Two weeks ago I watched the six-part series on PBS by Ken Burns covering the formation and development of our national parks. It was a great tribute to John Muir, the inspiration for the parks, and Stephen Mather, the first superintendent of the National Park Service. Both were instrumental in arousing the national interest in preserving many of our wonderful natural resources. Mather used much of his own personal fortune to buy land to be preserved and pay employees since there were no federal or state funds available for such purposes.
But there were plenty of opponents–lumber barons in California harvesting valuable redwood trees thousands of years old and Sam Cameron of Arizona who thought he owned the Grand Canyon and could exploit its mineral resources at will. There were many others–ranchers in Montana and developers in Florida to name a couple–opposed to the idea of public use of land that could be used for commercial purposes. It was a bloody fight with violence often applied.
Fortunately, the good guys won. Muir, Mather and hundreds of committed people saved these precious resources. Gladys and I have visited over 40 of the 58 parks and many of the national monuments as well. Each time we walk through the redwoods or sequoias we offer up a silent prayer of thanks to the people who fought for these trees.
Today there is a new sense of stewardship in the lumber industry towards the redwoods. Companies like Pacific Lumber, Humboldt Lumber and Green Diamond focus on long term growth of new trees and selective cutting rather than the clear cutting of the past. Such responsibility should result in redwoods, even on private land, being available in perpetuity. Though late in coming, it is the kind of stewardship that should permeate all lines of business.
Our own business has at times become endangered by the acts of those more interested in quick profit than preserving a tradition of public usefulness. Lawmakers invariably react to such activities in ways that often restrict the use of our products.
How well I remember being lectured by an irate congressman when I was testifying against a particularly onerous proposal. He was a congressman important to the industry but he warned, “The United States Congress is not going to regulate the insurance business on a policy by policy basis.” He further cautioned that if we continued to open new loopholes every time one was closed, Congress would have to apply a broad brush solution affecting all products.