This world needs more heroes.

We've got plenty of villains. You can't turn on the television or pick up the newspaper without running across a bad guy.

But try to find a genuine hero and, well, you've got a long search ahead of you.

The outdoor world has plenty of wannabe heroes. There are scores of celebrity hunters who act the role. But when it comes down to it, they've only got one thing on their mind -- here's a hint, you store it in your wallet.

If you want to search for a modern-day hero, you need to know of one man the world lost too soon. Ralph Abele was one of Pennsylvania's most heroic conservationists.

He believed every citizen of the state had the right to "clean air, pure water and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment."

Abele
Abele

Born in 1921, when the state's natural resources were in desperate need of caretaking, Abele took to conservation at a young age. But it wasn't until he was appointed the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish Commission (now the Fish and Boat Commission) in 1972 that Abele felt he could have a lasting impact on the state's resources.

He became known for a line that still rings true today. "If the fish can't survive in the water," Abele said "there are serious problems for man."

The charismatic leader used that notion as the foundation for an aggressive agenda that included battling acid rain, mine runoff, pollution and the restoration of shad in the Susquehanna River.

Although Abele retired from his post atop the commission in 1987 -- and died just three years later -- his legacy lasts on.

In fact, Abele was the man behind the Fish and Boat Commission's "Resource First" motto and philosophy.

His legacy also lives on through the Ralph W. Abele Conservation Scholarship Fund (given each year to a student studying an environmental discipline) and the prestigious Ralph W. Abele Conservation Heritage Award (the highest conservation recognition provided by the Fish and Boat Commission).

Next Tuesday, the Pennsylvania State Archives, which recently took possession of archival records related to Abele, will hold a ceremony honoring our hero. But it will likely get little attention -- nothing like when a hunting celebrity rolls into town.

Abele believed in something and he dedicated his life to ensuring his vision became a reality. Study the history of the state's waterways and you'll quickly see that his efforts played a pivotal role in reversing the direction of a dangerous trend.

Visit one of the region's many crystal-clear streams and thank a great hero for his efforts.

We could use more men like Ralph Abele.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@york dispatch.com.