SI Vault
Robert H. Boyle
December 11, 1967
One of the most serious problems facing the United States today is the use of the environment, especially in regard to the conservation of wildlife resources. This magazine has often reported on threats to these values, among them the dredging of oyster reefs in Galveston Bay. the plan to strip-mine in the North Cascades and the scheme to convert the Hudson River into an electric storage battery. All these threats, and all the conservation battles resulting from them, have one thing in common they need never have occurred if there had been sound guidelines and policies to protect resources from indiscriminate abuse.
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December 11, 1967

How To Stop The Pillage Of America

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Sometimes fishermen are not even aware of the reasons a species suddenly disappears. This has been the case with the weakfish, which was a tremendously popular fish in New York and New Jersey waters until 15 years ago. Despite official assurance that the weakfish would always remain abundant, lo, it suddenly vanished. A number of reasons were given, over-fishing being the most prominent. Now marine biologists strongly suspect that commercial fishing boats working southern waters in quest of "trash" fish for cat food have been taking juvenile weak-fish in the catch. The weakfish never get to move north because they are in some cat's belly. The pity of it is that cats would be just as well fed with a species of fish that has no other economic value. Contrary to popular impression, neither the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife nor any section of the Interior Department has any control of ocean fishes. (Even the President's Science Advisory Committee is misinformed; in Effective Use of the Sea, the committee reported that the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries governs ocean fishing.)

Obviously, legislation is needed to protect the estuarine environment and the fishes in it. Inasmuch as the states have abdicated responsibility, and inasmuch as the fish are migratory and do not recognize state lines, the Federal Government should have authority to protect the aquatic resources of estuaries. To be sure, there will be some states-righters who will protest against "federal invasion," but the harsh truth is that the states' navigable waters are already subject to federal invasion of the worst sort, in the form of the Corps of Engineers and the Federal Power Commission, and a new federal club is needed to beat them off.

?Serious consideration should be given to a conservation amendment to the Constitution. This idea has been advanced by Irving Like, a Long Island attorney and conservationist who helped to establish the Fire Island National Seashore. Like's idea is based, in part, on the premise that a national ecological survey and inventory will be taken. Like says, "Constitutional amendments are necessarily brief. This amendment should not include a shopping list, and I suggest the following draft:

"The right of the people of the United States to enjoy the outdoors and their heritage of natural resources and natural beauty shall not be violated.

"The Congress shall, at least once every five years, designate those lands and waters of the United States and its possessions, now owned or hereafter acquired, which because of their unusual, natural, wilderness, scenic or historic character, shall be kept forever inviolate and administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will preserve their irreplaceable characteristics and leave them unaltered and unspoiled for future use and enjoyment.

"No federal agency, body or authority shall be authorized to exercise the power of condemnation, or undertake any public work, issue any permit, license or concession, make any rule, execute any management policy or other official act which vitally affects the people's heritage of natural resources and natural beauty, on the lands and waters now or hereafter placed in the public domain, without first giving reasonable notice to the public and holding a public hearing thereon, and any official act which involves the public domain, the natural resources of the United States, and which vitally affects the quality of the natural environment, shall be subject to judicial review and such other forms of review as may be enacted by Congress."

Like's amendment was the basis for a similar measure he advanced this year for the New York State Constitutional Convention. The delegates adopted it almost unanimously, but it went down the drain with the rest of the new constitution in the November 7 election.

?The use of persistent toxic pesticides or long-range poisons should be barred. The worst of the pesticides are the chlorinated hydrocarbons: aldrin, DDD, DDT, dieldrin, heptachlor and toxaphene. A study submitted to the late President Kennedy recommended the elimination of such chemicals, but action has been slow in coming. The difficulty with the chlorinated hydrocarbons is that they take a long time to break down (as much as fifteen years for DDT) and they concentrate in the fatty tissues and organs of living creatures, at times killing them or rendering them sterile. Toxic pesticides are not the only problem. Government poisoners in the West have been indiscriminate in spreading baits for coyotes injected with compound 1080, which is also deadly to other wildlife and domestic dogs.

Detergent manufacturers, seeking new washday miracles, came up with the ABS detergents, which do not readily break down in water and can be lethal to aquatic life. When those detergents started foaming up in water supplies there was an outcry, and now the manufacturers are turning out so-called "soft" detergents. These are low in suds but rich in phosphates that can trigger detrimental algal explosions. The point of all this is that no one, no private citizen, no company, no government agency, should be allowed to inject a persistent poisonous chemical into the lands and waters of the U.S.

?We need to take a new look at state and federal tax policies dealing with land values and conservation. The Sierra Club, the most vigorous national conservation organization, has suffered a loss in donations because the Internal Revenue Service, angered by club newspaper ads protesting the proposals to dam the Grand Canyon, has threatened to rule that donations are no longer deductible. If the ruling comes, the Sierra Club intends to press a court fight, but until it is resolved, other national conservation groups, not as bold to begin with, will shy away from public issues of importance.

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