Wildside: Leave natural resources better than you found them
I learned to rebuild a car engine when I was five. My father, in addition to working a couple of jobs, had a vehicle repair business. If I wanted to spend time with him, I had to be out in the shop evenings and weekends. His interest became mine.
When I was about 10 years old, my dad gave me my first toolbox, a big rusty one. It was one of his first toolboxes when he started working on cars. I sanded it down and painted it red, and loaded it with any tools he would give me. I hauled that toolbox with me everywhere I went for more than 30 years.
When my oldest son turned 10, I gave him that toolbox. I told him where it came from, that he was the third generation to get it, and that he could make it his own just like I did. He said he wanted to clean out the rust and paint the inside. He started on it, but didn’t get very far. The next day I found it lying upside down in the driveway. I moved it around for a couple of days, but when I realized how little it meant to him, I picked it up and put it up on a shelf in the shed.
I wasn’t upset, really. I wasn’t surprised, either. We are different people, and he clearly has different priorities than I did at his age. I got to thinking about it–when I got the toolbox, it was the best my dad could do. He had used it, gotten what he needed from it, and it was sitting neglected until he decided I needed it. The cycle repeated with me. I had to ask myself: was this also the best I could do? Take something that I had used until it no longer suited my needs, cast it aside, and then eventually gave it to him? I want my kids to have it better than I did; when he is ready, I will get him a new toolbox.
Sometimes I feel that way about our natural resources, too. With so many seemingly limitless abundant natural resources it is easy to think of them as personal property. In my many dealings with people, I occasionally come across someone who is singularly focused on what they can exploit from a resource for themselves. They aren’t thinking about the people around them or the generations to come. Others have gotten what they wanted from a resource, and they are ready to put it aside without another thought.
The good news is that there are many people out there that want to make sure their kids have better resources than they had themselves. These are the people that have changed the world for the better. They helped clean up the air and the water. They protected fish and wildlife that needed it, and developed regulated harvest which ensured there would be plenty for present and future generations.
I am not talking only about Department of Natural Resources employees, either–citizens and the general public have played an important role throughout. I can tell you with certainty that in many ways we are living in a better world than when I was younger–a lot less litter, cleaner lakes and rivers, and fewer sooty smokestacks. We have more wildlife species now, and definitely more deer.
The decisions we make right now determine what kind of “toolbox” we will give to our kids. I am often asked how we are supposed to get our children interested in hunting with so many other competing interests. I assert that if we protect and enhance our resources for everyone, with an eye on the future, our children will develop interests in them just as we did. Then, when they are ready, we will give them better natural resources than we had for ourselves.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call 715-365-8999.