Conservation—as seen by—Harold Titus
Harold Titus’ interesting books and short stories vividly portray his love of the great out-of-doors. He knows his subject thoroughly and writes convincingly about it
THE most important need of America’s out-of-doors today is the guiding hand of science.
That is my opinion founded on a life lived, for the most part, in a country which, within my experience, has passed from a frontier to ... well, to something else again; and the opinion is strengthened after ten years of writing and talking and praying and hoping and despairing about this matter of saving something of the remnant left us and of bringing back woods and waters that have been bereft of their glories.
Our attempts to salvage a part of all we once possessed, to restore wild life in the places from which it has been driven have been many and varied. They have been enthusiastic, earnest; but, quite generally they have been ineffectual.
We have guessed and experimented blindly. Our operations have, in the majority of cases, been entrusted to office holders instead of competent workers. We have had no adequate program for the country as a whole. We have relied on tradition instead of information. And we have made a sorry mess of things.
Great accomplishments of a local nature have been recorded, true. We have our Biological Survey of the Department of Agriculture, we have our United States Forest Service and before the achievements of those bureaus I am humble, hut brave as their efforts are, great as their results have been, they are still drops in the bucket.
Deforestation has gone on blindly from coast to coast Forest fire has run wild annually. Unwise timber taxation has given the logger a splendid basis on which to justify short-sighted activity. Our game covert has narrowed down, narrowed down; our waters have been polluted, the very nature of rivers and lakes so changed that game fishes are no longer happy in them. And, on top of it all, America has just commenced to learn how to play out doors.
The demands on our wild life resources have increased astonishingly since the close of the World War. Highway development, the cheapening of the automobile has made what was wilderness a decade ago readily accessible. And still we have gone on making gestures toward conservation and only gestures.
Outdoor America—land and water; not paper and ink—is woefully sick. So far, it has been attended by a midwife, a witch-doctor or a quack. We have treated symptoms and even then without intelligence, if it may be said justly that the doctoring of symptoms is done intelligently. We are in need of a physician, a whole staff of physicians, to study, to diagnose, to prescribe treatment and stay with the patient to see that nothing develops which will make the treatment futile.
What do we do with our trout streams? (Always, of course, excluding those few instances where the hand of science is at work) fishing gets bad. We build hatcheries. We raise fry. We dump the fry into the stream and hope for the best. Who built the hatchery? A scientist or a well-meaning but uninformed individual? Are the fry healthy? Are they reared from proper strains? Is it best from all angles to hold fry to the fingerling stage? If so, who says so? A man who has a laboratory and a library at his command and can use both or someone who is guessing and hoping? How's the stream? Is food abundant? Is temperature right? Is the flow constant? It looks good, perhaps, but is it? Who can tell, with any degree of exactness, except an individual who has biology, and zoology, and chemistry and entomology and a dozen other branches of science at his command?
What do we do with our cut-over lands? (Always, of course, making a pitifully few exceptions.) We settle it, don't we? We sell it to someone in the hope that he can raise food stuffs or other necessities thereon. But can he? And, if so, can he do it at a profit? Is that eighty or yonder section going to support a home where valuable citizens may be reared or is it going to be the altar of dead hopes? Who knows? The man who stripped the timber? Perhaps; but the chances are he is guessing. And if the cut-over is not profitable agricultural land, what happens? Do we put it to work? If so, how? Do we determine with exactness whether it is good for another timber crop or better for recreational purposes or a combination of the two? (Usually, they go together, of course.) Mostly, we guess and spend money on it on a chance and get nowhere. Land that once grew trees and supported game can grow trees again and again support wild life, given a chance ... and proper administration. But proper administration entails the intricacies of land economics and soil chemistry and silviculture and efficient fire protection; in other words, proper administration is scientific administration.
Two instances, these. Every phase of the conservation problem presents its analogy and the two great obstacles in the way of a clear understanding is the inertia of masses and the eccentricities of sportsmen.
The people, as a whole, are indifferent. And every fisher, every hunter the land over has theories, pet theories, which he cherishes as he does his children and fights for and gets mad about and, with the usual exceptions again, has no background for.
I used to have theories myself. It was hard to realize that I am unequipped to give answers to the problems which confront one who sees his out-of-floors going to pot, I wanted to try things; I wanted to argue; I wanted to insist that my pets be given a chance.... Some were, to my enlightenment. And now I am ready to step aside and make room by the patient's bed for the doctor. I feel it is America's one chance and that, unless it is done NOW the great out-door tragedy of all time will be enacted to its slow, final curtain.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1967, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 55 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.