13 October 2006

Conservationists: Keepers of the Flame

A friend and retired wildlife biologist told me about a story yesterday of a grad school experience when he was on a team trapping alligators as part of a study of alligator maternal behavior. He described the sinking feeling of getting a 'gator in the net, yelling "Let's get 'im," rushing toward the struggling monster, and then realizing that no one else had budged an inch.
Life is like that. Lots of people want to be on the team and they like to talk about the 'gator research theories. Not many want to get close though.

[photo: George Grant examining his father's walking stick just prior to his 100th birthday party]

On an anthropological level, there are cultural traditions and embedded knowledge such as hunting that will simply vanish unless we guide children down the path.
And that is just the half of it.

On my visit with George Grant yesterday, I brought a VCR/DVD player, hooked it up, and played a video film documentary that Montana FWP made of George twenty or so years ago ("Three Men, Three Rivers"). At a young age and as an avid reader, he learned about the history of once-great trout streams in the eastern U.S. By the 1950s, these streams were polluted by industry, degraded by suburban sprawl, and owned by private interests that forbade public use. He came to realize that things did not have to be that way, and he set out to create a conservation movement in southwest Montana. He did some great things, and his "children" such as Tony Schoonen (public lands access), Jerry Manley (stream access law), and Bob Lienemann (streambed preservation act) all went on to do some great things.

As George points out, we do not catch big trout because we are great anglers and we do not kill the wily wapiti because we are great hunters: we catch trout and we kill wapiti because they are there, and because we have access to the land. Conservation and access do not just happen, and if taken for granted they will be lost. In this sense, I am George's grandchild.

Just as a young hunter must be started out on the path, I think conservationists also need mentoring. It is the fond wish of an inflated ego, but I would like to think that someday I can count as many children and grandchildren as George Grant. The NEXT BIG THING, I believe, is the Public Trust Doctrine as a tool to guarantee minimum stream flows needed to sustain public resources. It is an interesting legal theory, one promoted by legal minds such as Michael Blumm at Lewis & Clark College. The Public Trust Doctrine is to conservation what the takings clause is for private property advocates.

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