STEVENS POINT — Wisconsin’s rich conservation history gets a big boost every spring when the Conservation Hall of Fame inducts new members. This year’s ceremony, beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 14, at the Sentry Insurance Theater in Stevens Point, manages to span more than 100 years of state conservation history.
Probably the best known inductee is George Meyer, a former Department of Natural Resources secretary and the last person to be selected by the Natural Resources Board for the job. Wisconsin’s governor now appoints the secretary. Sometimes those people actually have natural resources backgrounds, like Meyer.
Meyer will be joined by Charlotte Lukes, who will be inducted along with her late husband, Roy, both of them beloved naturalists who dedicated their lives to protecting the fragile natural beauty of Door County. Also inducted will be Arlie Schorger, a natural historian, businessman and former wildlife faculty member at UW-Madison who wrote the seminal book on the demise of the passenger pigeon. Schorger is long dead, having passed in 1972, but that’s how it sometimes works with the Hall of Fame. It relies on nominations submitted by others. Sometimes, people like Schorger fall through the cracks for a while.
Meyer, who has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation for a number of years, will be remembered for skillfully overseeing the contentious Indian spearfishing disputes of the 1980s and 1990s while serving as DNR enforcement administrator. He met physical threats and other abuses with calm determination to enforce the law.
He also led efforts to develop Wisconsin’s wetland protection regulations, which were the strongest and most comprehensive in the country. Today, we’re watching the state’s legacy in this area come under attack.
As DNR secretary, Meyer advocated for controlling urban sprawl and for shoreline protection, the latter also under attack today. He also made hiring women a priority at the DNR.
Meyer is not without critics in the conservation movement for taking positions that aren’t always popular. But he relies on his skill as a policy and legal expert to sometimes take pragmatic, if unpopular, positions.
Charlotte Lukes and her husband were educators at heart, using their writing and speaking skills to educate the public about conservation and natural resources. They built the Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey’s Harbor into a center for conservation education, research and advocacy. Roy’s newspaper columns were staples in several state papers, and he authored five books on nature with Charlotte’s help. Charlotte is also an expert on mushrooms, having compiled a database of more than 600 Door County wild mushrooms. She has lectured extensively on the subject.
Iconic Door County natural attractions like Newport State Park, Mink River Estuary, Moonlight Bay, Mud Lake, Toft Point and Whitefish Dunes benefited from their advocacy and support. And they were always accessible. Reporters could rely on them for information about environment-related stories.
Schorger had a varied career, but his work on natural history was his real legacy. His 1955 book “The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction” is a remarkable research feat that is credited with advancing global concern for wildlife management and biodiversity. He is said to have cited 8,000 separate newspaper accounts in tracking the history of the bird’s demise. He also played a key role in erecting the Passenger Pigeon Monument at Wyalusing State Park. A subsequent book on the history of wild turkeys is equally admired, and he was considered an expert on scores of other species, writing a series of papers for the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.
UW-Madison emeritus professor Stan Temple, who compiled Schorger’s biography, uncovered scores of details like this. None were more surprising than the fact that Schorger and a few friends helped pay Aldo Leopold’s salary at UW-Madison for his first five years there. Leopold was hired at the height of the Great Depression, and the university budget was slim.
Bill Berry of Stevens Point writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times and is a member of the Conservation Hall of Fame Board of Governors. firstname.lastname@example.org
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