands when some zealot attempts to explain the
reasons for such individuality."
It is now
imperative that all conservation interests unite to pool information, advice,
expertise and membership lists. Each interest could retain its own independence
and identity, but with one press of a button, all their members could be
mobilized into one gigantic army that could fight a specific threat with
intelligence and purpose. Then when the politicians began to count votes they
would have a force to reckon with. It has been suggested that leading
conservation groups might use one building in New York or Washington for their
main headquarters, with other groups maintaining a liaison officer there. Here
is where a foundation could be of help. With the exception of some foundations
backed by the Mellon family and certain Rockefellers (most notably Laurance),
foundations have pretended that conservation does not exist. Social scientists
may get grant after grant to document the obvious, ballet dancers may be pelted
with dollar bills, but nothing is done to help conservation or to enhance the
human environment. As one conservation-minded foundation official says, "If
you came to us and said that the mechanics of teaching high school Spanish were
all wrong, we would write out a check for the initial pilot project.
Foundations are concerned with the structure of things. We are not concerned
with the quality of American life, yet the country is being gutted before our
operations of the federal and state governments need a thorough overhauling. As
of now, the Federal Government has 33 bureaus, agencies and subagencies
concerned with conservation. Much of the time they are working at cross
purposes. This waste and duplication of effort is mirrored on state levels.
Obviously, these agencies should be brought as much as possible under a
coordinating head who would, one assumes, decide on a policy that made sense.
Policy should not be made by any corps of engineers or housing authority or
state highway department, but by powerful chief conservationists.
scream that highway progress, dams, "reclamation" of marshland and
whatnot all help stimulate the economy. If federal or state governments wish to
help the economy, they would do far better to sponsor more research and work on
sewage disposal, water and air pollution, the desalting of seawater and
development of marine fisheries, to name only a few essential and promising
fields. Air-pollution control is dying for lack of research and funds.
Eradication of water pollution is a relatively easy job, but few agencies are
making the effort and fouling of waters continues at a reckless pace.
Many of the
conservation problems now facing the country would be solved if there were an
inexpensive way of desalting seawater. There is considerable prospect that this
will be achieved in the near future—perhaps through the hydrogen-fusion
process—thus making the damming of rivers all the more questionable. This
process may not only separate salt and minerals but may also produce vast, and
cheap, amounts of energy at the same time—which will negate the necessity,
where it legitimately exists, for orthodox power plants.