Sunday, April 6, 2008

Use a Little Bit Less

I recently listened, as I often do on a Sunday morning, to The Thomas Jefferson Hour. Clay S. Jenkinson, who adopts the persona of President Jefferson, tells the most interesting stories of U.S. History. Last week he answered a somewhat disturbing question someone posed to him, regarding his treatment of Native Americans. (This show is titled Dispossession (show #710 and can be heard here (free)).

Remembering Jefferson’s dilemma, described by Jenkinson, as to how to humanly treat Native Americans during the Western March of Europeans across the continent, I am struck by how similar a problem this is to biologists, conservationists and birders (as well as anybody else interested in our natural world), as described by John Carlson in his Blog today: Crossing the Medicine Line.

It seems to me that, while we’ve stretched our footprints from east to west, and now as we are filling up the middle, we are also crowding into the wildest, furthest-most reaches of the country. But, we have more information than did Thomas Jefferson; we know this huge land is finite. Jefferson thought there was no way to halt the march of Europeans into the land of Native Americans and knew they needed time to 'catch up' to the ways of white people; so his next best idea was for them to move farther west while the two peoples learned to co-exist. Today, there is no more ‘out west’ for peoples or other creatures to move to while we continue to push into and occupy every last acre.

The work that people like John Carlson, Chris Wemmer, Susan Tweit, Kevin J. Cook, Rick Bass, Hope Ryden, and the late, great Barry Lopez (who will ever be one of my favorites) do is important. What we can do to celebrate their work is vote to keep green spaces and corridors of nature intact and large enough to sustain places where the wild can continue to be.

I live in Southern Colorado…we have coyotes (called God’s Dog by some), mountain lions and black bears. People move here for the wide-open spaces still available. We want to be close to nature…and yet some hunt coyotes that run off with little dogs left outside, shoot lions that prowl too close to goats left unattended and call the police to kill bears unwittingly encouraged into yards with the sweet nectar of hummingbird feeders, catches of seed left out for birds and garbage kept where bears can find and feed on it. We must learn to co-exist before it is too late.

Less glaring and every bit as dreadful is the paving over of land which makes water unavailable when it comes too fast, the ripping up of native trees and shrubs for water-needy lawn and plants that require constant care and extra water and the application of insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers that soak into the earth and pollute the little water there is left here; not to mention what topical application does to the birds and bugs and invertebrates that come in contact with the stuff. We must learn to co-exist before it is too late!

In the exact same way I don’t understand tossing empty cans and bottles out a car window, I don’t understand those who insist on living with a big footprint on our land. That so many cities and towns are actually paying for area-wide spraying of mosquitoes, that people insist on growing tea-roses in the desert and spraying them with all manner of poison to keep pests which attack weakened plants at bay, that people move to the country and then put up flood-lights around their homes that they leave on all night just baffles me. It is much like folks who visit the Antarctic. I recently heard one of those National Geographic-like shows on NPR that mentioned how popular this last bastion of wildness is and in spite of rules, regulations and pleading by those who organize these trips not to take anything back with them…many, many do and the affects are felt. Isn’t this a lot like taking a piece of a marble masterpiece; a finger of David? Will we not be happy until it is all gone?

I wonder why it is that our country is experiencing the financial woes that it is. All of a sudden I hear of $800 heating and electric bills and frustration of $4 per gallon gas. But I seldom hear that people are donning sweaters at home, or driving less often to the city some fifty or sixty miles away. It seems a lot of people would rather loose their homes than change their ways. Perhaps this is another wake-up call.

We are the only species that pollutes its nest. As a people, we are the biggest polluters. We guzzle more gas and oil than anybody and now there is an astonishing conversion of native prairie to cropland…especially soy and corn, now that it looks like we can drive our cars around on vegetable-fuel. I wonder why it is we have to suck our world dry before we change our habits? Will we not be happy until it is all gone?

Okay, this is turning into a rant and all I wanted to do was support the work that so many are doing to keep at least narrow pathways connected to a few places large enough to sustain our wilderness. I am not an activist, I do drive a vehicle and sometimes I leave the water on when I’m brushing my teeth. I think this is a lot like the light-bulb commercial I recently saw; if we all just think about it, change our ways a tiny bit…perhaps use just a little bit less, maybe we can slow down the advancement of destruction.


Birdnerd said...

Great, great post. It all resonates with me but especially your mention of animals paying the price for our carelessness (shooting cougars, bears, etc.). On a smaller scale, I work for a wild bird supply store and am so tired of people's desire to control their little patch of yard. They only want the "pretty" birds and don't like Jays because they are "mean". Harumph. Get over yourself....if you put food out you have no control over what happens next! They were here first.
I guess this turned into a rant, too, but anyway....I hear ya!

Beverly said...

You are very kind. Like the Documentary I included...there is so much I'd like to say, but others say it so much better. It is my feeling that it isn't from spontaneous disregard or negligence...but rather from wonton disregard and untroubled indifference to the natural world. Today I listened to an update regarding the release of Gray Wolves back into parts of our country (OMG…the venom!), and heard that some of the hints given to ranchers to protect their livestock was to ‘flag’ fences during calving season (wolves tend not to like new things) or just to visit their cattle! Yes, the government is actually paying for shepherds, of sort…to help mitigate the rancher’s fear.

I do not have livestock, but when I moved off grid and into a cabin in the woods…alone…I got myself an Akbash Dog. Why is it ranchers think they can just turn their livestock loose, alone, onto public lands (including national forests!), untended for nearly a year at a time? In Europe they use Livestock Guardian Dogs…like the Akbash Dog. These dogs don’t herd, they don’t hunt or harass big game (okay, they do kill and eat an occasional wild rabbit), but they do protect. They have been used for about 3000 years to alert and run off bear, lions, wolves, and coyotes. I watched my dog let a double-tagged bear (trouble maker) out of our meadow all by himself. They cause such a ruckus the animals will give up any possibility of a kill and turn to leave. The dogs will actually body-slam their butts to move them off quickly.

Why aren’t these dogs more popular with cattlemen?

As far as Jays go…I’ll admit I didn’t like it when one nested in my yard and whacked me in the head every time I went outside. Having said that, I’ll admit I wasn’t wild about the dozens of Eurasian Doves and Red-winged Blackbirds that decimate my feeders. I decided to draw them away with cheap hen-scratch; they love it and wolf down the corn like there will be no tomorrow. The outcome is that I’ve watched them more, come to really admire the Grackles, especially the big Great-tailed; they remind me of the crows I see. Now, if I can get a big, flat feeder in a spot the *&%$#@ squirrels can’t get to it, I think I’ll get some kibble and see if I can’t bring them in, too. I’m sure the Jays will come, as well. I find it easier to embrace things, if I can. I’m struggling with the tree-rats, though. LOL

Thank you again for your comments; I really appreciate them.

Birdnerd said...

OK I'm glad I didn't offend you with the control issues found a way to co-exist!
I'll check back often to see what's up our your way.