“Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land, but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. . . . Moreover, I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few. . . . Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.” —Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, August, 31, 1910
Outdoor ethics is deeply ingrained in the BSA program since no part of the program is important than the outdoors (see Outdoor Ethics and Leave No Trace Training). Scouting and Venturing have a long, proud tradition of conservation service to the nation and conservation has been an integral part of the program of the Boy Scouts of America since its establishment. Men such as BSA founder William D. Boyce, National Scout Commissioner Daniel Carter Beard, Chief Scout Ernest Thompson Seton, and U.S. President and Chief Scout Citizen Theodore Roosevelt were all active supporters of wildlife conservation and yet were avid hunters.
The extinction of the passenger pigeon, the near extinction of the American bison, and the expiration of a number of game animals from their natural range drove home to these men that without proper management, our natural resources were not inexhaustible. Gifford Pinchot, BSA’s first Chief Scout Woodsman, was the first director of USDA Forest Service and a strong advocate for the scientific management of forests. He joined with these other men, who had a sense that the landscapes that made the American frontier were disappearing and, with them, the opportunity for Scouts to practice outdoor life and outdoor craft to “counter the drift of modern city life,” as described in the 1925 Handbook for Scoutmasters.
Early Scouting Conservation
In the early days of Scouting, conservation was often included as part of the sixth point of the Scout Law: A Scout is kind; “He is a friend to animals.” The requirements of the Conservation merit badge listed in the third edition (1927-40) of the Boy Scout Handbook summarized the ways in which Scouts actively practiced conservation: “Present evidence of having directly assisted conservation by some practical deed, such as fighting a forest fire, checking erosion; planting trees; helping restock streams with fish; posting or distributing conservation notices; planting wild rice or other duck feed; feeding birds in winter; stopping stream and river pollutions.”
By the time the fourth edition (1940-48) of the Boy Scout Handbook rolled out, memories of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl provided additional images for Scouts and Scouters to associate with conservation. In the “Conservation for Scouts” section, Ted Pettit, then director of BSA’s Conservation Service, reminded Scouts, “In recent years, shortages of several natural resources—minerals, some kinds of timber, some kinds of birds and animal—and an increase in dust storms, floods, bog fires and forest fires, all have helped to make conservation part of America’s conversation.” “But,” he wrote, “how many Scouts really know what conservation means, what it implies, and what they can do about it?” Those Scouts and Scouters who read on learned that conservation is “the wise use of natural resources—minerals, soil, plants and animals—so that these resources will continue to serve the greatest number of people, to the fullest advantage.” In addition to the sixth point of the Scout Law, Scouts were told the ninth point of the Scout Law—“A Scout is thrifty”—is equally important in conservation.
Scouts were also encouraged to undertake projects to protect and improve the soil, water, trees and plant life, and wildlife, with the help of various conservation agencies. In addition, Scouts and Scouters were cautioned “that before any project is undertaken . . .
all possible outcomes should be predicted, as far as possible, so that the project will produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” In particular, Scouts were urged to be careful not to inadvertently break strands in “the ‘Web of Life.’”
When the fifth edition of the Boy Scout Handbook reached the hands of Scouts and Scouters, World War II was over. In addition to the text on conservation in the fourth edition, Scouts would read how “America’s natural resources are a part of your heritage,” and they could take the Conservation Pledge.
Conservation Efforts During My Life
In more recent times, we’ve seen conservation programs continue this theme of wise use, but it expanded to reflect growing knowledge of how important our natural resources are to life itself. The Conservation Good Turn evolved into Save Our American Resources—SOAR; using a life preserver with symbols for “land, air, water, and vegetation—the elements that make life possible on Earth,” and arrows to “symbolize the interdependence of man with his environment.” Energy conservation became a recognized component of the conservation program, as well. The Conservation Pledge became the Outdoor Code
I grew up in a time when conservation was a given with BSA programs. For me it was part of life. My brother Mike, was a botanist, we had a green house at home and mom thought her duty was to replant the Garden Eden in Utah. On the back of this Outdoor Code card, I pledged my duty to protecting resources with my signature. In the 1960s and 70s I must have given hundreds of these same cards to Scouts at camp, getting nearly evert troop to do a 2-hr service project for the environment.
As a new Scout walking home from school one day, I noticed erosion along Mill Creek where it went under 2300 East in our Salt Lake neighborhood. I got the Eagle Patrol to join me in making check dams that Saturday. Four years later I was doing a reclamation project with dozens of these dams in a small canyon near Alpine, UT for my Eagle Service Project. Last year, I did it all over again behind the Frandsen Lodge at Scofield Aquatics Camp, where we had seriously disturbed the soil around the new building.
Looking back, it’s clear those early teachings on caring for the land took hold in my life (give me water in a plastic bottle and I am committed to get the empty into a recycler every time) and often found their way into my “Daily Good Turn.”
If you are looking for ideas to help your Scouts become men such as Roosevelt, Boyce, Beard, Seaton or Pinchot try The Conservation Handbook, which is designed to help Scouts undertake meaningful conservation projects. It lists many of the agencies and organizations that can provide guidance to Varsity Scouts and their leaders, and outlines strategies for developing ongoing stewardship relationships between Varsity teams and the managers of the areas where they take part in outdoor adventures.
Today, Scouts and Scouters continue to participate in a wide range of activities that reinforce the wise use of our nation’s and the world’s natural resources.
The changes and additions to the conservation program in Scouting didn’t replace or belittle the earlier concepts of conservation; in this second century of Scouting the need is the same–we need to Save Our American Resources (SOAR) and Leave No Trace by practicing sound Outdoor Ethics. These new programs reflect our increased knowledge about our world and how it works to identify additional tools we can use to effectively address problems and help insure future Scouts will have the same or better opportunities to enjoy the natural environment without a loss in their quality of life.
This article was republished:
Author: Darryl Alder | Director of Support Services, Utah National Parks Council, BSA