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A few decades ago, Lou Holtz used the do-right rule to discipline a football team: You do what is right, not necessarily what the rules say.

Does that make sense? Lou ruled with an iron hand, and if you broke the do-right rule, you didn't play football for Arkansas.

Do you remember the 1978 Orange Bowl? Three starters were on the sidelines for breaking not the law or the school's rules or regulations, but Lou's do-right rule. (I was there and thought Oklahoma was going to kick our backsides, but in my opinion that was Arkansas' greatest victory.)

You might ask what the do-right rule has to do with the environment. Aren't we a nation of laws, rules, and regulations? Surely the do-right rule shouldn't override our judicial system, should it?

Yeah, it should. Consider the following: A couple of years back, a man who had worked in the south Arkansas oil fields before we had a Department of Environmental Quality or any regulations concerning the dumping of saltwater, said: "You know, when I worked on those wells, we just pumped oil and saltwater into one tank, ran the mixture through a treater, which separated the oil to a holding tank, and then we dumped the saltwater on the ground and it ran off into a nearby creek. I remember looking out across a barren, dead creek bottom, and seeing all the damage this saltwater was doing. I never felt right about it. I knew it wasn't the right thing to do."

As a boy growing up in the little oilfield town of Norphlet, I remember walking on salt-crusted land by those dead creeks. Violations of the do-right rule? You bet!

I also remember walking up to the drinking fountain in the courthouse and reading a sign that said Colored Only. Why? I asked. It's the law, my dad informed me. Didn't fit the do-right rule, did it?

Back then, our laws also inhibited black Americans from voting by tacking a poll tax on the right to vote. Up until 1919, women couldn't vote at all. If those aren't violations of the do-right rule, what are?

As we review our country's history, it's easy to see the difference in what our laws let us do and what is right. We have cut our ancient virgin forests into oblivion. We shoot, trap or in some manner kill most of the wildlife living on the land, driving numerous species into extinction. And just consider the plight of the Indians.

"Now hold on a minute," you might say. "All this destruction happened years ago. We're enlightened. We don't do that today."

Don't we? Consider the paper manufacturing industry. Is there a do-right rule in paper products manufacturing? For years, discharge from a large south Arkansas paper mill essentially killed a natural lake. It was operating within the limits of its permit, so it's OK, right? Wrong--violating the do-right rule.

Now let's focus on the Crater of Diamonds. Back in the 1980s, there was a push to commercially mine the diamonds. I was president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, which strongly opposed the idea. I even led a group to picket the park.

If the authorization had been granted, it would have legally destroyed a state park. Let's look closer. The park is some 850-plus acres with its primary attraction a diamond-bearing igneous pipe. The world-class attraction features a 40-acre plowed field that has yielded thousands of diamonds to visitors from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries. It's set in the middle of one of the most scenic areas of southwest central Arkansas.

Back in the 1980s, plans were formulated to begin a commercial diamond mine at the park. If we mine diamonds, why not cut the timber and dredge gravel? What's the difference? If we decide to mine or cut or dredge one state park, then why stop there?

How about Yellowstone National Park? Any geologist will tell you Yellowstone would make a company a lot of money. Consider the geothermal resource and the heavily mineralized area.

Unthinkable? That's right. It is unthinkable that Yellowstone would be mined. However, as spectacular as Yellowstone is, it is not unique. Other parks around the world have many of the special features found there, but our Crater of Diamonds is one of a kind. This beautiful park resource is perpetual. It will always be an attraction; we could never find all the diamonds.

Now let's look back to 1920 when Arkansas Game and Fish Commission was formed. It's done a remarkable job in many areas of game management, but back then it violated the do-right rule in a big way by putting bounties on apex predators in the state and eliminating all the cougars, wolves, bears, and most of the bobcats.

The slaughter of apex predators was just a drop in the bucket compared to the slaughter of the snowy egret. In the early 1900s the fashion houses of Paris deemed it absolutely necessary for the fashions of the day to use the plumes of the snowy egret.

What was our response? We killed millions of snowy egrets just to pluck the plumes and send them to Paris for a lady's bonnet. We blew it again, didn't we? Do you think the ladies who pranced down Fifth Avenue thought about the egrets that were killed to satisfy their vanity?

Today we don't live in the environmental dark ages, and we should abide by the do-right rule because it's the right way to live. Could you give your wife a diamond knowing a scenic park was destroyed for a chip of stone? Maybe you can, but I can't, Because if we had allowed the Crater of Diamonds State Park to be mined it would violate the do-right rule.

It's easy to see that when an individual, company, or state commission violates the do-right rule, the results create a loss of quality, whether it is in the wildlife, the air we breathe, or the water we drink. Basically we live under the ultimate do-right rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Email Richard Mason at [email protected]

Editorial on 03/29/2020

Print Headline: The environmental do-right rule

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