Steve Lekwa: Who will hold the sky up?

Steve Lekwa

Doug Wood hails from my beloved North Country and is a favorite singer, 12-string guitar player, composer, poet, artist and author. One of Doug’s song’s is called "Who Will Hold the Sky Up?" The next words in the song are “now the big trees are down.” I’m writing on Sept. 10, one month after the devastating derecho that devastated so much of Iowa and left so many of our big trees down.

The song referred to great conservation leaders of the past who gave birth to, and carried forward the new concept of resource conservation and love for the great outdoors. They “held the sky up” so that we’d have a chance to enjoy and benefit from the resources they guarded. We’re still mourning the loss of so many big trees, but the question in Doug’s song — “who will hold the sky up” — is one we must constantly ask ourselves. Who will replant our forests? Who will shepherd through important conservation legislation? Who will do the necessary research to see that our precious natural and outdoor recreation resources are well managed so that they will be there to sustain and provide enjoyment to generations yet unborn? Who will enforce regulations put in place to protect us from our own greed and impatience to exploit those resources? Who, indeed? The answer is clear. It has to be us. Each generation must find new leaders willing to take on the task of “holding the sky up.”

We haven’t heard much good news out of Washington, D.C., this year. Most of the daily stories are of the pandemic that won’t let go and ongoing partisan bickering. Horrible negative campaign adds are also flooding the airwaves. Some “big trees” have been quietly at work in the capital, though. They were actually able to get some very important conservation legislation passed with bipartisan support! President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law on Aug. 4. The act provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (a major source of funding for state and federal projects) and created a National Parks and Public Land Restoration Fund that will begin to address a decades-long backlog of needed maintenance on federal public land.

Some of the “big trees” who worked to get this legislation passed were representatives from private conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and many others. Their names may not be known to many people even in their organizations, but their tireless work in very difficult times will benefit all of us in the years to come. These are organizations that know we can’t depend on government to do it all or act in a timely manner. Their members put their money where their mouths are to the tune of millions of dollars. Those dollars not only help get the needed field work done, but they carry weight in the halls of government.

The Covid crisis has actually increased interest in outdoor activities. Bike sales have skyrocketed. Fishing and hunting license sales have been declining for years, but actually increased this year. The average age of anglers and hunters has been increasing for years as their numbers declined, but many families have turned to the outdoors to find relatively healthy recreation. The big question is whether the new interest in outdoor activities is a temporary blip, or whether people will return to their sedentary indoor ways once the pandemic crisis is finally past. The “big trees” of today will continue to fall, as all big trees eventually do. Are some “new trees” being planted during this crisis that will become tomorrow’s “big trees”? There’ll be no one to “hold the sky up” if many “new trees” aren’t taking root today.

Steve Lekwa is the former director of Story County Conservation. Contact him at 4lekwas@midiowa.net.