LAST MONTH I was asked to look over a
manuscript for a book on forests which was to be sold to schools.
It took about two minutes to see it for what it was -- the forest
industry's conception of a forest and how it should be cut. It
was an out and out special interest message, and it was no surprise
to learn that lead work in its preparation had been done by a
public-relations man for the forest products people.
The twelve pages of
comments I appended to the manuscript must have horrified the
publisher, but he took it in good spirits, and promised to try
to incorporate some of it. He even asked if I would like to do
a children's book on forests!
Is it a children book
on forests that is needed, or on a more general conservation
subject? Is the market -- the teacher's library at home and in
the classroom -- sated with "wise-use " conservation
and devoid of the voice of ecological conscience -- the small
thin voice stressing that we have other obligations than to use
up our resources and turn our environment upside down?
In short, is all the
emphasis on the use side of conservation, and not on the
side of saving? Are we still where we were more than a half a
century ago, when the Conservation movement got its name?
At the White House Conference
for Governors called by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908,
Conservation became a political force. What inspired the Conference
is beside the point -- except that T.R.'s short camping trip
in Yosemite with John Muir may have had some influence. Muir
was then in his eleventh year as president of the Sierra Club,
which he had founded in 1892 to enlist public support in protesting
the forest and other scenic features of the Sierra Nevada and
mountain regions of the west.
The Governors' Conference
was a milestone in conservation, but it was almost silent about
preservation. T.R. himself had some pertinent remarks about saving
beautiful places, but among the other conferees there was only
one, J. Horace McFarland, who dwelt on the subject. He and Muir
had a mutual friend, Robert Underwood Johnson,at the old Century
Magazine, and it was probably Johnson who wrote in an editorial
two years later:
"The official leaders
of the conservation movement . . . have never shown a cordial,
much less aggressive, interest in safeguarding our great scenery.
"The fact is,"
he went on, "there is no more popular and effective trumpet
call for the conservation movement than the appeal to the love
of beautiful natural scenery. In this matter the idealists are
more practical than the materialists."
Johnson spoke briefly
of the economic value of great natural scenery and then related
beauty to status: "The first thing that a man does after
he obtains competence is to invest his money in some sort of
beauty . . . He settles in some town, suburb, or other region
mainly because it is beautiful, and he is all the happier if
his home can command an attractive natural view."
"What is needed,"
he concluded, "is the inculcation, by every agency, of beauty
as a principal, that life may be made happier and more elevating
for all the generations who shall follow us, and who will love
their country more devotedly the more lovable it is made."
This was part of the
lament that there had been so much ado at the Governors' Conference
about the practical utilization of commercial resources, and
so little about the beauty.
The lament could well
be much louder now, for since the Governors' Conference we have
used up, scattered, or otherwise lost to the future more natural
resources than all previous history.
Two devastating world
wars contributed notably to this loss, but their
total cost is but a small part of the Gross National Product
for the past
half century -- probably less than ten percent and nearer five.
the rest of the loss is chargeable to peacetime convenience and
enforced waste of today's planned obsolescence.
This sort of thing cannot
go on, although many of our practices indicate
that we think it must. As the eminent publisher of Scientific
Gerard Piel, says in the just published book, Wilderness: America's
"The peril that
threatens the last of the American wilderness arises . . .
from the same historic forces of rapacity and cruelty that laid
the land in the Mediterranean basin, Arabia, India, and the treeless
uplands of China.
is there, however, to recall the [American] dream. And
lately we have won a reprieve through the advance of scientific
understanding . . . The frontier of understanding has no limits,
curse of want and poverty may yet be lifted from the life of
That frontier cannot be exploited on the same selfish terms as
that lies behind."
My thesis here is that
the conservation visual aids made available to
today's teachers are carbon copies of the old plans for exploitation
have led us in for serious trouble and will lead us into worse.
needs sharp vision these days to penetrate the gloss.
Consider the current
controversy over wilderness and relate it to the
kind of material teachers have available -- if what my children
and 16) bring home is any criterion.
The march of civilization
had encompassed about 95 percent of original
primeval America. Five percent is about all that has not been
altered by man's technology.
The current Wilderness
Bill proposal would improve the protection of two-fifths of that
five percent. But practically every resource-exploiting industry
seems dead set against the effort to save even this two percent.
Conservationists counter that these groups are thinking too much
of their own present and too little of everyone's future -- that
all the commercial resources being fought over in wilderness
can come from alternate sources, and sometimes more cheaply.
I put it this way in
a Congressional hearing in Sacramento early in November:
"If our technology
is so poor that we cannot survive on the 95 per cent of our land
that we have already put to economic use, then we had better
turn in our suits. The last five per cent won"t save us.
"Let us ask how
little wilderness the wilderness exploiters want America to have.
Into how small an unspoiled area would they crowd all the people,
in our surely more populous future, who want to see some of the
world as God made it? Into how small a zoo would they jam the
endangered species of wilderness wildlife -- 'our only companions
in what would otherwise be a lonely voyage among dead atoms and
dying stars'? How many acres would they leave for the evolutionary
force, for the organic diversity that is essential to the very
chain of life, vital to our survival? Into what small look-alike
cages would they put man himself, how tight would they close
his circuit, with only feedback to sustain him and an ever-rising
howl to drive him mad?
The wilderness opponents,
to a man, had a pet catch phrase -- "Multiple Use."
A brilliant political scientist who has analyzed this concept
concludes that it is "government by cliche." An eminent
geographer calls it "a bureaucratic attempt to mean all
things to all people." It is beyond a doubt a shibboleth,
meaning that it is a catch phrase distinguishing friend from
The people who love
it are in the business of buying or selling public resources.
The people who disdain it, who would rather talk of highest use,
balanced use, or even of nonuse of certain places, are
in the preservation camp. They would like to see wilderness really
saved. They would like to see more national parks set aside and
kept as great places, not debauched to mediocre playgrounds.
My own bias is, I hope,
showing clearly. It is widely shared, but its advocacy is notoriously
underfinanced. Who makes money in the saving of a beautiful piece
of land? Who makes it directly enough that he thinks it worth
while contributing money -- and teacher's training aids -- to
the saving of more?
On the other hand, you
may wish to scrutinize who makes money by persuading the public
to let its guard down. What timber company finds it well worth
the investment to have its public-relations men write textbooks
on forests, or to distribute free a series of color and sound
films on the glories of logging and tree farms? Have they been
so successful that you do not even question the term "tree
Is any film available
pointing out that an overmature tree and a dead tree -- even
"worthless species" and beetles -- are part of the
natural scheme of things?
Do any leaflets or films
depict grazing on mountainous public lands as an unmixed, multiple-use
blessing, with no mention of how much soil has been lost because
stockmen insisted on running too many hooves over the land years
ago -- and still do it today? There is probably evidence of this
within an hour's drive of any classroom in California. Is there
a film available to you showing that this is the way not only
soils go down the drain, but also civilizations?
In social-studies materials,
do freeways come out as marvels of present-day engineering, possibly
because never before in history has there been an alliance in
the spending of public funds? Or is there a suggestion that they
are ominous threats to agricultural lands, to the hearts of cities,
and to the lungs of children exposed to the steadily increasing
smog caused by our sudden and debilitating love for the reciprocating
engine and pavement? Is there anything available to help explain
to your class that an alternate solution -- mass transportation
-- will move people instead of vehicles and will leave room for
more parks? Anything, also, to explain the value of a scenic
road as opposed to a high-standard highway that destroys beauty
to create speed?
I hope my bias is still
showing. I hope you share it -- and realize how much special
interest there is in the opposite view that probably prevails
in all the "free" materials generously offered the
"God bless America:
Let's save some of it: -- this was the title of a little piece
one of our members. Weldon Heald, wrote many years ago. That's
what the Sierra Club and many similar organizations are trying
Many of Sierra Club's
membership of 18,500 are teachers who like to explore, enjoy,
and protect national scenic resources when they find spare time.
They welcome the shoulders of others at their wheel -- and the
cost of putting one there is nominal. The members should be paid
for all they do, but they work it the other way -- they pay little
for the chance to work together.
We have several films,
two in particular,that work reasonably well on behalf of the
attitude have been trying to express here. One is "Nature
Next Door," by Professor Robert C. Stebbins, a professor
of zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, chairman,
1960-61, of their elementary school science committee. This film
appeals to a surprisingly wide range of ages.
The other is "Wilderness
Alps of Stehekin," of which Louis E. Means, of California
Education Workshops, said:
'This film depicts the
beauties of nature in the mountain-lake country of the west with
terrific impact. It has a quality unmatched; an appeal to young
and old alike; a stimulation to things badly needed in modern
living. Conservation gets a tremendous assist, plus a human quality
which leaves an incredible impression."
We are trying to prepare
interpretive booklets on each film and we hope to sell still
more copies to individual schools and school districts -- all
on our habitual non-profit basis.
We have books too. Three
need most emphasis. The first two: The Meaning of Wilderness
to Science and Wilderness: America's Living Heritage,
both based on wilderness conferences and full of extremely valuable
material for teachers interested at all in the natural world
and its interpretation and meaning. The Meaning of Wilderness
to Science includes eye-opening contributions by Daniel Beard,
Stanley Cain, Ian Cowan, Fraser Darling, Luna and Srarker Leopold,
Robert Raush, and G.M. Trevelyan, Among the eminent represented
in Wilderness: America's Living Heritage are Ansel Adams,William
O. Douglas, Harold Gilliam, Edward Hizbee, Joseph Wood Krutch,
Grant McConnell, Sigurd Olson, Gerard Piel. Paul Sears, Wallace
Stegner, Stewart Udall, Catherine Bauer Wurster, and Howard Zahniser.
The third book, the
Sierra Club's greatest publishing achievement, is This is
the American Earth. It received the American Library Association
and American Institute of Graphic Arts awards and a very special
kind of tribute from Hal Gilliam, who told the Wilderness Conference
audience last April: "I can't think of any greater single
effort for conservation which will do more in the long run for
conservation education than what would happen if everybody in
this room were to spend a few dollars to buy a book called This
is the American Earth and to mail it around to a long list
of our friends, encouraging each of them to read it for a couple
of weeks or a month and then send it to the next person on the
list. And I can think of no better gospel than a book such as
This is the American Earth, by Ansel adams and Nancy Newhall.
I hope all this has
not sounded too much like a sustained commercial. If it has,
remember that no one profits from it except the young people
you teach, those who may in the future enjoy the wilderness we