privilege of writing a column to be published on one's birthday
is no small gift. Having that privilege on one's 57th birthday is
even more special. Birthdays are a time for reflection a
time to consider the heritage our generation will pass on to the
may seem eerily appropriate that a Halloween birthday column must
sometimes be frightening or at best depressing. Nearly a decade
ago, my Halloween column was a brief eulogy for one of my favorite
outdoorsmen Dr. Charles C. Chadbourn Jr., a college English professor
at Louisiana Tech University and later a resident of Fayetteville,
Arkansas, who encouraged me to follow in his professional footsteps
and helped me develop the tools to teach and to write. And, despite
my continuing love and gratitude for life, this column may be equally
sad to compose. When I started writing about the outdoors for Arkansas
newspapers some 25 years ago, I believed that outdoor writers had
one major responsibility to help protect the natural resources
on which the outdoor sports depend. The horrible thing is that threats
to those resources continue after all these years. Whether labeled
conservationists or environmentalists, outdoor writers almost universally
agree that trying to prevent degradation of water, woods and every
type of wildlife habitat is the basic redeeming value of their work.
Certainly, we report on and even promote fishing, bird watching,
hunting, game-calling, hiking, camping, photography, spelunking,
swimming, rafting, canoeing, repelling, pigeon racing, arrow-head,
rock, leaf and driftwood collecting, wild-flower identification,
horsemanship, rowing, power boating and sailing as well as dog
training for obedience trials, hunting tests and conformation shows
in order to share our pleasure in these and numerous other outdoor
activities. We write about recreational sports such as running,
bicycling and race-walking whether they involve competition or pure
without the outdoor enthusiast's vested interest in high-quality
habitat, the writer might be nothing more than an entertainer. Such
motivation is the key to writing about outdoor activities with accuracy
and enthusiasm. Healthy habitat for human beings and other living
creatures is a necessity for these activities to remain possible.
That's why we even promote modern methods of farming, manufacturing
and building in order to discourage practices that destroy habitat.
Fish and wildlife depend on more than drinkable water and unpopulated
cement-lined ditch seldom harbors fish. Open space devoid of mature,
diverse vegetation seldom holds wildlife.
that people are anxious to swim in are likely to provide habitat
for healthy fish that people can eat safely. Mature forests that
provide shade for human activity and are aesthetically pleasing
also are likely to foster numerous birds and animals. Unfortunately,
relatively few people without some interest in outdoor recreation
are likely to understand the full importance of natural habitat.
person who has caught fish or killed game animals for food is likely
to develop a sense of awareness of the value of healthy habitat.
Until very recently, practically everyone knew we depend on the
rest of creation. Our ancestors caught, killed, trapped or gathered
much of their food even after beginning to cultivate crops and domesticate
sheep, chickens, cattle and such.
beautiful woods and waterways are usually healthy and productive,
the conservation movement of 100 or more years ago, which preceded
and did the groundwork for the environmental movement of the past
40 years, was started by outdoor-sports enthusiasts.
people feel compelled to fight to keep groundwater pure because
they want drinkable water in their wells or because they want to
protect the fish and wildlife that depend on that water. But people
who think damming streams to create reservoirs and treating the
water with chemicals and pumping it hither and yon is as good as
being able to drink from springs and wells simply aren't going to
fight the creation of landfills or insist on recycling and composting
as ardently as those who value the opportunity to live naturally
and who believe that all species have the right to exist.
I love a baseball field about as much as a person can love anything
made by mankind. I'm even sympathetic to those who like football
fields, soccer fields, golf courses, tennis courts and rugby fields.
But unnecessarily clearing ground is a sin to me. An area of mowed
grass is almost a wasteland for wildlife. It's better than graveled
surfaces, which are better than paved surfaces. But fleas, moles
and such are about the only species that can relate well to frequently
hay meadow, mowed maybe twice a year, can still provide safe nesting
for birds and rabbits whose timing is good, of course. But a field
of native grass with diverse wildflowers is as valuable to many
species as are the hardwood forests that provide the most productive
wildlife habitat on the continent. That's why a major tenet of the
conservation movement always has been that no vegetation should
be removed if it can be left alone.
particular importance to both fish and wildlife is the vegetation
along the edge of streams, natural lakes, ponds and reservoirs.
Many species of fish spawn successfully only in years when water
levels are high enough to overflow and cover a certain amount of
years ago, fishermen were begging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
and the Southwest Power Authority to keep water levels high through
the spring on all the reservoirs in the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains
of Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas to flood the shoreline vegetation
and improve fish populations.
stream-fishing enthusiasts and canoeists were begging state and
federal authorities to protect a wide band of mature timber along
every river and creek in the area. Duck hunters and others who appreciate
waterfowl were working to get those who manage both private and
public land along lowland streams to understand the value of keeping
wetland habitat pristine.
efforts continue. Even many city-dwellers, now the majority in the
Ozarks, have begun to realize that turning tree-lined streams into
ditches is just as wrong in cities as in rural areas. Urban-wildlife
sanctuaries are replacing carefully landscaped backyards in many
person who understands the interdependence of all species doesn't
have to hunt or fish to know that habitat must be kept as natural
as possible if life is to survive. The destruction of rain forests
and jungles in Africa, Asia and South America is blamed for climatic
changes that could affect all of us.
the horror of habitat destruction hits us much harder when a neighbor
removes a tree that has provided a shady nook on our side of the
fence and may even have saved us a few hundred dollars a summer
by reducing the need to air-condition our home. Or maybe driving
to work one day becomes less pleasant and relaxing because trees
have been cleared from a hillside or a pasture or meadow has been
leveled and paved to make space for one more parking lot for another
unnecessary commercial establishment, subdivision or apartment complex.
everyone could grow up hunting, fishing and working a garden, maybe
there would be no one willing to destroy the best our area offers
the things that were here when the first settlers arrived. So,
when outdoor writers struggle to find words to share the true joy
of favorite activities, forgive them if they drift into a conservationist's
the process of educating the public to appreciate what we were given
as inhabitants of this earth seems too slow. We just feel compelled
to urge people to stop destroying and start preserving things without
which we never could have gotten where we are.