On-Air Highlights

WITF launches effort on conservation history

Written by witf.org, | Sep 12, 2014 12:48 PM

L to R: Ralph W. Abele; Mira Lloyd Dock; Gifford Pinchot

As Pennsylvania grapples with the environmental impact of a burgeoning Marcellus Shale gas industry, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on history. The Commonwealth has risen to similar challenges before. From timber to oil to coal, the state’s extractable resources have been top economic drivers throughout its history. But along with positive economic impact came deforestation, pollution and contamination.

The birth of the modern conservation and environmental movements can trace their roots to Pennsylvania. From Gifford Pinchot to Rachel Carson, Pennsylvanians’ passion for protecting the land, water and air arose from conflict — industrialization and destruction of natural resources. In many cases, ordinary people did extraordinary things. They were people who had fallen in love with Pennsylvania’s resources and were willing to devote their lives to creating and preserving resources that we enjoy today.

WITF in partnership with the Pennsylvania Conservation Heritage Project and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is working on a comprehensive project to tell the story of the state’s rich conservation heritage and the people who helped protect our resources. This three-year project includes a multimedia series of mini-documentaries and will culminate in 2016 with the production and statewide broadcast of a full-length historical documentary.

Here are just a few of the people who helped shape this part of Pennsylvania’s heritage.

Lord of the Fish: Ralph W. Abele


Pennsylvania anglers and boaters owe a lot to Ralph W. Abele (1921-1990). His resource first philosophy helped protect and conserve the commonwealth’s waterways and aquatic life.

As longest serving executive director of the Fish & Boat Commission, Abele is credited with restoring the American shad population to the Susquehanna River — a momentous task originally mounted by the Fish Commission at its founding in 1866. Overharvesting and disruption of migration routes by hydroelectric dams threatened to completely eliminate the shad fishery. It took more than 100 years and Abele’s passionate determination to open a state-operated shad hatchery and adopt regulations requiring hydroelectric dams to install functional fish passage facilities to bring back the fish.

Even before Ralph Abele’s appointment to the Fish Commission he was a major force in the conservation field. He served as executive secretary of the Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee of the state House of Representatives for 12 years, working on the Clean Water Act and other initiatives. He was also a member of numerous national, state and regional associations, federations and councils.

Beautiful crusade: Mira Lloyd Dock


In 1899, women were seen and not heard. Except Mira Lloyd Dock (1853- 1945), a little known Progressive Era activist. This botanist, forester and preservationist did just as much, if not more, for the city of Harrisburg than her male counterparts. She helped transform the city from a dirty, disease-ridden mess to a clean, manicured and modern destination worthy of Pennsylvania’s capital city.

In 1901, while Dock was working on making Harrisburg a model city, Gov. William Stone appointed her to the state Forest Reservation Commission. She was the first woman ever in the state appointed to a governmental position at a time before women could even vote. During her 12 years of service on the commission, one million acres of forest became reserves. It was through the new school of forestry at Mont Alto that Dock had her greatest influence on forestry. From its first year in 1903 until it was subsumed by the Pennsylvania State College in 1929, she was the professor of botany.

The greatest good: Gifford Pinchot


One of Dock’s contemporaries and colleagues was Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), America’s first trained forester and conservationist. Born into wealth and endowed with imagination and a love of nature, he shared his money, possessions and intellect to further the causes of the common good. Appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as the first forester of the United States in 1898, Pinchot served as the president’s “chief adviser” in the conservation movement. He believed in the guiding principle of “the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.” With the guidance of Roosevelt and Pinchot, more than 2 million acres of national forest came under scientific land management.

Gifford Pinchot would later serve two terms as Pennsylvania’s governor. He was quoted as saying, “I have been governor every now and then, but I am a forester all the time.” Policies developed by Pinchot still guide national and state forests practices today.

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