The Boy Scout Soil & Water Conservation Badge

Fifty Shades of Green

Conservation Badge Still Has a Lot of Merit

by Glenn Jochum

Glenn Jochum

There it is, my old green uniform, still sitting in my closet, with the only badge I earned as a Boy Scout, the Conservation Badge. It’s proof that I cared about the environment way back before I even knew what was at stake.

At the time, all I had to teach me about the earth was the half-acre woods surrounding my house in Huntington and a handful of Golden Nature Guides, written by Herbert Zim, my favorites being the ones on birds, mammals and reptiles and amphibians.

Those woods were enormous for a little kid and they taught me the value of solitude, how to listen to the natural world, the beauty of birdsong and what to do when my friends weren’t available to play, which was most of the time.

It was my father’s idea for me to join the Boy Scouts as a way for me to learn all of the things that he didn’t have time for.

And it worked for a while, in spite of the fact that I kept tying the same old lame granny knot every time I tried my hand at a square knot.

I originally wanted to be able to save someone from drowning, learn how to make a tourniquet, and what to do if a friend of mine fell and suffered a compound fracture.

But most of all, I wanted to earn the cool little badge that said I knew what my non-human fellow creatures were all about.

Conservation was just a big word without much meaning to me.

Over the years my Boy Scout Handbook and I parted ways. I know that the Soil and Water Conservation Badge was created in 1952 and in the wake of Earth Day, the Environmental Science and Fish and Wildlife Management Badges have given scouts more options to practice sustainability.

The latest revisions to the original badge appear to have taken place in 2008 and some of the requirements today bear little resemblance to the ones that I remember during the early 1960s.

Defining three types of soil and their nutrients, explaining conservation practice, talking about watersheds and the hydrologic cycle — I am pretty good with most of this.

But I don’t remember doing any of these: making a trip to places such as a waste treatment plant (I have a great sense of smell, I would have remembered this); a desalination plant (I never heard of these until I was on board a Navy ship) or a managed forest, range or pasture (these are adult concepts, kids just play in these places until we are chased away).

I clearly would have recalled having to plant 100 trees or bushes and my father would have groaned about the cost and having to lug these things around so that I could take credit for doing it.

So how in the name of Lord Baden Powell did I get my merit badge?

Most of it was likely done at the Baiting Hollow Boy Scout Camp, that nearly 300-acre piece of property adjacent to the famous dip in the road on Route 25A. I marvel at the list of features that were not there back in 1961, such as a 32-foot climbing tower with a rappelling wall and a rifle range. Or at least I opted for the archery range instead.

The only two conservation-related feats I remember pulling off were clearing brush endlessly on a July afternoon and making plaster casts of animal footprints.

As important as these activities were to the camp scoutmaster, they couldn’t hold a candle to learning how to identify the thrush that nested in my woods. Or knowing how to tell the difference between a poisonous coral snake, the one my dad said he saw in Texas when he was in the Army, or a non-venomous king snake, neither of which I have ever seen in the wild.

Since I never said this while you were around, Dad, thanks a lot for making sure I joined the Boy Scouts. It afforded me the most challenging week away from you and Mom I ever had as a kid. I’m still working on the square knot, but I did manage to do some overnight camping on the Appalachian Trail by myself.

Oh yeah, and thanks for those nature books as well. It took me years to learn that the role of most dangerous animal species on the planet belongs to none other than Homo Sapiens.

Glenn Jochum
Glenn Jochum grew up in Huntington, grew up more in Montauk, saw the world with the U.S. Navy and retreated to the last unruined paradise on Long Island, the North Fork. He’s written for the Navy and many Long Island newspapers, and was the managing editor of the Traveler-Watchman. He has written more than 200 songs, six CDs and is one-half of the folk-rock outfit The Earthtones.

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