“Use it, don’t abuse it.”
This simple philosophy is my creed about the environment.
We are commanded to be stewards of what surrounds us – the earth, air, water, plants and creatures.
Too many people , for too long of time did not adhere to that admonition. Instead, they used and abused nature. This led to many dire consequences in just the last 100 years – the dust bowl, pollution of great bodies of water and the threat to many species, including the majestic American bald eagle.
Wisconsin is blessed that three of the most recognized environmental advocates – John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson – have roots in the Badger state.
It was Nelson , who as U.S. Senator, advocated establishing Earth Day observed Sunday.
Nelson’s roots can be traced to the New London area where his mother was born. She was a sister to long-time Mukwa Town Chairman Gene Bradt and aunt to Helen Handschke and Evelyn Laib.
Terry Laib, Evelyn’s son, resides on the Bradt homestead off County X on Laib Road west of New London.
It was my privilege to meet Nelson a few times as a reporter for the New London area.
A highlight was a day-long excursion on the Wolf River. I wrote several stories about that trip recounting the history of the river and how the river was getting wider because the unprotected river banks were being eroded.
Several months later Nelson inflated my ego, sending me a large envelope with a personal letter directing me to pages in the Congressional Record where two of my articles were printed.
“He would visit his relatives when in the New London area, but I only met him once that I remember,” recalls Tom Handschke.
Nelson often comes up in conversations with Evelyn Laib and her daughter Mary Freeman.
Nelson awoke the conscience of America, making people aware of the responsibility to protect the environment to ensure a clean, viable earth for future generations.
It was the message espoused by Muir, born in Scotland in 1838 who emigrated to a farm near Portage and was educated at the University of Wisconsin, and later by Leopold, whose “A Sand County Almanac” about life on a played out farm along the shores of the Wisconsin River north of Madison.
“Sand County” sold more than two million copies and ranks along with Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” as one of the significant books about the environment.
Leopold came to Madison in 1924 with a job in the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory. He joined the university in 1933 to lead game management studies and in 1939 was named chair of the new Department of Wildlife Management.
As a legacy – in addition to his book – Leopold founded the Wilderness Society, an organization with a mission to “protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places.”
Muir was founder and first president of the Sierra Club and his vision and advocacy helped establish the ecological conscience of today.
More important was his relationship with President Theodore Roosevelt that influenced creating the country’s national parks. Muir sowed the seeds of that idea during a three-day camping trip he invited Roosevelt to in the Yosemite Valley.
After his exit from politics in 1980, Nelson was counselor for The Wilderness Society and became the most respected advocate for the environment. He earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.
Nelson rejected the suggestion that economic development should take precedence over environmental protection: “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.”
My personal philosophy is much the same, even though I favor drilling for oil – including off shore.
The Deepwater Horizon leak from a BP deep-water well miles off the Louisiana shore has in effect brought the controversial off shore drilling to a halt.
The time line leading to that disaster shows a number of decisions that reduced tests, deadlines and redundant safe guards that may have prevented or limited the damage from the well’s blow up.
Oil exploration should be allowed only if the maximum best-known precautions are taken to ensure minimal threat to the environment by forbidding shortcuts, less costly unproven options or placing deadlines ahead of safety.
The environment is like everything in our lives. We need to be good stewards and be responsible in all we do by considering how it affects other people and the world around us.