Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Voices from the Past: A Short Treatise on Conservation (1918)

Sometimes we think that conservation is a modern construct; the truth of the matter, however, is that there were clarion voices in the past concerning over fishing and pollution of our waters. Larry St. John, the fishing columnist for The Chicago Tribune in the 1910s, was one such voice. In his many fishing columns and his book Practical Bait Casting (1918), St. John lamented the sorry state of the American waters. Here is a section from his book illustrating the problem.

When the white man first settled in what is now the United States, the lakes and streams teemed with game fishes of all kinds. For example, up until 1840 trout were plentiful in the Chagrin River, a few miles east of Cleveland, Ohio, and other near-by streams, while to-day there is only one trout stream in the whole state of Ohio, and that an artificially stocked one, the property of a fishing club. In the Elkhorn and other streams of Kentucky, muskellunge and immense pike-perch were common, but these streams know them no more. In practically every lake and stream in the Great Lakes region, black bass were plentiful; now there are hundreds of waters where the black bass is either unknown or very rare unless artificially stocked. What is the reason?

Several causes. Civilization and the consequent, although unnecessary, pollution of water is one; the hoggishness of man is another. Most fishermen, commercial as well as sporting, look upon our State and Fish Commissions,, as a police force to enforce more or less obnoxious laws that are, according to their viewpoint, designed solely to interfere with fishing. As a matter of fact, the enforcement of laws is only incidental; the real purpose of a State commission is to conserve for both present and future generations, the fish and game resources of the state. Due to the shortsightedness of the people most interested, game and fish laws and their enforcement are necessary. In the language of one of the comic newspaper characters: "Them is harsh words," but the situation, to one who has studied the facts, demands harshness.

-- Dr. Todd

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