- Historic Sites
Notes on the continuing battle
June 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 4
”… towards evening everything was ready, and with Donovan and myself sitting in the middle of the canoe like factors of old, the natives dipped their paddles and we were off on one of the most delightful and thrilling trips it has been my pleasure to encounter in the North. The weather was perfect; each bend of the river brought new thrills. Ducks were everywhere, and the constant singing of the small birds, coupled with the harsher notes of the cranes and the honking of the geese, made sweet music. In a little while the rapids became faster, longer and more frequent, until at last we came to one that proved to be about a mile long. After labouring up this we came to a mile or so of good water, and it was while we were on this calm stretch that the first Ross’s goose was sighted in the early morning light, flying towards the lake that lay ahead of us. Any doubts as to whether the geese we were looking for would be there certainly vanished when he appeared. On entering the lake, we could see them flying all over …”
Most of the world’s population of Ross’s geese, perhaps thirty thousand in all, winter at the Merced and Sacramento national wildlife refuges in central California. Revenues (nearly six million dollars were collected last year) from the sale of duck stamps to hunters are used to acquire land for such refuges.
Nineteen sixty-seven was the year of the “long, hot summer”; Detroit and Newark were in flames, and longtime journalist Robert Cahn of the Christian Science Monitor ’s Washington bureau vigorously protested when editor DeWitt John took him off urban affairs to do a fifteen-part series on the national parks and the problems created by the pressure of increased use. But his editor insisted, and that August, Cahn and staff photographer Norman Matheny started on a nine-month, twenty-thousand-mile inspection tour of twenty major park areas. Robert Cahn, fifty-two, a quiet, purposeful man, has been a working journalist since the Seattle Star took him on as a sportswriter the year he graduated with a B. A. in journalism from the University of Seattle. Over the years he has worked in various parts of the country for Life, Collier’s , the Saturday Evening Post , and others. So reluctant or not, Cahn meticulously laid the groundwork for his journeys to the national parks with extensive interviews on each park’s special problems. George Hartzog, director of the National Park Service, recalls, “I have answered his persistent ‘But why, George,’ at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in a pickup truck … climbing through Indian ruins, on an airboat in the Everglades, and on the back seat of a taxi returning from a congressional hearing.” All those “but why’s” asked of hundreds of park officials, park users, and concerned citizens produced a series of articles that generated so much interest that more than two thousand people bothered to fill in and mail to the Monitor a long questionnaire, which ran as the final installment of the series. It was the largest public survey ever conducted on park affairs. (The Park Service was surprised to learn the great majority of people wanted the parks preserved even at the cost of personal sacrifice or limitations on park use.) When he got back to his Washington desk, Cahn asked to spend full time reporting on the environment.
He won a 1969 Pulitzer prize for the series, and since then his perceptive, in-depth reporting on environmental questions has won him four other distinguished awards.
In January of this year President Nixon appointed Cahn to the newly created three-man Council on Environmental Quality, headed by former Under Secretary of the Interior Russell Train, with Dr. Gordon J. F. MacDonald, a distinguished geophysicist and expert on oil pollution, the third member. The council is to advise and inform the President on the broad sweep of environmental conditions. The qualities that earned Robert Cahn his reputation as an outstanding reporter and analyst on environmental issues should now be of great service to the entire nation.