When scary is a compliment

  Dear HCN,


In your issue devoted to the sadly divisive but, I fear, century-old conflict between conservationists and environmentalists - preservationist John Muir couldn't stand conservationist John Burroughs, and vice versa - Ted Williams quoted one of my cultural heroes, Roderick Haig-Brown, who described the faults of the outdoor press as timidity and conformity: "It dare not shock or extend its readers, it must not frighten them with abstract or deeply considered ideas' (HCN, 3/3/97). Writer David Peterson then characterized my conservation coverage as hostile to professional wildlife management and strenuous wildlife law enforcement; as "myopic, misguided, self-serving, and - well, scary."


In the light of Haig-Brown's call for deeply considered and frightening ideas, I'm flattered by Mr. Peterson's description of my work. If it's scary to write skeptically about the truly self-serving propaganda pumped out by state and federal resource agencies and their non-governmental allies, I'm glad to be scary. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lies consistently about the status of North American waterfowl and concocts management theories to justify the continued overshooting of ducks, I'll gladly plead guilty to hostility to "professional wildlife management." When the Service also gives free rein to its law enforcement division to run an illegal, multimillion-dollar entrapment of falconers whose only proven crime appears to have been sloppy bookkeeping, I'm proud to have exposed that truly frightening example of "strenuous wildlife law enforcement" to Field & Stream's readers.


The majority of my colleagues merely rewrite governmental press releases and call it journalism. However, when the emperor has no clothes - or is shabbily dressed, as in the case of the currently fashionable Conservation Reserve Program - I feel a duty to point that out, no matter how scary such exposure might be to timid and conformist minds. Finally, so far as some federal laws are concerned - e.g., Endangered Species Act - I have not just a journalistic right to point out their shortcomings, but an obligation since I either helped write those laws or get them passed. If human nature doesn't always live up to the high hopes we had in creating a law, it's more sensible to modify it so it works as intended rather than go on senselessly insisting that we modify human nature instead.


So, thank you, David Peterson, for describing my work as "scary." The scarier it is, the more effective my role will be as conservation's ombudsman.





George Reiger


Locustville, Virginia





The writer is conservation editor for Field & Stream magazine.


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