You may recall that last month Rudy Giuliani’s business buddy, a.k.a. Donald Trump, threatened to cut off federal aid to California because the state wasn’t doing an effective job on fighting wildfires. Now the fact that the Federal Government owns half the forest land in California whereas state forest lands represent 3% and thus the problem is one for the Feds to resolve as opposed to being the responsibility of Governor Newsom’s administration is only yet further proof (as if we need more proof) that the 45th President of the United States is the most misinformed Chief Executive of all time. Be that as it may, this exchange brought back to mind a brief chapter of American conservation history which deserves to be recalled.
In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was an effort to combat the high rate of unemployment during the Depression while, at the same time, use government resources to expand and protect natural resources, particularly forest lands. When it comes to conservation we usually think of the other Roosevelt, Teddy, because he was an active conservationist his entire life and created five major national parks as President from 1901 to 1909.
Today the National Park System covers 85 million acres and everyone has either visited or would like to visit parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Yosemite, Zion, the list goes on and on. I have been in every national park and my own favorite is Joshua Tree outside of Palm Springs because it is mostly desert which means the solitude is immense. A close runner-up to Joshua Tree is Capitol Reef in Utah, another amazingly undisturbed place.
What is often overlooked when we talk about federal government efforts to preserve our natural space is that in fact it was Franklin Roosevelt’s CCC that enlarged the National Wildlife Refuge system which now covers more than 150 million acres, including 566 national wildlife refuges in all 50 states. In my state, Massachusetts, there are 11 refuges and I often wander in and around the Oxbow Refuge, which is 1,667 acres of totally unspoiled, natural swamp with nesting places for various migratory birds. During the years when the CCC was engaged in wildlife conservation, one of their chief tasks was to fight fires that threatened wildlife sites.
As open space becomes an ever-increasing precious resource, the fact that virtually everyone living in the United States can gain access to these unspoiled places by driving a short distance from their homes, means that the ability to appreciate the wildness of nature remains an experience we all can share. What group among us is dependent upon this environment to help them enjoy the outdoors? Hunters, whose purchase of hunting licenses, firearms and ammunition have contributed more than $14 billion to the upkeep and extension of these natural zones.
Much of the current debate about the place of guns in American culture ignores how the use of small arms for hunting and sport is a vital element in preserving the space needed by wild to flourish and grow. This may sound like something of a paradox, insofar as we usually consider hunting to be a threat to wild animal life. But in fact, hunters understand and support the Boone & Crockett idea of a ‘fair chase’ is really all about helping to maintain the vital balance between all living things – humans and animals sharing the Earth’s natural space.
For me, the importance of hunting for strengthening conservation is a much more fundamental argument for gun ownership than anything having to do with armed, self-defense or 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ Which is why I got involved with Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2), a remarkable organization whose scientific research is moving our understanding of how to protect wild species to an entirely new level.
I am going to be writing more columns about C2S2 but in the meantime I invite you to look at their website (https://conservationcenters.org/) and subscribe to their Facebook page. I guarantee you’ll like what you see.