Herewith a report by Correspondent Mark Sullivan of the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Washington bureau:
Outdoorsmen, for some time discouraged in efforts to preserve their diminishing recreational resources, last week were considerably cheered by two developments.
First, in the 85th Congress, now only two months old, bills relating to outdoor resources and activities neared a record 1,000.
Second, at the 22nd North American Wildlife Conference held in Washington, D.C, Administration officials disclosed a fresh and enlightened approach to conservation problems.
Not all of those bills presented to Congress will pass and some are even undesirable, but many are deserving of notice. One of the most Controversial is the Wilderness Preservation System Act, designed to keep already established wilderness areas inviolate forever. Another would require all hunting and fishing on military reservations to be in accordance with state law, and hence would do away with complaints that in some areas military personnel tend to harvest game in cavalier disregard of local laws and wardens. Other bills would, if ever passed, earmark large sums of money to bolster flagging wildlife and outdoor recreational facilities.
At the wildlife conference, conservation's major annual conclave, some 1,500 state game commission members, wildlife technicians, representatives of federal agencies, hunters and anglers were pleased with the news that the sticky dispute in which the Army tried to preempt 10,700 acres of the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma as a firing range had just been resolved, with the refuge virtually intact.
This victory was one of several attributed by the delegates to the vigorous policies of the new Secretary of the Interior, Fred A. Seaton. These policies were affirmed by Ross Leffler, the nation's first Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife (under the recent reorganization of the Fish and Wildlife Service—SI, June 25). Leffler, an energetic Pennsylvanian of 70, for years a national conservation figure and former assistant to the president of U.S. Steel, delivered a rousing address that put the Interior Department squarely on the side of the conservationists.
"We have as a nation," Leffler stated, "wasted and squandered our migratory bird resources and habitat on which they must depend for existence. . . . It is downright appalling to add up the score and find that about 70% of our original wetlands [potholes, marshes, deltas, etc.] have either been destroyed or eliminated as effective habitat.
"Why have we as a nation been so destructive...? I'll tell you why. We have been too darned anxious to get every last dollar return out of every acre of land and every drop of water. And this," said the new Assistant Secretary, "is where we start in the building of a bright new program for conservation."
The cheers were as rousing as the speech. And later SPORTS ILLUSTRATED asked Leffler a number of questions bearing on the Administration's fresh outlook:
Q. What is to become of fish and game opportunities in this country?
A. I am not a pessimist on this point. I think the answer lies in better management of available habitat. . . . I do not object to the idea of shooting preserves... but I think you have to think in terms of hunting and fishing for everybody, not just a select few.
Q. In view of increasing hunting and fishing pressures do you feel that the use of airplanes to gain access to remote areas should be banned?
A. I think it is a good thing to ban airplanes from going into some, not all, areas. At Quetico-Superior wilderness area, I recall, where airplanes have been banned, opponents of the ban said that without airplanes the area would go to pot. Well, I understand that there are more canoeists, more outfitters and more use of the area than before the planes were banned.
Q. Does the Assistant Secretary believe that industry is becoming more conservation-minded?
A. Yes. I attended a water pollution meeting recently in Harrisburg, Pa. People came all the way from Maine. That certainly shows interest. . . . Good conservation is good business management. Look at the enormous tree-planting program of Weyerhaeuser and Crown Zellerbach, for example. I do not say that it is universally the case that industry everywhere is conservation-conscious, but I think it is becoming ever more so.
Q. How big is the new Fish and Wildlife Service program you have mentioned going to be?
A. It is going to be the most comprehensive plan... ever attempted. We will have our first study report in May. . . . It will be a cooperative effort, a kind of three-way stretch between the Federal Government, the states and the various conservation groups. . . . But let me add something that I think is important and about which nobody has asked my opinion. We must also think of wildlife from its esthetic point of view. . . . We have got to think of the future. Where will we have to go in the outdoors in the future? Will our recreation be in the barroom or the outdoors, and which will make the better citizen...?
On that somewhat evangelistic note the conference came to an end. The outdoorsman still has battles ahead, but with both Congress and the Administration taking a sympathetic view he could rightly feel that they were half won.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROSS LEFFLER