This may be theera and the generation and perhaps even the very year that the United States ofAmerica, in all its natural glory, goes down the drain. The more I see, themore I am forced to conclude that from New York to California, from Florida toAlaska, much of what is lovely, rich and real about the U.S. is scheduled forwholesale destruction or defacement. Almost everywhere America the beautiful isbecoming America the ugly, the wasted, the blasted and the blighted, the homeof the neon sign, the superduper highway (leading from no place to nowhere),the billboard ("Billboards are the art gallery of the public," purrsBurr L. Robbins, president of the General Outdoor Advertising Co., Inc.),foaming detergents, the used-car lot, the useless dam, the monotonous housingtract, the hot dog stand and stinking pollution galore. Indeed, according to arecent book by Peter Blake, the U.S. can now lay proud claim to the title ofGod's Own Junkyard. We have, in short, become a nation of pigs. Hello,pigs.
Practically allthe carnage going on is being conducted in the name of some kind of allegedprogress. If this "progress" were true progress, no one could havecause for complaint. But, in fact, "progress" has come to stand forstupidity, greed, graft, malice and moral debasement. We have imperiled thecharms of our cities; now the countryside is to be laid waste. The culprits areeverywhere: highway builders, conscienceless real estate dealers, fast-buckartists, contractors, ignorant state governments, the Federal Government, theBureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers ("the lobby that can'tbe licked"), gutless politicians of all stripes, breeds and parties, powerinterests (public and private), industry, labor unions and evenconservationists, who, by lack of unity and purpose, have permitted much of thewreckage to occur.
It is true thatCongress, in wisdom assembled at its last session, passed the Wilderness Bill,but such legislation—by no means perfect—has next to no effect on the bulk of190 million Americans. As William H. Whyte, the author of The Organization Manand now an associate of the American Conservation Association, remarked in TheExploding Metropolis, "The fact that there will remain thousands of acresof, say, empty land in Wyoming is not going to help the man living in Teaneck,New Jersey." Indeed, there are many times when a Midwesterner or Easternergets the sick feeling that the Federal Government does not give a hoot abouthim at all, except at income tax time. For some odd reason, Westerners fallheir to the important administrative posts and congressional chairmanshipsconcerning natural resources, and all federal eyes seem to be focused on Texas,Arizona, New Mexico and the other desert, mountain and prairie states. Thus, inrespectable Washington parlance, the Department of the Interior is knownseriously as the Department of the West. And thus, too, the late Senator RobertKerr of Oklahoma, the king of the pork barrel, who was wont to denounce what hecalled "ass-thetics," was able to get Congress on the road to spendingmore than $1 billion to turn a burg known as Catoosa, Okla. into a major port,even though it is 516 miles from the Mississippi.
Above and beyondself-serving politicking, many Westerners seem to have an ingrained loathingfor the East. They not only hate "Wall Street" and the so-calledeastern "Establishment." they have an actual physical dislike for theeastern landscape, city or country. It looks "different," it looks"strange," it is "too green." This feeling affects bothconservatives and liberals. Barry Goldwater once said, "Sometimes I thinkthat this country would be better off if we could just saw off the EasternSeaboard and let it float out to sea." And Stewart Udall, the Secretary ofthe Interior and a fellow Arizonan, is so "depressed" by New York thathe finds it all but impossible to spend the night there. On one occasion Udallpacked up and left the Waldorf-Astoria for Washington because he was undone bythe man-made "canyons." Not that all this has helped the West much, forit is starting to match the East, power line for custard stand.
In many ways itis strange that the dismemberment of the U.S. continues, for significantnumbers of influential Americans are concerned about it. Their concern ispresented in various ways. It is expressed by Edward Durell Stone, thearchitect, who recently said, "If you look around you, and you give a damn,it makes you want to commit suicide." It is expressed by the publicinterest in such books as Blake's God's Own Junkyard, Jane Jacobs' The Deathand Life of Great American Cities, the late Rachel Carson's Silent Spring andUdall's own The Quiet Crisis. It is expressed by numerous biologists who areappalled by the plunder and waste. Unfortunately, if they happen to be infederal or state employ, they speak only "off the record" to aninterested reporter. They know from experience that, should a biologist say toomuch publicly, he will suffer retaliation from politicians, power interests,highway men or cannery owners, any one of whom can reach into the civil serviceor even a university to damage a career.
This concernover the desecration of the landscape is also expressed by angry amateur naturelovers, such as the New Mexicans who sawed down billboards on the highwayleading from Santa Fe to Los Alamos. (An unknown Canadian, who calls himselfthe Poetic Carpenter, has gone the New Mexicans one better. Last summer he cutdown five billboards along a scenic highway near Kelowna, B.C., leaving behindeach time a copy of Ogden Nash's poem: "I think that I shall never see/Abillboard lovely as a tree./Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,/ I'll neversee a tree at all."*)
The concerndisplays itself in countless emergency groups that have been organized all overthe country to meet specific threats—a highway, a dam, a "sanitarylandfill" of a life-giving marsh. All too often, however, their efforts aretoo little and too late. Yet the shocking fact is that where the effort isstrong, it still has little effect. Somehow representative government seems tohave broken down. In instance after instance, politicians, government bureausand courts ignore the demands of citizens while they grant a curious immunityto money-grabbers and polluters of the most despicable sort even when thegrossest violation of law or precedent is involved.
Last year, forinstance, the National Parks Association, a private group, went to court to tryto stop the flooding of Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah. Theassociation carried the fight to a U.S. District Court, which dismissed thecase on the grounds that the association was acting on the behalf of only"the public generally." The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review thedecision. When the association protested against the wholesale poisoning offish in the Green River in Colorado and Wyoming—a poisoning which, predictably,got out of hand—it prepared to print a report on the subject. But, as AnthonyWayne Smith, president and general counsel of the National Parks Association,was "troubled" to report to his trustees, the "manuscript submittedfor publication in the [National Parks] Magazine on the Green River poisoningwas withdrawn under pressure from the Park Service." The Park Servicecontended the manuscript included material developed under a research grantfrom the Service which contained a clause prohibiting "disclosure withoutpermission."
Evasion followssuppression. Take, for instance, the six-lane superhighway that would wipe out46 acres of land and pretty little Crum Creek on the campus of SwarthmoreCollege outside Philadelphia. This admittedly is a small piece of ground, butworthy of thought inasmuch as it is one of the few open spaces for miles. Thepresident of Swarthmore, Courtney Smith, attaches such importance to this landthat he mentioned its impending destruction last June at commencement exercisesattended by Lyndon Johnson. "For eight years," Smith said, "thecollege has fought a case which is really that of every college and university.For the controversy over the Midcounty Expressway, which links so dramaticallythe causes of conservation and a college's need for land, is being followedwith concern by colleges and universities all over the country, which see inthis threat to land preserved for educational purposes an alarming precedent asthe federal interstate road-building program proceeds. Nearly a year ago theFederal Bureau of Public Roads told the state that it must 'shift its alignmentfor the route in order to avoid affecting Swarthmore College property to themaximum extent possible.' But the Pennsylvania Department of Highways has shownno disposition to make significant changes to meet the condition imposed by theFederal Bureau."
Perhaps the best(or worst) case of the breakdown of representative government concerns thescheduled destruction of an 18-mile stretch of the Beaver Kill and itstributary, Willowemoc Creek, in the Catskills for a four-lane superhighway.These are the two most famous trout streams in the country—in fact, thenation's original dry-fly streams—but the New York State Department of PublicWorks has declared that it will not only run the highway along the banks of thestreams but will crisscross them 12 times with cement bridges. The Milquetoaststate conservation department approves. Several thousand residents of the area,many of whom are dependent upon tourists for their livelihood, have signed apetition requesting that the highway be built on a natural bench higher up inthe valley, thus sparing the streams. So far, the petition has elicited noresponse whatever from the politicians, and the highway men contend such aroute would cost an additional $1.9 million. Even if their figure of $1.9million is correct (and it is open to question), the extra cost would be wellworth it, because these two streams could not be duplicated for 20 or even 200times that price. Moreover, the voters in New York State have approved recentreferendums appropriating $100 million for the purchase of desperately neededrecreation lands. Doubtless the legislature will try to make amends for ruiningthe streams by buying the estate of some out-of-office pol pal, and turning itinto a park.
Here is asampling of just a few more glories that are doomed:
•Practically allthat is left of an original 25-mile strip of the unique Indiana Dunes countryon the south shore of Lake Michigan is about to be torn further asunder bysteel mills. This will turn the area, now a haven for city-weary Chicagoans,into grimy towns like Gary, Hammond and Whiting. Senator Paul Douglas ofIllinois and Senators Vance Hartke and Birch Bayh of Indiana are protestingthis grab of what has been called "a scientific trust for the world,"but most of the dunes are doomed. It is apparently impossible to block thesteel companies, for they have mustered too much political muscle for evenMessrs. Douglas, Hartke and Bayh. One steel company official bragged,"Charlie Halleck will be our spokesman." Charlie, who not soincidentally is Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, has been.
•The PotomacRiver Basin, a remarkable refuge not only for wildlife but for people, is—ifthe Army Corps of Engineers has its way—to be dammed and dammed and dammed atotal of 16 times to build what is called a chain of "drawdownreservoirs," which are supposedly needed to maintain the Washington, D.C.water supply, control floods and abate pollution. "Drawdown" is thebureaucratic way of saying mudhole. The mudholes will scar 80,000 acres of landand cost $500 million, but then the Corps, which is the working arm of thecongressional pork barrel, has long specialized in superboondoggles.
•Delaware Bay,one of the greatest wildlife grounds in the world and home of a $7million-a-year fish and oyster industry, is endangered by the proposedconstruction of a Shell Oil refinery at isolated Blackbird Hundred. This is twomiles from Bombay Hook, a refuge on which the Federal Government has alreadyspent $4 million.
•The Eel,Klamath and Trinity, marvelously wild steel-head and salmon rivers in ruggednorthern California, are to become half-empty ditches under the state's $3.7billion water plan. The "surplus waters" of the rivers would bediverted from flowing to the Pacific and instead be pumped inland down thegreat Central Valley as part of the Los Angeles water supply. Their fisherieswould suffer irreparable damage. Yet only a few years ago two economists andone research chemist conducting an impartial study sponsored by The RANDCorporation reported that southern California had no need of additional waterif certain wasteful practices were stopped.
•Tierra Verde, aFlorida island owned by the Murchison brothers, borders one of the last greatmarine nursery grounds of the South. Tierra Verde Corp. wants to develop 1,120acres of the nursery grounds, and it plans to start by dredging up 9.25 millionyards of lush bay bottom that is the basis of a rich marine life chain. Nineand a quarter million may seem like an unimpressive figure, but Ed Arnold, abiologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, calculates that this isenough bay bottom to cover to a depth of one foot a 40-foot-wide highwayrunning from Tierra Verde to New York City, 1,280 miles north. Of course,destruction of the bay would be typical of Florida development. Countlessfishing grounds already have been wrecked, including once fabulous Boca CiegaBay near St. Petersburg which has been reduced to a canal system flanked bywaterfront homes.
•The HudsonHighlands, the magnificent stretch of hills flanking the Hudson River in thevicinity of West Point, are about to become ensnared and befouled by powerstations and transmission lines. The Federal Power Commission, which is not inthe least concerned with conservation, is expected to give its approval to aproposal by Consolidated Edison, an officially sanctioned monopoly with thehighest power rates of any major utility in the U.S., for a hydroelectric plantat the foot of Storm King mountain. Once that is granted, Central Hudson, anupriver monopoly, is expected to apply for a permit to build on Breakneck Ridgeon the east bank. There are any number of reasons why the Con Ed proposalshould be condemned—for one, the company has suggested it would use the plantfor only 15 years; for another, Storm King is a major historical, scenic andtourist attraction; for another, the striped bass fishery in the river probablywould be decimated by Hudson River water being sucked up by the megagallon intoa gigantic reservoir; and, for still another, a unique hardwoods forest ownedby Harvard University would be partly flooded out, a minor point that hasHarvard President Nathan Pusey up in arms. Angered residents feel that theirelected representatives have not only sold them down the river, but sold theriver as well. However, the Con Ed plant seems certain to go through. Like theBeaver Kill and the Willowemoc, the Hudson Highlands are within easy drivingdistance of the eight million beleaguered residents of the smoke, dirt andnoise that is New York City, but this apparently counts for naught.
And so it goesall across the U.S., adding to what one British magazine called "the messthat is man-made America." But hold on—even more grandiose plans ofdestruction are in the works. The Bureau of Reclamation, for instance,seriously wants to flood the full length of the Grand Canyon National Monumentand up to 13 miles of Grand Canyon National Park. Grand Canyon, so the bureaubelieves, will make a wonderful reservoir.
Otherwrecklamation plans are even more improbable. There is a thing known as theTexas Basins Project. In the words (nonattributable, of course) of one leadinglight in the Department of the Interior, this is "the worst boondoggle everconceived, but I hear L.B.J. is for it." The Texas Basins Project quitesimply calls for federal funds (natch) to be used to stop, by the year 2010, amajor portion of all the fresh water that flows out of the State of Texas intothe Gulf of Mexico. A total of 21 dams and superreservoirs will choke offalmost every river or stream flowing into the Gulf and divert the water into asupercanal ringing the coast. The project will drastically affect one millionacres of tidewater that annually yield an average of more than 186 millionpounds of commercial fish, shrimp and oysters and support nearly six millionman-days of sport fishing a year.
Oh well, thereis always Alaska. But not quite. Power enthusiasts there have come up with theRampart Dam project, a cement contractor's Eskimo Pie. As it is now conceived,the dam would bottle up a chunk of Alaskan wilderness the size of Lake Erie,destroying or dislocating the natural resources and wildlife unique to thatbeautiful land and Hooding out the breeding grounds of 1.5 million ducks andgeese. Damming of the Yukon would violate the 1871 Treaty of Washington, butthen the U.S. Government has taken to violating this kind of treaty with Sovietaplomb. Last year the Army Corps of Engineers and Congress routed the SenecaIndians off their land in western New York and Pennsylvania for—right—anotherdam, even though George Washington himself had given the Seneca suckers thisland in perpetuity.
What makes somany, if not all, of these projected and present schemes so painful is thatthey take the least practical alternative, e.g., the Beaver Kill-Willowemocpaving-over. Soon we will have millions upon millions of miles of highway—andno place worth driving to see. In state after state there is carnage heapedupon chaos. The Providence Evening Bulletin recently ran a picture series,satirically titled "Rhode Island the Beautiful," showing litter piledaround a "no dumping" sign near a housing development, a billboardadvertising sun cream defacing a beach, auto junkyards abreast of new highways,and oil refineries advancing down the slopes of Narragansett Bay.
Yet newspapercampaigns have no effect. For all of the high-sounding phrases about theAmerican heritage, the fact is that the Federal Government and the vastmajority of state governments do not care what the press or people have to say,even about health hazards. In Georgia the state water system is on its way tobecoming a network of cesspools. In the last three years the Georgia Departmentof Public Health has called on 83 towns and industries to stop pollutingstreams and rivers. So far only 14 have complied, and it is a marvel that theyhave, because the Department of Health itself is one of the most offensivepolluters. The state hospital at Milledgeville dumps millions of gallons of rawsewage into the tiny Oconee River.
In Maine,Atlantic salmon have been all but driven from ruined rivers, and the peoplethemselves are hard put to stand the stench from pulp-and-paper plants andmills that befoul the air in such towns as Lincoln and Rumford. Not long ago aMaine resident wrote to the Portland Press Herald about the Ossipee River:"It would sicken you to see the soap coming down the river from thelaundromats that empty directly into the stream. Then there are a few old carspartially submerged. These came from the Cornish dump which now is in the oldriverbed. Then, just a short way above, you will come to the Kezar Falls dumpwhich tumbles rubbish directly into the river. As I watched a group of campersin canoes going down this once-beautiful stream, I wondered what they willwrite home about their trip."
Apart fromesthetic or ethical considerations (Is there any point in going into that? AsLouis Armstrong said when asked what jazz meant, "Man, when you got to askwhat is it, you'll never get to know"), there are valid reasons why thiscarnage should cease.
For one, thereis a desperate need for recreation land, not only as playgrounds for father andson or for fishermen or bird watchers or hikers, but as ties to reality, to thebiological reality of the world, to the essence of life itself. In manysections of the country too many Americans are becoming alienated from thereality that only parks, natural areas, wild rivers, open spaces and unblightedseashore can give. Take Whyte's man in Teaneck or Paramus or Palo Alto. Helives at 424 Elms Dell Acres (there are no elms, there is no dell and the acreis 50 by 100). To his company, he is employee No. 2784, to the post office heis ZIP Code 94350, and if you want to call him, you must dial 415 322-3099.Instead of being an individual, a human being, an immortal soul, he is part ofthe anonymous mass, a consumer, a member of the viewing audience, astatistic.
He is separatedfrom life not only by numbers but by middlemen and packagers. His wife buysfood in plastic cartons and polyethylene bags from a supermarket that isidentical to thousands of others, and he dines on year-old"garden-fresh" peas that came out of a freezer. His kids think milk issomething that is made in a machine, and his idea of a vacation is a trip to atricked-out "reconstruction" like Williamsburg or an artificialcarnival like Disneyland. He is told that he belongs to the Pepsi generation,and his image of nature is Marlboro Country. In sum, he has no conception oflife, the world, values or proper judgments. He is a faceless number occupyinga plywood house on a barren plot fronting an asphalt strip. Instead of being arational creature dependent upon intelligent use of resources, he is ayea-saying slob, subjected to all sorts of fakery and flummery dished out bypackagers and politicians who want to make him buy more garden-fresh peas thathave been dyed green, while everything that is really green gets pavedover.
Along theeastern seaboard, in parts of the Middle West and along the Pacific Coast, thesituation is particularly desperate. The National Recreation Association hassuggested that a community needs at least one acre of park or wild land forevery 100 citizens. If that standard is accepted, then consider the plight ofNew Jersey, where 6 million people are living in 5 million acres. Alarmed byits need for open spaces, the state three years ago started a Green Acres plan,but it appears doomed. Why? Because the communities that need parkland the mostare determined to use what open space is left for industry so that they can get"more tax revenue."
New York Cityseems beyond hope. In the 22-county area comprising and surrounding the cityproper, the population is 15 million. Within 20 years this population isexpected to double, with practically all the increase coming in what is nowexurban countryside. In this period the New York area will see as much newbuilding and development as there was between 1626, when the Dutch bought theplace from the Indians, and today. This is the sort of thing that makes realestate speculators lick their chops.
In a braveattempt to forestall the blight around New York, Charles Little, a formeradvertising man who gave up his job a year ago for the cause of conservation,is heading an organization known as the Open Space Action Committee. Brieflyput, Little and Open Space are trying to beat the speculators to the land bytying up as much of it as possible in parks, sanctuaries, golf courses andscenic easements. To do this, Little and a staff of volunteers are trying totalk to all owners of 20 acres or more within the 22-county area in order toacquaint them with the advantages of decent stewardship of the land, thepossibility of tax benefits, write-offs and low-cost government loans that maybe had for conservation or recreation purposes.
There areeconomic reasons for saving land. Unspoiled land is money in the bank. Contraryto popular opinion, which equates progress with unmanaged growth, housingdevelopments invariably cost municipalities more money than they produce intaxes. As Little points out to surprised official after official, communitiesprofit from parks, farms and estates but usually lose on development housing.For example, in Cortlandt, a community in northwestern Westchester County,N.Y., a typical new house pays, on the average, $500 a year in taxes, yet thetown government has to spend an additional $1,500 for services and schoolcosts. In Westport, Conn. the situation has reached the point where any newhouse costing less than 550,000 will probably be a tax drag on thecommunity.
There are alsoscientific reasons for preserving or conserving many parts of the landscape.Richard H. Pough, one of the country's leading naturalists and the formerchairman of the department of conservation and general ecology at the AmericanMuseum of Natural History, is actively at work attempting to save certainecologically valuable areas. "As a scientist," Pough says, "I amconcerned with the fact that here in North America nature has spent two billionyears evolving widely varying communities of plants and animals. Thesecommunities, or ecosystems, maintain a terrific volume of living stuff andscience is now beginning to study them. We have the opportunity to preservethese undisturbed fabrics of nature that serve as valuable laboratories forscientists. Right now biological sciences like ecology and genetics are intheir infancy. Once we break the DNA code, the potentials are unlimited, andstudies of extensive plant-animal communities are vital.
"You don'thave to argue with any scientist that these natural areas are most useful,"Pough continues, "so why not preserve them? Unfortunately, practically noneof the scientists has any money. I remember poor Dr. Shull at Princeton when hewas trying to save Island Beach. He used to say, 'Oh, if I had only patentedthe hybrid-vigor principle in corn, I could have bought the placeoutright.'
"The troubleis most people are ecologically illiterate. Look at Khrushchev and the VirginLands scheme. Look at Shell Oil on Delaware Bay. One bad spill on a high tidecould do tremendous damage, yet the Shell people had never heard of an oysterseedbed."
It is easy tolook around the country and find areas that have been ruined or maltreated byecological ignorance. The Dust Bowl of the '30s is a prime example; so are thedepressed areas of the once great Northern Forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin andMichigan. The citizens of New York state are still paying for the idiocyunloosed by the New York City Bureau of Water Supply. Instead of drawing waterfrom the Hudson River, or even laying pipe to Lake Ontario, the city decided tomove into upstate counties, damming trout streams and drowning some of the bestdairy land in the East. This is bad enough, but ignorance perpetuates itself.In the last two and a half years drought conditions have prevailed in thereservoir areas, and the water department has reacted to the crisis by askingrestaurants not to serve a glass of water to a patron unless specificallyrequested to do so. Mail has also been stamped SAVE WATER. Yet, as the sameRAND scientists who studied the southern California water problems pointed out,New York City need not face a water shortage if officials would take threesimple steps: 1) meter all customers, 2) repair leaks and 3) charge realisticrates. Alas, politicians do not get their names on plaques for fixing leaks,and so next year, to the blare of trumpets, a new $140 million reservoir willbe unveiled.
Although thesituation appears bleak to hopeless from one end of the country to the other,there are practical steps that can be taken to help offset some of thewreckage. These steps will not solve all our problems, but at least they canhelp postpone (and with luck, avert forever) the day when all of us arecrucified on a concrete cross.
To begin withthe most practical step, all conservation interests in the country must jointogether on a national level, no matter how contradictory their aims appear.The Audubon Society must work with Ducks Unlimited and Remington Arms; troutfishermen have to talk to water skiers. All conservationists and sportsmen mustrealize that their basic aims are the same. Too often conservationists havebeen at one another's throats and left one another dead. At present, theprofusion of conservation interests, as Ernest Swift writes bitterly inConservation News, "is comparable to a huge circus with some 300 sideshowswith their respective barkers and pitchmen each selling a special brand ofconservation elixir.... Noninterested citizens and politicians are oftenbewildered by the number of splintered factions all supposedly aiming at thesame target, and throw up their hands when some zealot attempts to explain thereasons for such individuality."
It is nowimperative that all conservation interests unite to pool information, advice,expertise and membership lists. Each interest could retain its own independenceand identity, but with one press of a button, all their members could bemobilized into one gigantic army that could fight a specific threat withintelligence and purpose. Then when the politicians began to count votes theywould have a force to reckon with. It has been suggested that leadingconservation groups might use one building in New York or Washington for theirmain headquarters, with other groups maintaining a liaison officer there. Hereis where a foundation could be of help. With the exception of some foundationsbacked by the Mellon family and certain Rockefellers (most notably Laurance),foundations have pretended that conservation does not exist. Social scientistsmay get grant after grant to document the obvious, ballet dancers may be peltedwith dollar bills, but nothing is done to help conservation or to enhance thehuman environment. As one conservation-minded foundation official says, "Ifyou came to us and said that the mechanics of teaching high school Spanish wereall wrong, we would write out a check for the initial pilot project.Foundations are concerned with the structure of things. We are not concernedwith the quality of American life, yet the country is being gutted before oureyes."
The conservationoperations of the federal and state governments need a thorough overhauling. Asof now, the Federal Government has 33 bureaus, agencies and subagenciesconcerned with conservation. Much of the time they are working at crosspurposes. This waste and duplication of effort is mirrored on state levels.Obviously, these agencies should be brought as much as possible under acoordinating head who would, one assumes, decide on a policy that made sense.Policy should not be made by any corps of engineers or housing authority orstate highway department, but by powerful chief conservationists.
Politicians willscream that highway progress, dams, "reclamation" of marshland andwhatnot all help stimulate the economy. If federal or state governments wish tohelp the economy, they would do far better to sponsor more research and work onsewage disposal, water and air pollution, the desalting of seawater anddevelopment of marine fisheries, to name only a few essential and promisingfields. Air-pollution control is dying for lack of research and funds.Eradication of water pollution is a relatively easy job, but few agencies aremaking the effort and fouling of waters continues at a reckless pace.
Many of theconservation problems now facing the country would be solved if there were aninexpensive way of desalting seawater. There is considerable prospect that thiswill be achieved in the near future—perhaps through the hydrogen-fusionprocess—thus making the damming of rivers all the more questionable. Thisprocess may not only separate salt and minerals but may also produce vast, andcheap, amounts of energy at the same time—which will negate the necessity,where it legitimately exists, for orthodox power plants.
Laws must beoverhauled on both the federal and state levels. On local levels, considerationshould be given to cluster development, whereby houses on, say, a 500-acretract are not spread out an acre or even two acres to a house but grouped, in away that will assure privacy for each homeowner, on 200 acres, with the other300 given over to a golf course, a pond and recreation land in general. Whenthis is done, the landscape is spared and housing becomes a benefit, not adetriment.
William Whyte,who has just written a book appraising cluster development for the AmericanConservation Association, has been instrumental in getting the State ofConnecticut to revamp its conservation laws. The Yankees of Connecticut are apretty shrewd lot. After more than 300 years of boom and bust, they haverealized that industries come and go, but Connecticut remains, and that one ofthe state's biggest assets is its beauty. It was observed that touringAmericans from less fortunate areas will pay money to see village greens,rippling streams and forests. After Connecticut was torn by floods in 1955, thegoverning fathers saw that there had been too much tampering with theenvironment. Then in 1961 Whyte came in as a consultant, and much of hisprogram was passed en bloc by the state legislature. Connecticut now has150,000 acres of state park and forest lands, an impressive total in view ofthe state's size. Local conservation commissions have greatly increased innumber, and they have, among other powers, the right to request condemnation oflands for parks, as scenic attractions or as hunting or fishing grounds.
But where stateor local governments are uncooperative—and this is the case most of thetime—the only thing for angry citizens to do is to band together to form theirown conservation group and pressure bloc. A model group is the CortlandtConservation Association in Westchester, which has been functioning for almosta year. Under the leadership of a no-nonsense president, Mrs. Adolph Elwyn, ascience teacher, the CCA has grown from 30 members to 400. Considering what hadgone on before, wonders have been accomplished. The CCA stopped the dumping ofautomobiles in a Hudson River marshland, it bought for only $1.25 a fine pieceof ravine that came up for auction at a delinquent tax sale (housewives arebusy checking over so-called in rem sales to make sure that desirable pieces ofland do not fall unnoticed into the hands of developers and their cohorts), andit is busy piecing together land to insure that the Croton River gorge willremain forever wild. Any number of experts—ranging from a tree surgeon to acurator at the New York Botanical Garden to Charles Little—serve as consultantsto the CCA, and the local politicians and the weekly newspaper are beginning topay heed. As Mrs. Elwyn says, "There is no use just sitting by and mourningand allowing the ruin of our country and our waters and our heritage. We haveto get out and do something to stop it. If we try, we may evensucceed."
*¬© Ogden Nash1932, renewed 1960
'HIS ANGER IS FULLY JUSTIFIED'—UDALL
Sports Illustrated asked Secretary of the InteriorStewart L. Udall what he thought of Mr. Boyle's views, some of which assailedGovernment conservation efforts. Here is the Secretary's answer—-part defense,part agreement
Robert Boyle is outraged—and I hope his sense ofoutrage is contagious. His shotgun blast does not always hit the right targets,but his anger at the spoilers of the American land is fully justified, evenwhen his aim is wild. Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot taught us earlierin this century that indignation is the necessary prelude to conservationaction—and I, for one, welcome a polemic like America down the Drain.
The land raiders are still at work on America'sresources. They will continue to scar and contaminate our land until enoughconservation-minded people organize a vigilante movement that will check theirdesecrations. The trouble these days is that few people are aroused untilblight hits their own backyard. Rear-guard actions fail more often than theysucceed, and it is likely that we will lose most of the big fights unlessenough people get involved in the overall battle to save our cities and ourcountrysides.
The explanation of our failures is more complex thanMr. Boyle lets on. There are disturbing failures by our public officials, butmost of our trouble can be traced to the nonchalance of too many Americanstoward the out-of-doors.
This notwithstanding, the picture has its brightside, and I wish Mr. Boyle had presented it, too. This Congress was by commonconsent the best conservation Congress since F.D.R.'s Hundred Days. There wereenough important victories—like the Wilderness Bill, the Conservation Fund Billand the Fire Island National Seashore Bill—to encourage optimism that otherimportant victories can be won if we are aroused from our national mood ofindifference.
We might begin by trying to understand the politicsof conservation. The battle is not, as it was in Teddy Roosevelt's time, afront-page story. It is rather the aggregate of thousands of littlecrusades—and a few big ones that come to a head in the Congress itself.
There have been heartening moments in recent months.For example, it took a major effort by many dedicated people to save NewJersey's Great Swamp, to make Fire Island a National Seashore, to protect NewYork's Mianus Gorge and to save the Point Reyes Peninsula north of SanFrancisco. These and countless other fights have been won because enoughcitizens cared enough to organize for action.
By default or otherwise, every community, everyregion is losing fights like those described in Mr. Boyle's article. And wewill continue to lose more fights than we win until teachers and journalistsand parents make a major educational effort that will produce new attitudestoward land stewardship. In short, we need men and women who are willing to getinto the long-haul race for conservation and stay the distance.
One of my concerns is that many of those who could domost to help turn the tide—like the editors of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and those whopublish other magazines of national circulation—will be willing to settle forsporadic outbursts of outrage. There is no doubt in my mind that we can keepAmerica "a green and pleasant land" if conservation becomes a constantconcern of important magazines and the daily press. Wrong-headed bureaucrats,indifferent public officials and shortsighted highway engineers will put thefuture uppermost in their planning if they feel the hot breath of publicopinion.
In any event, we can be quite certain of this: ourdescendants in the year 2064 will judge us and our civilization far more by thethings we did to save the face of the American continent than by the scores ofall our sporting contests or the size of our stadiums. All sensitive men arehaunted by every piece of America that "goes down the drain," for eachof us is lessened by every act that defaces or diminishes the Americanearth.