What Is Past Is Prologue

By Haas, Glenn E. | Parks & Recreation, September 2000 | Go to article overview

What Is Past Is Prologue


Haas, Glenn E., Parks & Recreation


In a quiet moment of reflection and contemplation, take yourself back a hundred years. Place yourself sitting upon a stump in a pine forest of upstate Pennsylvania, or peering through an aspen stand into a high mountain meadow of Colorado, or standing in the cold shallows of a California river rushing to the Pacific. You are eager to shoot a trophy deer, elk, or catch a plentiful supply of salmon.

Your thoughts are framed by a powerful sense of the frontier spirit and apparent boundlessness of our natural resources. Your individual liberty and freedom is quintessential, and dwarfs any sense of nationalism. The wilderness right beyond your standing is scary to you, yet there for the taming and taking. These new federal concepts of conservation and national commons don't make a lot of sense to you. You can't recollect hearing the names of Moran, Bierstadt, Thoreau, Pinchot, or Muir. And you have never heard of a national park, wildlife refuge, or national forest.

Then, from a distance, a person approaches. He is volunteer deputy game protector who gets paid by half of the fines he collects. In a gruff and non-negotiable manner, he informs you that you are no longer allowed to fish and hunt. He may tell you you need a license, need to pay a $10 fee before hunting, can only hunt from September to November, can only take one buck, cannot hunt on Sunday, cannot hunt with large groups of hunters, can only fish upstream from your neighbor, or that you can only use hook and line.

Imagine, 100 years ago, the gall of this government person infringing on your recreational rights and freedoms. Imagine your outrage that the government would temper your recreational use of public resources.

What was happening? We began to realize that restraints on our recreational freedoms were the price to pay for sustaining our public resources, and the quality opportunities they afforded. A new land era was being ushered in with the realization that our frontier ideology and imagery, combined with an insatiable appetite for natural resources, was leading to resource depletion. By the turn of the 19th century, the scarcity of many fish and game species had been well chronicled--from eastern deer and turkey, to Rocky Mountain elk and bison, and to California's salmon, mackerel, oysters, and sea otters.

The management of sport hunters last century may be the prologue for the management of visitors to our local, state, and national parks in the 21st century. It is no coincidence that the ecologic, social, and economic success of state wildlife agencies is in part attributed to sport hunting being the most regulated outdoor recreation activity in America.

State agencies annually establish big game population/harvest targets and adjust their management program and hunter licenses towards this end. …

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