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.
With this in mind Sports Illustrated assigned Senior Editor Robert H. Boyle and various correspondents to the task of discovering what measures are needed to insure that our wildlife resources will not be impaired, compromised or obliterated, either wholesale or piecemeal. The issue is not one of "people or ducks." Progress is people and ducks. There is no reason why we cannot have both. In compiling this report. Boyle and SI's correspondents interviewed scientists, legislators and conservationists across the country. Not everyone made the same points—but certain common themes were struck. These recommendations merit it strong consideration.
Many of our present environmental difficulties can be attributed to the fact that no single person, agency, bureau or department in the Federal Government has an overall view of what is happening to our land and waters. No one is providing any sense of direction or continuity. Action on a problem comes, if at all, only in response to disaster or after persistent clamor by concerned citizens. Sporadic White House interest in "natural beauty" is so superficial as to be dangerous. The public is gulled into thinking problems are being met. Natural beauty is cosmetics conservation. Instead of applying pancake makeup to the landscape, we should be stopping cancer.
?An essential first step would be establishment by Congress of a National Council of Ecological Advisers. This council would offer recommendations for the improvement of the environment and the use of resources and draw attention to threats that might be overlooked—or even posed—by partisan interests, such as the Federal Power Commission or the Defense Department. The council would take a broad view and yet not hesitate to deal with specifics. The council, in brief, should have complete freedom of inquiry and suggestion. It should be able to sound an alarm over the manufacture and sale of detergents or question the approach, say, of the current Appalachia program, in which millions of dollars are being spent on highways for the region instead of on reclamation of the degraded lands and waters (the reclamation project would provide as many or more jobs for the impoverished residents of the area). Ideally, the council should include senior scientists who have shown independent and thoughtful concern for the affairs of mankind, such as Ren� Dubos of the Rockefeller University, Lionel A. Walford of the Fish and Wildlife Service, S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian, A. Starker Leopold of the University of California, Paul Sears of Yale or Robert Cushman Murphy of the American Museum of Natural History. This nucleus would be supplemented by conservationists, such as David Brower of the Sierra Club, Richard Pough, past president of The Nature Conservancy, Rod Vandivert of Scenic Hudson, and a landscape architect, a historian perhaps and representatives from industry, labor and agriculture. There should be no room for the scientific hack or the politician just turned out of office and looking for a new slot at the public trough. Precedent exists for the establishment of such an organization in the Council of Economic Advisers, which has proved influential.
?State legislatures would do well to establish similar conservation councils of their own. All too often state governments have complained when the Federal Government finally moved in to stop a long-standing abuse. It is time state governments assumed responsible positions. There is no more time for excuses. With the exception of a few states—for instance, Massachusetts and Wisconsin (their efforts are noted below)—most states have refused to recognize environmental problems.
?An ecological inventory of the United States should be conducted both by the Federal Government and the 50 states, down to the town level. This inventory should list all natural resources, ponds, lakes, streams, agricultural lands, forests, wetlands, parks and preserves, along with notations about their value or uniqueness. Information of this sort, essential to any rational use or planning, is not now available. The information gathered should be evaluated, coded and computerized. A power company seeking a site could then be offered a number of locations where the plant would not inhibit the spawning, say, of salmon or striped bass, and scientists who are interested in preserving the gene bank would be able to draw upon the information to locate undisturbed habitats where animals or plants flourish in their natural state. There are, literally, thousands of applications for such material, ranging from recreational to educational use.
States need not wait for the Federal Government to prompt them into undertaking surveys of their own. Wisconsin and Massachusetts have already done outstanding work. Several years ago Gaylord Nelson, then governor and now a Senator from Wisconsin, invited Philip H. Lewis Jr., a landscape architect from the University of Illinois, to conduct a survey. Appointed a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Lewis set to work with a team of assistants to inventory and map the state. The team noted waterfalls, mineral sites, trout streams, marshes, historic sites and other areas of value. Most resources fell into what Lewis calls "environmental corridors" along watercourses. In deciding what to buy or protect, Wisconsin set up a point system of priorities and did a demand study for each possible acquisition. A specific sales tax provided $50 million, and, in the first year of funding, Wisconsin acquired 33,000 acres either by outright purchase or through scenic easements. (By granting the state a scenic easement, a private landowner agrees not to build; in exchange, he receives compensation.) Thus far the Wisconsin program has been going along splendidly, with strong popular support. Last year Republicans and Democrats joined to pass a water program, giving counties authority to zone land 300 feet back from each river and stream and 1,000 feet back from each lake. The counties have two years to establish zoning ordinances. If a county fails to act, the state will do the zoning.
Massachusetts, racked by periodic scandals, is not a state ordinarily thought of as being among the most advanced in good-government practices. Yet when it comes to caring for the basic natural environment, Massachusetts could give lessons to others. The Massachusetts Department of Natural Resources already has inventoried marine assets, salt marshes, outdoor recreation areas, open-space needs and inland marshes. This enlightened outlook comes not so much from on high—though Resources Commissioner Robert Yasi happens to be forward-looking—but from the concern of the people. As a result of public pressure, the state legislature in 1958 enabled cities and towns to establish conservation commissions. Composed of three to seven members, each commission surveyed the natural resources of value in its own area and under a point system made recommendations for zoning or acquisition of land. As public interest grew, the state legislature agreed to finance 50% of the acquisitions.
?The Department of the Interior should be reorganized as the Department of Natural Resources. This suggestion was first made in the 1930s, and in 1949 the Hoover Commission urged it again. The proposed department would have full charge of water resources, fish and wildlife, public lands and electric power. It would take over the Forest Service from the Department of Agriculture. The new department also should either take in or have direct veto over the civil functions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and power projects of the Federal Power Commission and the Atomic Energy Commission.
Management of natural resources is now strewed across the bureaucratic landscape, and as a result there is next to no coordination and little official concern. The new department would give thrust to conservation issues and bring problems into sharper focus.