College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

Robert Cahn: "The Conservation Challenge of the 80s"

The Conservation Challenge of the 80s

Robert Cahn

Given at Berkeley, California, February 19, 1980

New decades are fair game for those who want to look back and look forward - to assess and predict - and I'm sure you all have heard more of that sort of thing than you care to in the past few months. Yet I ask your indulgence for yet another look at the decade this evening. For in our area of interest-conservation and environment - this particular moment in time is of great significance and not a little danger. As my title suggests, the decade of the 80s presents a distinct challenge.

The 1970s gave us what is sometimes referred to as an environmental revolution. I'm afraid the term revolution is a bit strong. The 70s saw no radical overthrow of the nation's approach to environment and replacement with another. Rather, the decade saw an awakening to what we were doing to the environment and a resolve to make our concerns felt in Congress, the White House, and the state houses. Citizen environmental organizations expanded to new highs in membership, in lobbying ability, and in participation in government when other steps failed. The results, as you all know, included passage of many strong federal and state laws and regulations, the formation of state and federal environmental regulatory and advisory agencies and the start of a process requiring public decision makers to assess environmental impacts of their proposed actions and to consider less harmful options. It was a time when in case after case, the court system construed the new environmental laws generously and in the spirit I of the strong environmental preference expressed by Congress.

Era of Scarcity

As we begin the new decade, however, we are confronted by a set of conditions entirely new to this nation, and which will require a reordering of priorities, some changes in our system of values, and a willingness to alter our lifestyles and even some of our very basic philosophies.

What I see as the conservation challenge of the 80s is to reshape our attitudes and values and our practical approaches in such a way that we can live in an era of scarcity without ruining the life systems on which we depend.

It was the seemingly endless frontier and boundless resource base that allowed our nation to achieve world leadership in the brief span of two centuries and give full vent to individualism, ingenuity and freedom of movement and action. Now we are within sight of physical boundaries. We are feeling restrictions closing in on our use of resources. We are beginning to recognize that conservation can no longer be the pet province of an aware minority; it is now an absolute and universal requirement.

I am not suggesting that the limitations we now face will rob us of the individualism and freedom that are so basic to the American psyche, but that these ideals will have to stretch their bounds to include a wider acceptance of community interest - sometimes at the expense of personal self-interest - and an enlightened sense of our relationship with the planet and its inhabitants that can be called an environmental ethic.

One of our cherished philosophies that has already been shattered is that "a man's house is his castle" - that we can use land we own according to our personal dictates. Of course, we have learned to abide by laws that limit how and where we can develop our property, and how and where we can dispose of our refuse - laws enacted out of necessity because it was discerned that the welfare of the entire community superseded the indulgence of oneself or family. And in the world of commerce the time honored philosophy that "the business of business is profits" is being somewhat tempered by a growing concern for wider and longer-range considerations which include social and environmental responsibility.

National Parks as a Microcosm

Tonight I ask you to consider with me this conservation challenge as it applies to one particular area of interest - the very serious problems and issues confronting our national parks. These great crown jewels of our nation constitute perhaps the country's best example of an emerging environmental ethic. And many of the problems and opportunities facing the parks are similar to the conservation issues that confront the nation, and indeed, the world. So even if this were not the Horace Albright lecture - dedicated to the National Park Service's second Director and respected elder statesman - our national parks would nevertheless offer an appropriate vehicle for discussing the conservation challenge of the decade.

Still another reason why I choose to focus on national parks is that they are what changed my own life from that of a journalist who went from subject to subject at the whim of the breaking news or the dictates of an editor, to a full time environmentalist whose profession happened to be in the writing field.

Actually, I have to confess I protested strongly when, in 1968, the editor of The Christian Science Monitor assigned me to write a series of articles on national parks. I argued that my principal beat as a Washington based reporter covering urban affairs was much more important. In those hectic days, you'll recall, Detroit was going up in flames and rioting was rampant all over urban America. But I dutifully turned to the national park series, "Will Success Spoil the National Parks," and thus began the revolution in my life.

Traveling 20,000 miles around the country to assess most of the major national parks, I saw visitors encountering traffic jams, crowds, noise, even smog when masses of slow-moving automobiles pumped their exhaust into confined areas such as Yosemite Valley. The sheer numbers of people were overburdening some of the parks with sewage and garbage, polluting spark-ling streams and lakes, causing erosion of the land, and disturbing the wildlife. The parks' very popularity was damaging the unique environment that attracted the visitors.

Yet despite these problems, I became aware of a rare attitude in the visitors. These were their parks, a part of their heritage, and they felt fiercely protective of them, I found that to harm or threaten a national park is to touch a sensitive nerve in the American public. Many visitors as well as park employees seemed to live by a set of values rarely seen elsewhere, and that they themselves might not live by outside the park. They appreciated the natural beauty around them - the land, the plants, the birds, the animals. And what's more, they showed a regard for other people's chance to share the park experience. They seemed to feel they were part of a whole natural system, and most of them behaved as if they did riot want to leave that system any worse than they found it, so that others and even future generations could enjoy and share it.

I wondered whether this attitude was really as pervasive as it seemed, so I decided to include a questionnaire in my series and see how readers would react. To my delight - and to my editor's surprise - some 2,000 people cared enough to tear the sheet out of the newspaper, answer the questions, and mail it to The Monitor.

Their answers were overwhelmingly selfless - they wanted national parks preserved, even at the cost of limiting their own personal use of the parks. Over a third approved the idea of a campground reservations system. They agreed to setting a maximum capacity for each park, with the gates to be closed once the capacity was reached, and opened again when the number of visitors went below the limit. More than half agreed that a 35-mile-per-hour speed limit should be enforced in the parks, and that no U.S. highways should pass through parks. Fewer than 10 percent favored additional visitor services such as stores, restaurants and coin laundries, and only 5 percent thought grizzly bears should be eliminated from the parks, even though two campers had been killed by grizzlies the previous year.

Roots of an Ethic

The instincts of the people followed the hopes of those early explorers who visited the Yellowstone area in the late 1860s and early 1870s, and who worked to have it protected. "It seems to me that God made this region for all the people and all the world to see and enjoy forever," one of the explorers, Cornelius Hedges, told his colleagues. "It is impossible that any individual should think he can own any of this country for his own in fee. This great wilderness does not belong to us. It belongs to the nation, Let us make a public park of it and set it aside...never to be changed, but to be kept sacred always."

Imagine vision like that in an era when people were pushing to tame the wilderness as quickly as possible. Those founders of the national park concept were undoubtedly guided by a force that I was beginning to recognize - an environmental ethic. It is an ethic that has been present in greater or lesser degree in this country for three centuries - even before that if you consider that the continent's original inhabitants, the Indians, lived in comparative harmony with the natural environment.

The view of humankind as part of an interrelated, natural world, rather than as a superior outside force using and exploiting nature for humanity's immediate self-interest was best enunciated more than a quarter of a century ago by Aldo Leopold. I was introduced to A Sand County Almanac and Leopold's other writings shortly after I began discovering some of the values of the national parks. His ideas awakened, inspired and educated me - as they have thousands of others - to what he called "the land ethic."

Leopold defined the land ethic as: "simply enlarging the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. This ethic," wrote Leopold, "changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it... We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect...that land is a community is a basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics."

This philosophy surely guided those who led the United States to set aside vast areas as national parks out of a concern for the welfare of the land as well as for the long-term interests of all the people, including generations yet unborn.

The national park idea, which was officially established in 1872 with the Yellowstone Park Act, has now spread to more than 100 countries throughout the world. But here at home, U.S. national parks have from the beginning been influenced by two persistent factors. First, the people factor - the constant pressures to manage the parks in such a way that they can be used for recreation by ever increasing numbers of people. The other is the development factor - the incessant pressures on parkland or adjacent lands for commercial development and other non-park uses that intrude on the park resources and may irreversibly damage or detract from the values for which the park was set aside.

People Problem

The people problem was foreseen as far back as 1864 when Congress gave public lands in Yosemite Valley and the nearby Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the State of California for preservation purposes in what some historians claim really amounted to the first "national park." Noted landscape architect and Yosemite preservation advocate Frederick Law Olmsted warned that the few hundred annual visitors to Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove would in a century "be counted in the millions." Olmsted advocated in 1865 that construction be limited to the "narrowest limits consistent with the necessary accommodation of visitors."

He added: "An injury to the scenery so slight it may be unheeded by any visitor now, will be one of deplorable magnitude when its effect upon each visitor's enjoyment is multiplied by these millions. But again, the slight harm which the few hundred visitors of this year might do, if no care were taken to prevent it, would not be slight, if it should be repeated by millions..."

By 1954 Yosemite recorded one million visits. Today the yearly attendance is about 2 1/2 million. The road network and visitor accommodations have for a long time been inadequate to take care of the masses of visitors to Yosemite Valley, and the road congestion, overcrowding of campgrounds and facilities, and urban-like atmosphere have, for many visitors, detracted from the national park experience.

Back in 1917, when Horace Albright as assistant, and Stephen Mather as Director, set out to establish and build a National Park Service, too many visitors was by no means their problem. In the days just after World War I, Mather and Albright had the twin mandates to build a professional cadre that could adequately manage and protect the park system, and at the same time, build Public interest in the parks and increase visitor accommodations. There were important reasons for this. In a recent conversation Horace Albright told me that Congress had slapped a budget limit of $5,000 on the management of any one park unless there was specific congressional approval for a higher sum. The only way a higher amount could be justified was by proving that use of the park demanded the increase. It was also a political necessity to create a national constituency so that the parks could be defended against the development forces that were always ready to convince congressmen that the sparsely-visited parks could be put to uses more beneficial to some of their constituents.

The Parks' Elder Statesman

I would like to pause here to say something about Horace Albright for those of you who may not know of the great debt our nation and the cause of the national parks - and conservation - owe to him. And, I might add, to his wife, who has been an active partner in their very full 64 years of marriage. Horace and the former Grace Noble also are two of the most illustrious alumni of this campus - Class of 1912.

As a young Interior Department employee Albright became to Mather, helped write the legislation that created the National Park Service in 1916, and was instrumental in getting it through Congress. It is not widely known that Mather became seriously ill in 1917, and the 27-year-old Albright presided as acting director during the formation of the National Park Service in 1917 and 1918. He went on to become the first civilian superintendent of Yellowstone and set the pattern of administration for the major national parks. In 1929, he succeeded Mather as the second Director of the Park Service.

Among his many accomplishments was that of persuading Franklin D. Roosevelt to give the National Park System control of all battlefields and historical monuments - a move that expanded the Service into a strong, nation wide agency instead of the obscure, poorly funded entity it had been up to that time. The way the coup was accomplished is worth repeating for what it reveals of Horace Albright's ability to seize a chance opportunity and turn it to the good of his agency.

In early 1933, President Roosevelt and his entourage took a motor trip to inspect as a possible "weekend White House" a camp on the Rapidan River given to the government by former President Herbert Hoover. It was soon to be added to Shenandoah National Park, and Albright, as Park Service Director, was included in the outing. On the way back to Washington, Albright happened to be seated in the limousine's jump seat just behind the President. Aware of Roosevelt's lively interest in American history, Albright mentioned that the second battle of Bull Run began in this vicinity. The history conversation continued and gave Albright the opportunity to tell the President of the Park Service hope that these and other historic battle areas and monuments be transferred from the War Department to the National Park system. The President agreed it should be done and indicated that Albright should set the plan in motion immediately. Roosevelt also spoke of his interest in having Saratoga Battlefield, near his home in New York, preserved as a monument, and told Albright to give him a report on it the next day. The events that unfolded as a result of that conversation led, within two months, to the transfer of all historic battlefields and all national monuments to the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Besides instantly giving it influence in nearly every state instead of only in the few where national parks existed at that time, it enlarged and strengthened the agency and its political clout. And at the same time, it effectively squelched efforts then being made to merge the Park Service with another bureau and transfer it from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.

Notes historian Donald Swain in his biography of Albright: "No other man ... defended the national parks more faithfully and contributed more creatively to the institutional strength of the National Park Service during its first fifty years."

Even after leaving the Park Service, Albright remained a power-ful advocate of parks and conservation. Today, at 90, he is still consulted for his advice on national park matters by the Director of the National Park Service, Bill Whalen, and by many other leaders in the conservation world.

Threats to the Parks

Over the years, threats to park resources have never ceased, even though in the public's mind protection of national parks has become almost a motherhood issue, There have been some setbacks, the most flagrant of which was at Hetch Hetchy. In 1913, after a long fight, the forces trying to keep a dam out of Yosemite were overridden by the political clout of San Francisco, which wanted the water for its urban growth. Thus a large dam and lake were constructed in the pristine Hetch Hetchy Valley. Yet the lost battle, led by John Muir and The Sierra Club, so aroused the nation that it left an indelible impression that national parks and dams do not mix. And in the almost 70 years since Hetch Hetchy, no other dam has ever been built within a national park, despite strong campaigns for dams within Dinosaur National Monument and Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks.

National parks are today more that) just places for vacations or outdoor recreation. They are valued as samples of the nation's ecological variety and habitat for threatened or endangered species of wildlife. And as the highest example of the nation's environmental conscience, they constitute a harbinger for the future and an early warning system for what we are doing to our entire habitat.

Early Warning Signal

So what do the parks tell us about our quality of life today - are they giving us an early warning signal? The answer may come as a shock to some people, but information compiled recently by the National Park Service reveals that threats to national park resources and values are the most serious they have ever been in the history of the national parks!

The evidence to support this conclusion is now being assembled in a comprehensive study requested by Congressman Phil Burton of California and Keith Sebelius of Kansas, the ranking majority and minority members of the House Interior Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks. They asked the Park Service in July 1979 to prepare a major assessment of all existing and potential activities and forces which may be damaging or threatening the natural and cultural resource integrity of all units within the system. This state of the parks report, soon to be completed, will list all threats, both inside and adjacent to park areas - threats such as specific types and effects of air, water and noise pollution; esthetic degradation or actual damage to resources from mineral exploration, timbering, grazing and land development; and impacts from visitor use. Each park is being required to show whether a specific threat is adequately documented by research, and whether the threat is being addressed in the park's resources management plan.

The preliminary findings, representing almost all of the 323 National Park Service areas will reveal that:
Land development adjacent to the park areas is threatening the natural resources in 132 areas, while private landholdings within park boundaries cause problems in 40 areas.
One or more of a dozen water quality problems are already evident or suspected of being threats in almost every park area. For instance, toxic chemicals from sources outside the parks threaten water quality in 21 areas and are suspected of causing damage in 43 others. And acid rain is damaging resources in 20 areas, and is suspected of harming 62 others.
Gas, oil, geothermal and hardrock mineral exploration on adjacent lands threaten 56 park areas and are suspected of causing problems for 32 other units.
Logging next to parks causes damage in 27 areas.
Threats to air quality are evident at 140 areas, 94 of them reporting visibility problems due to smoke or contaminants coming from outside the parks.
These statistics come from superintendents of almost all park service areas (except most of the new Alaska national monuments, created in late 1978, which are not yet staffed). This means that many urban historic and cultural sites are included. These statistics thus fail to reveal the full significance or extent of the threats to the large natural areas - the national parks, preserves and monuments.

The study shows an average of only 13 threats per park for the entire system. But when broken down to the dozen major national parks and monuments that are designated international biosphere reserves, there are 35 threats per park. And for Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Everglades and Mesa Verde - the four national parks accorded official international recognition as World Heritage areas and supposedly guaranteed the highest type of U.S. Government protection under the international World Heritage Convention, there are 31 threats per park.

Before one jumps to the conclusion that the national park system is in a shambles, it must be pointed out that the State of the Parks study is a hastily-done first cut of what is to become an annual state of the parks report, and there may be flaws in the subjective analyses by superintendents of their park's problems. The majority of these threats are not documented, nor is the extent of the damage known, based on the limited research that does exist. And from the visitor's standpoint, except for some air pollution, and occasional overcrowding at some areas, almost all national parks appear presently to be in a reasonably healthy condition. But the State of the Parks report should be taken seriously for the early warning signals it gives of potentially serious disruptions that may lie ahead. It should at least flash yellow caution lights to Congress and the Park Service.

Geysers Threatened

Some of these yellow warning lights seem ready to turn red. For instance:

A major American oil company, without notifying the National Park Service, and with no studies to determine potential impacts on geyser activity nearby, drilled a 4,000-foot-deep geothermal test well on privately-held land within the boundary of Lassen National Park, very near a large, continuous steam vent called Terminal Geyser, and only 1 1/2 miles from Boiling Springs Lake, the largest hot lake in the world. On the western border of Yellowstone National Park, 145 applications have been received by the Bureau of Land Management to commence geothermal operations in the U.S. Forest Service's Island Park Geothermal area, not far from Old Faithful. Very little is known about the "plumbing systems" beneath geyser basins, and whether exploration or extraction could dry up or otherwise damage those wonders of nature. One of the world experts on geothermal matters, Dr. Donald E. White of the U.S. Geological Survey, has warned that "we cannot exploit the geothermal energy of an area and also preserve its geysers," and he cites four major thermal areas in the world where natural geysers became inactive, coinciding with geothermal exploitation.
Our unique Everglades National Park is being seriously threatened by intense competition for the scarce water supply that is essential to its survival, and the maintenance of habitat used by several endangered species. Farming interests, flood control development, urban demands and public utilities and industrial development in South Florida all covet the park's water supply.
We have only recently discovered, after eight years of archeological digging, that Chaco Canyon National Monument in New Mexico is a treasureground that may tell us the story of the Chacoan people, a culture earlier than that of the inhabitants of Mesa Verde. Chaco Canyon, in fact, could surpass Mesa Verde in significance. Yet we may never unlock the mysteries of this prehistoric civilization, for Chaco Canyon is in the San Juan Basin, which has one-sixth of the world's uranium and one-quarter of the U.S. coal reserves. Three prehistoric roads have already been disturbed by uranium exploration. A producing oil well three-quarters of a mile outside the park boundary has seriously disturbed 15 acres of land with known Chacoan cultural resources., And uranium mining, with resulting erosion damage and potential seepage of toxic chemicals, is also a threat to vegetation and,, animal life in the large (21,5 10-acre) national monument, which has significant natural as well as cultural values.

Polluted Vistas

National Park Service Director Whalen ranks air pollution and visibility deterioration as the number one threat to the parks. He claims that visibility - so vital to enjoyment of Grand Canyon - deteriorates there about 100 days a year, largely because of nearby power plants. And although the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments were supposed to guarantee against deterioration air quality for Class I areas (which all national parks are), Whalen says that he cannot guarantee good visibility for Grand Canyon or for 18 other national park areas, including Acadia, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Crater Lake, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains, Mesa Verde, North Cascades, Olympic, Redwood, Shenandoah and Voyageurs.

With the rapidly increasing energy development program in the Southwest, experts predict that the air pollution problem in parks will increase. One example: Bryce Canyon National Park, where a complex of coal-fired power plants is scheduled to be built within the park airshed and a major coal strip mine is planned just three miles from - and in the main line of sight of - Yovimpa Point, a vista which attracts 400,000 people a year to see the array of colorful pinnacles and spires. Also, some of the delicate formations would be threatened by the blasting activities at the nearby mine.

Someone may protest: Why worry about some haze at scenic vistas? How can this compare with the need to supply increased electric power for all the wants of Southern California? I'm reminded of the story of the two victorian ladies who went into a tearoom and ordered apple pie with cheese, as listed on the menu. When the waiter brought the pie he explained that they were out of cheese. One of the ladies insisted that cheese was on the menu and she had a right to be served it. The manager was called to the table and soon realized the lady was not going to compromise. So he sent someone out to buy cheese. The second lady felt embarrassed by her companion's stubbornness over a little bit of cheese. "You don't like cheese that much - why did you make such a fuss?" Replied her adamant companion: "If you let them take your cheese this time, next time they'll take your apple pie."

As far as scenic vistas in national parks are concerned, I heard Bill Whalen tell an audience recently that "A scenic vista is just as much a national resource as coal in the ground." Whalen's view, however, is not presently supported by government energy policy.

The sacrifice of the Southwest's scenic vistas for production of electricity carries a note of irony. Most of the power is being produced to satisfy the energy demands of a growing Southern California. Yet many people who value these scenic areas as vacation spots are Southern Californians. But public officials and power company executives, with inadequate concern for the environment and an unquestioning assumption that citizens will continue to consume at a growing rate, automatically push onward to produce new supplies at whatever environmental cost.

It is the same assumption that underlies the decision by the President and the Congress to rush into a multi-billion-dollar synthetic fuel production program without first assessing the potential environmental damages in acid rain, water shortages, air pollution, toxic substances, ruin of the land, and running roughshod over environmental laws without giving at least an equal priority to equally massive energy conservation programs, which could have an immediate effect, while synthetic fuels are at least 10 years from being a major source of energy, if ever.

These and the multitude of other specific dangers outlined in the State of the Parks study are certainly serious. There are also some park conditions the study does not address that I believe are equally troubling.

Alaska Challenge

First among these is the need to save the nation's last great wilderness frontier in Alaska. For almost 10 years the battle has been raging over which areas would be left open for transportation access, mineral extraction, logging and other commercial, development, and which areas would be maintained in the interests of future generations as part of the national park, wildlife refuge and wilderness systems. Legislation has been held up for two years, mostly by Alaska Senator Mike Gravel. At stake for the National Park Service and all Americans are 44 million acres of pristine land unequalled in scenic quality, and providing habitat for hundreds of bird and animal species. The proposed legislation would double the size of the entire national park system by designating seven mammoth new national, parks, three national park preserves, upgrading and enlarging Glacier Bay and Katmai National Monuments to national park status, and enlarging Mt. McKinley National Park (and changing its name to Denali National Park).

When Congress failed to enact the legislation in 1978 to protect these lands permanently, President Carter issued a series of executive orders designating these areas as national monuments. A bill to settle the issue is the top legislative priority in the conservation area in 1980.

Meantime, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has also used his position as ranking minority member of the Appropriations Committee's Interior Department Subcommittee to block the use of any funds for hiring rangers to protect and manage the Alaska lands the President declared as national monuments.

This funding restriction contributes to another basic problem: the National Park Service is severely understaffed. The parks have grown from 187 units in 1960 to 323 units today, with about 265 million visits last year. But while the number of visitors has tripled, the number of employees has not even doubled. And established park units are raided for personnel to plan, administer and protect new areas, diluting the maintenance, protection, visitor services and resource management at the older parks.

Ecosystems Management

Another problem is the difficulty of planning, protecting and managing the large national park system natural areas for their unique ecosystems. The range of the caribou and grizzly bears in Alaska - or of the grizzlies, elk, deer and other large animals in the "Lower 48" - or of migratory birds, far exceeds the boundaries of any one national park unit. Also water (both quality and availability), air, soil and vegetation are subject to conditions that rarely, if ever, can be addressed within park boundaries.

The planners developing boundaries for the massive new Alaska park areas sought unsuccessfully to work into the legislation provisions for coordination of management among the Park Service and those owning adjacent lands - the Bureau of Land Management, the Native Corporations and the State of Alaska. Ecosystem management through coordination of landowners is even more of a problem in the Lower 48, where park areas are smaller, where there are long-established traditions of "turf" protection, and intense rivalries prevail among adjacent land owners, be they the U.S. Forest Service, Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service or Bureau of Land Management, or states, timber companies, stockmen or other individuals. Adding to the confusion is the paucity of knowledge about the workings of the ecosystems, and the present strictures on basic research in the parks. What little research goes on has little relationship to the problems outlined in the State to the Parks study, except for a disproportionately large share going to air pollution monitoring, which in 1981 is due to receive more than 25 percent of the total scientific research budget. Also, although every park is supposed to have a resource management plan, few if any parks have adequate plans or are carrying them out well enough. One reason is the before-mentioned scarcity of knowledge about the status of the resources. Another is that natural resources management is a secondary activity for the Park Service, as most of the attention goes for protection of visitors and facilities protection. The number of resource managers in the Park Service trained to deal with all the new resource threats is extremely small, and the budget for resource management is a low priority item and one of the first to get whacked. It is hoped that the State of the Parks study will persuade the Park Service and Congress to raise the priority and funding for research and for resources management.

Interpretation Neglect

A final basic problem I want to mention is the need to upgrade the interpretive and environmental education programs of the National Park Service, which have declined deplorably in recent years as funding, personnel and priority have been directed toward the squeaky wheels. In addition to the failure of recent National Park directors to give interpretation high enough priority, many superintendents fail to appreciate its importance.

Despite the lack of priority, I hasten to say that a number of excellent interpretive programs and environmental education activities still go on at many of the parks, carried on by dedicated rangers or by seasonal help from colleges. Some of the best programs are developed by young people hired only as park "technicians".

Most park areas are uniquely suited to educating. Families come to a park mentally open to ecological ideas that they might not listen to elsewhere. I attended a campfire talk at one of California's State Parks at Lake Tahoe one night. The families heard what they came for - some facts about the ecology and natural history of Tahoe. But they got some more basic information and philosophy as well. The young seasonal state ranger added to his slide show the story of The Lorax.

Using color slides made from pages out of the Dr. Seuss book, the ranger unfolded the tale of the unthinking Once-ler who cut down all the Truffula trees and built factories in the pleasant valley so he could manufacture more and bigger Thneeds - a frivolous consumer product. This despite the pleas of the environmentally oriented Lorax, who speaks for the trees, the animals, the birds and the fish. Finally, the last Truffula tree was destroyed, the air and water polluted and the land ruined; the birds and fish and animals all fled and the Lorax departed in despair. When the Lorax went away, he left behind a little stone monument engraved with one word: UNLESS. When the unprincipled Once-ler finally realized what he had done to his environment, it was too late. The book ends with the Once-ler sadly telling a small boy that at last he understands the meaning of the message left by the Lorax:

UNLESS someone like you
Cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better.
It's not.

The ranger finished his campfire talk by leading the parents and their children to draw some environmentally ethical conclusions. I warrant you that those visitors learned some things that night that will enrich their lives and lead to a protective concern for the parks - and the environment.

Understandably, it is difficult for the interpretation and education programs to compete with the more obvious and demanding priorities in a seriously understaffed Park Service. But this could be a short-sighted policy that would work to the political disadvantage of the parks in particular and conservation in general in years to come. The parks exist both for the conservation of the natural objects and for the enjoyment of future generations. We are wasting the opportunity to use the parks as unique classrooms in which to impart a broader understanding of an environmental ethic. The parks' perpetuation will be in the hands of today's children and their children. Unless tomorrow's citizens have an ethical awareness of the true ecological values of these great natural areas, it bodes ill for the future.

Jewels Still Untarnished

Despite my harping on problems, I want to emphasize that the National Parks are still the nation's natural crown jewels, and they remain untarnished. And they are loyally supported by the public. The danger is that in thinking of the parks only as places to go to satisfy our recreation or wilderness needs, we will forsake our responsibilities as citizens to safeguard the basic natural resources and the ethic that underlies the park ideal. Unless we find ways to deal with the threats or turn around some of the basic policy deficiencies, we may wake up some morning and discover that it is The Twenty-Ninth Day.

Many of you, I am sure, have heard of the French school children's riddle cited by the authors of Limits to Growth and as the key to Lester Brown's book The Twenty-Ninth Day. The riddle is used to teach schoolchildren the nature of exponential growth. Your lily pond has a single leaf, and each day the number of leaves doubles - two leaves the second day, four the third, eight the fourth, and so on. If the pond will be full on the 30th day, the riddle goes, at which point is it half-full? The environmental lesson of exponential growth is that at first the growth of leaves in the pond seems insignificant, and you feel no urgency to do anything about it, But on the 29th day, when the leaves cover half the pond, you discover you have only one day left in which to correct the situation, and it may then be too late.

Global Issues

I have used national parks as a microcosm of the conservation challenge that confronts the world, and as an early warning system for the state of the environment. There are, of course, many other serious resource problems that I have not had time to cover and for which there is no quick fix, either technological, economic or political. And like the park ecosystem problems, they transcend solution by a single community or state or even a single nation.

Some of the global resource issues fall in the 29th-day category. Deforestation is expected to reduce the world's forest cover by 33 percent from 1960 to the year 2000. Between 25 and 50 million acres are being cut each year in tropical rainforests. The loss of wildlife habitats in tropical rainforests and elsewhere is expected to eliminate more than one million species of wildlife and plants by the year 2000. Desertification in many parts of the developing world, coupled with alarming population growth rates, give little hope of feeding the hungry, and will place greater demands on U.S. food production capabilities at a time when our agricultural lands are being lost to development at the rate of 3 million acres per year, and 2 billion tons of productive soil is being destroyed by erosion annually. Climate changes will result from a combination of forest cover loss and the increased burning of fossil fuels. Nuclear plant safety, nuclear waste disposal and nuclear proliferation, acid rain fallout and inadequate disposal of toxic substances all appear to be problems without current solutions, problems that could erupt into disasi ter on some future 30th day unless we can find a completely new approach that can deal with the causes instead of vainly trying to cope with the effects.

At the same time, we have abundant environmental problems of a less apocalyptical magnitude that ought to be solvable, but which at present defy solution. They include such issues as the lack of adequate water supply to meet demands in many parts of the West; the attempt by some western states to take over federal public lands in what has been called a "sagebrush rebel-lion;" the need to restore of preserve open space in our urban areas and give higher priority to improving the quality of life in our cities, where environmental degradation affects the people most acutely; the struggle to determine what Forest Service and other public lands should be set aside in the national wilderness system; and the massive synthetic fuel development program about to be set in motion by the President and Congress, posing potential environmental damage to extensive areas of the West.

Environmental Ethic Essential

If you have glanced at your watch, you know that there is no way I am going to present solutions to all these problems in the time remaining. Indeed, for many of these problems no practical solutions seem readily apparent. You will recall, however, that at the outset I defined the conservation challenge of the 80s this way: "to reshape our attitudes and values and our practical approaches in such a way that we can live in an era of scarcity without ruining the life systems on which we depend." I submit I to you that it is only with this change of attitude - in other words, with an understanding and practice of what I call an environmental ethic - that we will begin to resolve many of I these issues.

Six years ago I set out to write a book about the significance of practicing an environmental ethic. My experiences as a member of the President's Council on Environmental Quality had convinced me that passing laws or setting up new governmental agencies would not be sufficient to solve the kind of dilemmas we were approaching. Nor could we depend on business and industry to exercise corporate environmental responsibility simply because the law prescribed certain actions or imposed certain standards. I was confident, however, that the seeds of an environmental ethic had been germinating, and I optimistically set out to find good examples in the all-important business sector. I expected to research and write the book within one year. But I found the evidence to support my optimism so hard to come by that it took me four years to write the book. I discovered that although an environmental ethic is sprouting, it is not yet strong enough to exercise a real influence on the choices most people make, especially those who make the big decisions that affect much of the nation.

I did find in government, as well as in corporations and other entities of the private sector, a few organizational structures through which environmental effects could be factored into decisions before actions were taken. But those structures proved effective only when some individual in the organization was sufficiently imbued with an environmental ethic to give force to environmental concerns-an individual business leader, a lawmaker, a public official or a local citizen activist who cared enough to lead the way.

Wherever I encountered these environmentally caring decisionmakers, I found that their actions resulted from a kind of enlightened self-interest. Instead of acting only for "me" (their own restricted, personal interests), they were considering "us" (their neighbors, their community and the natural world) in their decisions. And they had widened their span of interest from a preoccupation with "now" to consideration of a "now that includes the future." They were practicing what might be called "environmental citizenship." Considering the impact of their decisions and living as responsible members of nature's system amounts to environmental citizenship much the way abiding by the law, voting, paying taxes and acting responsibly toward the community constitute political citizenship.

The relatively few decisionmakers who are practicing environmental citizenship have a personal sense of values that is essentially different from the prevailing value system. This sense of values makes them willing to go against the power structure of their community or company or legislative body or government agency. Environmental citizenship will not be widespread, therefore, until a major shift in values takes place.

I like the way Wendell Berry stated this theme so eloquently in a recent article in Sierra Magazine:

"If we are willing to pollute the air-to harm the elegant creature known as the atmosphere-by that token we are willing to harm all creatures that breathe, ourselves and our children among them. There is no begging off or trading off."

The sense of values leading to environmental citizenship will be increasingly important as population pressures, material growth, resource depletion and the effects of technology carry the threat of ever more destructive impacts on the planet. The presence of an environmental ethic in our everyday decisions could be more important than we realize. Our decisions as individuals - at home and at work, as citizens, workers, professionals, or corporate or public officials - taken together, determine the hopes and quality of life for everyone.

With the predominant values in society weighted toward narrow self-interest, the role of those who seek the environmentally ethical route is difficult and often unpopular. Yet if we do not make our choices on the side of the environment now, our options will narrow rapidly as the pressures of population growth, resource depletion and pollution irreversibly alter the quality of living on the planet. Each of us, individually, can look for ways of making fewer demands on natural resources. We can seek to live in harmony with the natural order. We can replace a self-only, short-range outlook with universal, long-term values. And we can bring environmental considerations into our decisions, from the smallest to the greatest.

That is the hope. And therein lies the conservation challenge of the 80s. I, for one, am optimist enough to live by that hope. But in closing, I think I'll take a cue from that young ranger at Tahoe and put the conservation challenge of the 80s in the words of the eminent Theodore Geisel who, under his pen name, Dr. Seuss, plants a moral imperative among his delightful fables such as The Lorax:

UNLESS someone like you
Cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better.
It's not.

Introducing: Robert Cahn

In the summer of 1969, Mr. Robert Cahn, the 19th Albright Lecturer, was encamped at Lake 2900 on the North Slope of Alaska's Brooks Range with a group of scientists hired by oil companies to investigate the impact of the proposed oil pipeline on soil and wildlife. One morning he left camp for a walk through the tundra to the crest of a little hill. On the way, he admired the awesome vastness and beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, tinged with some uneasiness at the sense of total aloneness in this untamed region hundreds of miles from civilization. On reaching the hilltop, the uneasiness was replaced with a shocking view, for below lay the abandoned campsite of an oil exploration crew, long since gone. Around the site was the debris of exploration - oil drums, gasoline cans, wooden crates, piles of tin cans, and other trash. Leading away from the site were old tire tracks, now two- or three-foot gullies running parallel down the slope, the product of man's technology and nature's erosion. The experience left a deep impression, and was a factor leading Mr. Cahn on a ten-year search for an environmental ethic that would dominate his activities through the decade of the 70's.

Mr. Cahn is presently Washington Editor for Audubon Magazine, to which he gives about one-half his time, and a freelance writer and consultant on environmental matters. A native of Seattle, Washington, he received his Bachelor's Degree from the journalism school at the University of Washington in 1939. His first assignment was as a sports writer for the Seattle Star. Following wartime service with the U.S. Army, he returned to journalism as a reporter for the Pasadena Star News, In the period 1946 to 1969 he evolved from a newspaper reporter into a nonfiction magazine writer and editor, serving on the staffs of Life, Colliers, and the Saturday Evening Post. In 1963-64 he was White House reporter for the United States Information Agency's International Press Service, writing on various subjects.

Among his many publishing credits was the first national magazine article about Marilyn Monroe (in 195 1), and articles on nuclear tests, the rights of wild animals in national parks, and children's author Dr. Seuss.

In 1965, Mr. Cahn joined The Christian Science Monitor as a correspondent. Subsequently, in 1968, following extensive traveling and interviewing in the national parks, The Monitor published his 16-part series, "Will Success Spoil the National Parks?" for which he was later awarded the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. From that time to the present, his career as a journalist has focused on conservation and environmental matters.

Mr. Cahn received the honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Allegheny College in 1970. He was appointed by President Nixon as one of the initial three members of the Council on Environmental Quality in 1970, serving in the capacity until 1972. From 1973-75, he served on the President's Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality, and from 1976-78 on the Coastal Zone Management Advisory Committee of the Department of Commerce. He currently serves on the governing boards of the Trust for Public Land (San Francisco), The Bolton Institute (Wellesley, Mass.), The Institute of Ecology (Indianapolis), New Directions, The Environmental Policy Institute, the American Land Forum (Washington, D.C.), and the John Muir Institute.