Forty-two years ago what started as a simple idea quickly grew
into a national event.
Twenty million Americans marked that first Earth Day, setting aside
their political differences and coming together in massive
coast-to-coast rallies to lobby for a healthy, sustainable
This year we also celebrate another important landmark in the
history of natural resource protection that has been a precursor to
modern environmental movement: the 75th anniversary of the Wildlife
and Sportfish Restoration Act (WSRA). The WSRA directs excise
taxes from the sale of firearms, ammunition, and fishing equipment
to be used exclusively to improve fish and wildlife populations,
support hunter education, conserve critical habitat, and provide
public access to the outdoors.
To date, this federal program has pumped more than $13 billion into
conservation efforts across the country, more than any other single
conservation effort in American history. Vermont continues to be a
beneficiary of this historic program, leveraging millions of
federal dollars each year from the sale of Vermont hunting,
fishing, and trapping licenses.
Earth Day helped continue this visionary trend towards natural
resource conservation, leading to the creation of the US
Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air,
Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
"It was a gamble," founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from
Wisconsin, recalled, "but it worked."
As I travel across the state, I meet Vermonters who share the same
concerns of those first Earth Day celebrants and the forward
thinking members of congress who passed the WSRA in 1937.
As beneficiaries of these legislative landmarks, Vermont now
has-along with our state parks and forests-87 wildlife management
areas covering 131,000 acres that is home to sustainable
populations of game and non-game species alike.
We have protected habitat for numerous endangered and threatened
species, from the common loon to the spiny soft-shelled turtle, and
have restored populations of moose, black bear, and the eastern
wild turkey. More than 10 million visitors come to Vermont
every year to fish in our streams, hike and hunt in our woods, and
share in the beauty of our varied landscape.
I encourage you to celebrate Earth Day and the 75th anniversary of
the WSRA by taking the measure of the landscape around you. Hike
down a quiet trail in your community or cast a line for trout in a
clear, flowing stream. Grab your binoculars and watch the returning
herons fly overhead, or get out in the woods during the May turkey
hunting season. If you're up for the challenge, hike up one of
the Green Mountains and admire the winding spine of hills below
you. You'll quickly remember why we share a distinctive sense of
But also pause to leave this place better than you found it.
Help pick up debris left scattered by the roadways by incautious
travelers, or volunteer to plant trees along a river with your
local watershed group. This state is your inheritance and its
future is your legacy.
Wherever you wander, know that our collective efforts over the last
few decades, while a good beginning, are also just a start. Earth
Day and the 75th anniversary of the WSRA serve as reminders that
Vermont is ours to celebrate and to steward. But our natural
heritage is worth it.