The prefix "eco" is much with us these days, beginning with ecology and moving on to such hyphenated pretensions as eco-chains, eco-systems, eco-worlds, eco-thought and even eco-journalism. But as is often the case when public interest focuses upon a complicated matter, there is a danger that eco will turn into echo—that each newly noticed deprivation of the environment will be seized upon and hotly trumpeted only for the sound and fury involved.
What is needed now, if there is to be meaningful success in the conservation (what a fuddy-duddy old word) battle, is a cooler eye. There must be a willingness to understand that exploitation of the land is one thing, use another, preservation still another and that the decision as to which we want most in a given case is a complex one—especially when it is exploitation that often gives us a maximum of the material comforts we so relish.
It is with full recognition of these issues that Jack Olsen has written The Poisoning of the West, a three-part series that begins this week on page 80. The Poisoning of the West is not simply an expos�; the Federal Government's vast predator-poisoning program has been operated quite openly for four decades. But it is, in sum, a strong demand for a reexamination of priorities, for a reassessment of yet another burden we are placing on our land. It is also a story that will evoke protest and outrage, both from those who would poison and from those revolted by the very notion. Later this year it will be published as a book—Slaughter the Animals, Poison the Earth—by Simon & Schuster.
In a way Olsen has been researching The Poisoning of the West most of his life. A great deal of his boyhood was spent in the outdoors, and he took up permanent residence in Colorado six years ago, building himself a home at 9,000 feet on a mountainside. That is where he works when he is not away interviewing such personalities as Bobby Orr and Muhammad Ali; he can stand in his living room and look out over hundreds of miles of the land that is the subject of such deep concern in his latest project. He is a journalist who knows his territory.
During the six months he researched the series—a task that took him through most of the Western states—Olsen was increasingly astonished at how romantic the job of predator trapping had once seemed to him. "I was always extremely fascinated with the concept of Government trappers. When I was very young, if you had asked me what I wanted to be, Government trapper would have been very high on my list. I had an idea that they were all passionate nature lovers, and this vision persisted right up until last summer when I went out to interview many of them. What I found was that most of the old trappers had retired or disappeared, and the few that are left have nothing but contempt for the new breed, whom they call 'poisoners.' "
We are glad Olsen did not become a Government trapper. We trust you will be too.