Friday, August 3, 2012

Preserving A Wild Spirit in Kansas

            After reading last week’s article “Pheasants Forever uneasy about contest,” I am relieved that an organization dedicated to conservation of our resources has stepped forward to share its doubts about retiring House Speaker Jennison’s plans for promoting hunting in our state.
            When the first white men arrived, our plains teemed with varied wildlife.  Through careless hunting and no consideration for future generations, our ancestors hunted game such as the buffalo to the brink of extinction. 
            Since that time, Kansans have concerned themselves with providing quality outdoor resources for the general population.  Through visionary planning and careful management, our wildlife resources have recovered from exhaustive over hunting. 
While some Kansans may not enjoy hunting, fishing, camping or other outdoor activities, it is critical that opportunities for these activities remain available to the general population at a reasonable cost.
            Thoreau best explained why these opportunities are necessary, saying, “In wildness is the salvation of the world.”  At one time Kansas stood at the edge of the wilderness with all the hopes and possibilities a wilderness offers.  Vestiges of that wildness still exist in those places where pheasant, quail, deer, turkey, geese, ducks, and other creatures make their homes.  In habitat that supports these wild beasts, we find the geography of hope Wallace Stegner writes about in his “Wilderness Letter.”
            What is this hope he writes about?  In his collection of essays titled the Sound of Mountain Water, “he argues that an intangible, spiritual ‘resource’ exists in the wilderness, a force that helped form the national character.” 
`           In his “Wilderness Letter,” a part of this essay collection, Stegner quotes Sherwood Anderson, “… Mystery whispered in the grass, played in the branches of trees overhead, was caught up and blown across the American line in clouds of dust at evening on the prairies . . . I am old enough to remember tales that strengthen my belief in a deep semi-religious influence that was formerly at work among our people.  The flavor of it hangs over the best of Mark Twain . . . I can remember old fellows in my home town speaking freely of an evening spent on the big empty plains.  It had taken the shrillness out of them.  They had learned the trick of quiet  . . .”
           In the out of doors I, too, have found this same quiet that took the shrillness out of Anderson’s old men.  I know many outdoors people who share this feeling.  I hate to see our state indulge one more bureaucrat who sees the out-of-doors only as a marketing device to increase state revenues. 
          The real resource is not potential income.  It is not in turning over motel rooms one more time as someone tries to find the specially tagged pheasant that insures one hunter of a grand prize.  Our resource is maintaining and developing this “wildness” that calms our spirit, develops our character, and gives hope to future generations.
           As a way of providing Kansas outdoors people with quality outdoor experiences, our state Wildlife and Parks Department works hard to promote Walk in Hunting Access.  This focus meets multiple needs.  Farmers and ranchers realize income when they sign up with this program.  Hunters, in state and out of state, realize easy access to more land and quality habitat. Businesses sell products and services to the plethora of hunters utilizing these publicly funded wildlife areas.
          If, as Pheasants Forever spokesperson Barth Crouch indicated, the state funneled more money into the Walk in Hunting Access, more landowners and hunters benefit.  If more hunting is available, businesses benefit. 
         It makes me curious when I see a man who represents Kansans working so hard to create sleight of hand tricks that make it look like we are meeting the needs of more hunters. It seems to me that Jennison’s plan puts a giant foot in the door to establish fee hunting in our state.  He may not see it this way, but the possibility strengthens anytime we change the focus from meeting the needs of many to meeting the needs of a few who can afford outfitters and leases. 
        Outdoor activities such as hunting create their own reward.  Simply getting into the field to see creatures and plants in a natural setting is plenty of reinforcement for most of us.  We do not need to be lured with hopes of winning guns and vehicles to convince us that we want to spend one more night in a Kansas motel. 
        Forget promising prizes to hunters.  If we want to meet the needs of hunters, land owners, outdoors people, and business people, let us support organizations that work to create more wildlife habitat.  Let us make certain we leave a piece of wilderness to calm the spirits of our descendants.          Let us guarantee there is a geography of hope in our outdoors where our present and future generations can find that wildness, that place where we learn the trick of quiet that takes the shrillness out of our lives.
        Thank goodness for organizations that advocate equitable land use by many citizens.  If we want to look out for the present and the future, we need to speak up now to say loudly and clearly that we want all outdoors people to have increased, not limited, opportunity to stand at the edge of wildness. 

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