Will Dilg

Williamson H. Dilg (1867-1927) was one of the 54 founders of the Izaak Walton League and served as the organization’s first national president. Under Dilg’s leadership, the League grew to more than 100,000 members and achieved numerous conservation victories, including establishment of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. In a 1924 article in Outdoor America, Dilg urged League members to work together to save our nation’s natural resources from destruction.

by Will H. Dilg

In the first issue of our League’s magazine, Emerson Hough asked in his epoch-making editorial, “Time To Call a Halt,” the following question: “Can any human agency work the great miracle of giving the ages a part of the America that was ours?”

When Emerson Hough asked the above pertinent question, he somewhat doubted the League’s ability to work out its plan of a national organization for sportsmen. And well he might, because for nearly fifty years he had actively participated in practically every attempt to awaken the sportsmen of this country.

No man knew better than he that all the plans to save sports in this country had failed. He saw our forests disappear like a prairie fire sweeping over an open plain. He saw our coastal and inland waters polluted worse than those of any country in the world. He saw the mad course of indiscriminate drainage in full swing. He saw fishing going and he saw all forms of shooting vanishing almost as rapidly as does the mist before the morning sun.

Saw Destructive Trend of Times

Emerson Hough solemnly believed that the Izaak Walton League of America had the right plan, but disappointments of the past fifty years had made him somewhat pessimistic. And in the beginning he doubted, at least a little, that the American sportsmen would rally to any cause in sufficient numbers to meet and defeat the money-mad but well organized vandals who were so ruthlessly crucifying outdoor America.

Until the birth of your League, there was no coordinated national organization of sportsmen in the United States. 

Our League was founded with a full understanding that the enemies of outdoor America were well-organized, and we knew full well that they were nationally organized.

We saw, just as we have often written, that we had to fight organized bodies of despoilers. We saw, too, that those organizations who fed upon the natural resources of America were well financed and were everlastingly on the job.

We knew those organizations never lost track of the thing they would exploit and that they were not greatly disturbed when the general public flared up into a sudden rage over some particularly raw steal. And this because clever men engineered these big steals and knew they could bank on our national habit of blithely forgetting.

No National Unison

Woman with Dead Birds_USFWSNo one knew better than did these crucifiers of wild places that the lovers of outdoor America were unorganized and therefore easily misled — that there was no teamwork and no sanely directed national movement unceasingly working from county to state and from state to nation as the Izaak Walton League has put into working force and given our country for the first time in its history.

Our friend, Hal G. Evarts, in The Saturday Evening Post, has a wonderful article entitled, “Conserving the Remnants.” Please read the following quotation from Mr. Evarts’ article thoughtfully and carefully:

“There were good reasons for this widespread misapprehension, for the interests that preyed upon the natural resources of the country were organized. They exhorted the people to be practical, to stand by their guns as hard-headed American citizens, and urged them to pay no heed to the sobs of sentimental crusaders who would block the progress of development. And the people, either through misunderstanding or apathy, failed to grasp the fact that it was exploitation, not development, that was being foisted upon them; that much of the work going on about them was destructive, not constructive; that they were being practically looted, not practically led; that a few were feathering their nests at the expense of the many and slaughtering the birds that supplied the down.”

The above quotation from the trenchant pen of Mr. Evarts fairly and squarely shows up the tactics of the looter of the past generation. Surprising as it may seem, the same old methods work quite as well today, the difference being the big exploiters maneuver with more caution, and this principally because of the Izaak Walton League of America — the largest national organization of sportsmen on this planet.

Never doubt, the wise ones already see the handwriting on the wall. And don’t doubt for
a single minute that the plunderers of our out-of- doors land fear a nationally organized army of sportsmen. 

Grab-Bag Nearly Empty

Now our nation’s grab-bag is nearly empty — the days of gigantic land and timber grants are about over. We have been stripped of our millions upon millions of acres of forests — the big north woods of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are hardly more than a memory. We know now that a tragedy has been committed under the magic name of “development.” Today, every man knows the falsity of the old cry, “We are conquering the wilderness,” because now we know that it was being destroyed.

We know now that posterity was being systematically looted and sold out of its Great Heritage with scarcely a soul daring to sound the alarms.

The writer well remembers when the light of conservation shone faintly, as does a candle in the dark. Today conservation is a national word and it means something tangible and practical to all thinking men and women who consider the future of our America. 

The Izaak Walton League has caused a sudden consternation to sweep over our land, and sanity now declares that the havoc and ruin of the past must be stopped — pronto — if we are to hope for an out-of-doors worth the name.

The standards of the Izaak Walton League of America lead the way and our banners are held aloft by two-fisted American sportsmen who have earned the right of way through the sheer right and might of their conservation achievements. We have only begun to put up a fight for those places “where the winds are untainted and the skies are clean — where God speaks in mountain and tree and spring and flower.” We have sworn that all these sacred things belong to the nation’s children and are their national heritage.

Everybody's Business, Nobody's Business

1938 Tobaggan Riding_USFSThree hundred years ago, Izaak Walton expressed in a single sentence the whole philosophy of the League which has adopted him as its patron saint. Here follows Father Izaak’s words, and think as you read. He said, “That which is everybody’s business is nobody’s business.”

Truer words have never been written by any man. Our League has made the saving of the remnants of outdoor America its one and only business. The chapters of this League are not quitters or forgetters and are on the job all the time.

Now what is the basic plan of the League?

First, we have the local chapter and its duty is to awaken public opinion and to push forward conservation measures within the borders of its own county. Some of our chapters have performed miracles — they have established county game refuges and fish hatcheries, cleaned up the county lakes and streams, and in many counties
in this country it is positively indecent for any man or woman to talk about a love of wild places and wild things without belonging to their chapter.

Second, we have the state division, made up of all the chapters in the state. Each year the state organization of Izaak Walton chapters holds a state convention, and it is the duty of the local chapter to send a delegate, or delegates, to this annual convention of the state division. The number of delegates is determined by the size of the chapter. Here is discussed state-wide needs and intelligent action is taken. Resolutions at these conventions mean just what they say. They are backed up by fighting chapters, and to this day, no state division has failed to put over any measure for which it has made a determined fight. 

Third, it is the duty of every chapter in the League to elect and send delegates to our annual national convention, and here, conservation for “my United States” is the predominating subject. Here the sportsmen of the nation meet in convention for three days and discuss national ways and means. It is at these conventions that the League’s national policy is adopted by a vote of the majority. Each convention elects national officers and national directors, and representative government is in full force one hundred percent. An editorial without a purpose is a useless editorial. This editorial has a purpose, and here is its purpose.

Its first purpose is to prove to every chapter member that the despoilers of outdoor America are nationally organized, well-financed bodies working harmoniously together wherever and whenever their exploitations are endangered.

Coordinated Team Work Vital

Its second purpose is to convince every individual member of a chapter that only coordinated team work can win such battles as our Upper Mississippi victory. All Waltonians must under- stand that big chapters make big state divisions, and big state divisions make a big Izaak Walton League, and a big Izaak Walton League working intelligently, as its past achievements prove, will win every fight the League vows to win.

Its third purpose is to help our nationwide October drive for new members — and this means that if the drive is to succeed, it becomes the duty of every chapter member to recruit for his chapter at least one new sportsman.

The writer is doing just what he preaches, and today has increased the membership of the Chicago chapter by five members. Now how many sportsmen are you going to recruit into your chapter? 

I have shown you in this editorial why you should do a little work to make your chapter grow bigger and more successful and thus help your state division grow bigger and more successful and your League grow bigger and more successful, and no one can doubt that every word of this editorial from its beginning to its end is just plain common sense and that it is TRUE.

Chance to Make History

The doors of opportunity are now swung wide for this League to make history, and surely the God of Nature looks down upon us and hopes that we may see the light and grasp our great opportunity. And push forward to a truly awakened nation so that we may at last save for ourselves and for our sons and daughters the shattered remnants, now so dear, of the old America of our ancestors. 

Verily, it is "Time to Call a Halt." And so before closing, and lest you forget, I give you once again almost the dying words of the greatest of outdoor America’s prophets. My editorial started with a question from Emerson Hough, and it will end with the answer to that question. Emerson Hough will answer the question himself, and here it follows:

“If you really wish to save a little shooting and fishing for yourself and your boys, go out and do what you can to put two million members in the lzaak Walton League.

When that thing is true, you will have won your fight. You will then see, safe forever, a great part of the most wonderful out-of-doors country that ever was put down on any part of the earth’s surface.”