This display of
sylvan and agrarian innocence above the surface of the stripper's scar tissue
turns Guckert into an aesthete for a few moments. "That's what I love about
reclamation," he says, glowing and pointing his hat at a farmer in the
distance turning hay. "I love to see the rolling contours of the hills, the
curved shoulders of the mountains when they've been replanted and the grass is
waving in the wind. And, on those old-law mine sites, to know that the land is
more useful, more productive than before, and a farmer is out there harvesting
taxidermist, I liked action poses best, to take a dead old pheasant skin and
carefully sculpt a form and fix every feather just right so it looked like the
danged thing was flying—and the customer would say, 'Bill, it looks so lifelike
I want to shoot it again.' That's the feeling I get from a good
Al Hamilton goes
to do his firing, and Guckert has had enough mine inspection for one day. As he
blasts off for his Butler County farm, he notices five deer grazing in a
meadow. "See that?" says Guckert. "Where they're grazing was open
mine last fall. One of the things I like best about reclamation, although I've
never proved it scientifically, is that reclamation keeps deer and other
grazing animals off the roads by giving them winter forage where before there
was none. A lot of deer are killed on the roads in this state."
At his farm,
which includes a small stone house that he built himself, a barn housing a
snowmobile and trailer (to get forage to the deer in winter), four man-made
ponds boiling with trout, and a hillside of fruit trees, the abstemious Guckert
reflects over a root beer, "I'm a conservationist, not an environmentalist.
I believe that man should use nature. Why, you can't pretend like these
ecologists that you'll never disturb the environment. Just breathing disturbs
the environment. We eat meat, we hunt, we fish—and these are good things.
"Man has a
tremendous impact on nature and a tremendous responsibility to leave it better
than he found it. If you want to get coal out of the ground, then you'd better
put it back to greater beauty and productivity than before mining, or I'll be
seeing you—and mighty fast, too!"
particular strength in Pennsylvania is an uneasy alignment of
environmentalists, politicians, scientists and judges, and the grudging
cooperation of the mine companies themselves. But what will happen after he
retires? He is 68, and although he shows neither the temperament nor the
disability that would force him to slow down, it will happen.
"I wish we
could institutionalize him," says Ernest Preate Jr., a Scranton lawyer and
assistant district attorney. Although Preate has fought Guckert's agency in
several court battles involving the rights of individuals and towns against the
state, his admiration for him has not dimmed.
to think that Bill's grassroots supporters in the original fight for tougher
laws in the '50s were sportsmen, and now it's that very group that often turns
against him." Preate refers to the State Game Land 93 case. The game land,
a heavily fished and hunted area in Clearfield County, was being sought by coal
operators to strip-mine. Bill Guckert agreed with the mine owners' desires,
though he demanded that they put up a higher bond than usual and that they meet
tighter controls. Preate, representing several sportsmen's groups and the city
of DuBois, Pa., won.
sportsmen thought Bill had sold them out, but that's not altogether true,"
says Preate. "It's the inadequate law. The state does not have the right,
currently, to decide what areas can and cannot be stripped. That's the crux of
the problem. The proposed federal strip-mining law that President Ford vetoed
last year would have given states the right to decide about such matters. But
Bill is sort of hamstrung on these decisions."
at times, Guckert's name never fails to elicit strong feelings among
Pennsylvania miners. "Before I took office after the election, I was warned
about Bill Guckert," says Governor Shapp, smiling. "I was told to watch
out for him, that he was a wild guy. When I met him, I found out they were
right—he is a wild guy. We had one of the most ravished states in the Union,
and through Bill Guckert's effort in the western part of the state, it's
becoming beautiful again. I wish we had a thousand Bill Guckerts."