Amid the glut of books on the outdoors, two new works stand out, both by writers who know their fields as well as, if not better than, anyone else. The first of these is Charles E. Brooks' The Living River (Nick Lyons Books/Doubleday; $17.50), a solid volume that more than lives up to its lengthy subtitle, "A Fisherman's Intimate Profile of the Madison River Watershed—Its History, Ecology, Lore and Angling Opportunities." The author of three highly regarded books on trout fishing, Brooks is a onetime migrant farm worker who, after a hitch in the Air Force, settled in Montana to fish and write (SI, Sept. 3, 1979). The Living River is by far his most ambitious work, addressed to a wider audience and covering an extraordinary variety of subjects, ranging from Indians to land use to earthquakes.
A tributary of the Missouri, the 180-mile-long Madison begins where the Gibbon and Firehole rivers converge in Yellowstone Park. Often rated as the No. 1 trout stream in the country, the Madison owes its esteem, in regard to its upper reaches, at least, to minerals carried in solution from fissures deep in the earth. The upper Madison contains more than 100 parts per million of calcium bicarbonates, and for the reader who asks, "So what?" calcium bicarbonates are perhaps the single most valuable building block for aquatic life. This is the main reason why the plants, aquatic insects and fish (all of which Brooks, who has studied them underwater, reports on in fascinating detail) are able to thrive in this beautiful stream.
Although trappers invaded the region soon after Lewis and Clark discovered the Madison in 1805, the river has managed to escape exploitation because its watershed, for all the elements in the river itself, doesn't contain enough minerals of value to support mining, and the soil is not rich enough for agribusiness. Even ranchers arc hard-pressed to make a living in the valley of the middle Madison. The grass is thin and sparse, and inasmuch as 20 to 25 acres are needed to sustain one cow, a rancher must have access to at least 6,000 acres to carry 300 head of cattle, just enough to support a one-family ranch.
Next to stock raising, tourism is the largest industry along the Madison, based in part on good fishing. The local people realize this, and although overgrazing and clear-cutting are still problems, Brooks says, "The land...is being managed now better than it ever has since the white man came."
George Reiger paints a darker, but not necessarily pessimistic, picture about waterfowl in The Wings of Dawn (Stein and Day; $29.95). The Washington editor of Audubon and conservation editor of Field & Stream, Reiger is an exceptionally informed and articulate writer who is able, without putting on airs, to refer to the language of Sophocles or Shakespeare when discussing Delaware River decoys. Although he is candid about the harm some of his fellow hunters have inflicted on ducks and geese in the name of "sport," he sees no reason to apologize for his love of waterfowling. Indeed, one of his themes is that the conservation movement owes its start to such naturalist/hunters as George Bird Grinnell, the founder of the Audubon Society, and Theodore Roosevelt, who once demanded that his Cabinet pay attention to birdlife so as to sharpen the mind for the chores of government.
The Wings of Dawn covers waterfowling in all its aspects, from the origins of the sport to the life histories of ducks and geese to decoys and the future of the sport. "In most parts of North America, the prognosis is glum," Reiger writes, mainly because of habitat destruction. Still, Reiger is a cheerful soul who has many a story, the entertaining as well as the damning, to tell. He was once a judge in the competition for the national duck stamp design, and he writes that the winning artist now stands to make more than $1 million selling prints of his original. Some states are trying to get in on the gravy train by selling bird stamps of their own, even though they have no idea of what they're going to do with the money. Reiger writes, "The irresponsible approach to the duck stamp concept assumed by a few states is characterized by the fact that Indiana's premier issue was copied by state biologist J. 'Sonny' Bashore from a jumping green-winged teal design on the June 1955 cover of the Ohio Conservation Bulletin, originally painted by Edward J. Bierly, three-time national duck stamp contest winner. When Bashore attempted to market prints of his plagiarism...he was confronted by Bierly, who persuaded Bashore to sign a confession of guilt in exchange for a promise that he would not be prosecuted. However, Ed Bierly did expect the state of Indiana to publicize the shame of its first duck stamp and, moreover, to adopt duck stamp contest regulations similar to those used by the federal government.... Instead, Indiana has continued on its own stubborn course. In the best tradition of bureaucratic loyalty, the state had Bashore produce another duck stamp for the 1977 season. Furthermore, art dealers continue to sell the 'Bashore teal' to unknowing customers." Reiger recognizes no sacred cows, not even Ducks Unlimited. "Not all waterfowl restoration is done with dikes and pipes and pumping stations," says DU member Reiger, adding, "a good organization can always be made better."