Wednesday, August 30, 2017

SO WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? (A Griz overview)

The original idea for this little series of invented stories was to find some way to get information “out there” that didn’t end up in an emotional shouting match.  The feedback that I almost immediately got was a) that the subject was too dangerous to bring up, so let sleeping bears lie, and b) no one wanted to know anything different than what they already knew, so keep your propaganda to yourself.  We’re the ones who have to live here.  But there has to be some way to get past the patronizing, lecturing, self-righteous tone of the government people as well as the near-hysteria of people who do not feel listened to or valued.  

The first thing people wanted to know was the real answer to the problem.  Can they or can they not shoot a grizzly when they are in danger?  The second was which side was I on?  If I’m not on their “side,” they don’t want to hear anything about what I say.  It’s following the pattern of politics across America and around the world.

There’s a strong element in this “knowing better than any experts” that encourages secrecy and defiance.  There are estimates of what percentage of grizzlies are quietly snuffed.  The Endangered Species Act seems to be especially mocked, its reasoning closed out of consciousness.  It’s easily gamed for land acquisition and energy use (windmills, pipelines), but then on the other hand can be used to block them.  At one “end” animal protection begins to echo the regulations and laws about indigenous people, their sovereignty, and their powerful spirituality.  All of this, of course, is fed by history, both local and universal.

In the Nineties when I was working for the Site Development team of the City of Portland, “Takings” was a legal concept just beginning to develop and to be somehow conflated with legal condemnation “for the public good of the citizens”.  Biological constraints on wetlands, for instance, ran headlong into opportunities for profit through development.  A particularly rare little fish or butterfly can prevent something as massive as a dam. People protecting ranches don’t want biologists running around with butterfly nets.  “Takings” can involve huge amounts of money when people are imagining potential profits, though much of the profit will go to lawyers.  As we see in Houston at the moment, one of the endangered species is humans, esp. poor humans.

The Endangered Species Act defined “endangered” and “threatened” [section 3];

made plants and all invertebrates eligible for protection [section 3];
applied broad “take” prohibitions to all endangered animal species and allowed the prohibitions to apply to threatened animal species by special regulation [section 9];
required Federal agencies to use their authorities to conserve listed species and consult on “may affect” actions [section 7];
prohibited Federal agencies from authorizing, funding, or carrying out any action that would jeopardize a listed species or destroy or modify its “critical habitat” [section 7];
made matching funds available to States with cooperative agreements [section 6];
provided funding authority for land acquisition for foreign species [section 8]; and
implemented CITES protection in the United States [section 8].

"Congress enacted significant amendments in 1978, 1982, and 1988, while keeping the overall framework of the 1973 Act essentially unchanged. The funding levels in the present Act were authorized through Fiscal Year 1992. Congress has annually appropriated funds since that time."

In the Sixties and Seventies when this Act was being drawn up and passed, the concern was pretty species-specific:  bald eagles, for instance.  But then the concept of “ecology” took hold and we began to see in terms of systems.  Now two new paradigms are pressing us: first, that ecologies are dynamic and change all the time, particularly in response to climate and the habitat available to them.  

Second, that this “ecology” is world-wide.  It’s planetary, both in terms of contamination and in dynamic patterns we call “climate change.”  No one escapes.  Johnny Depp’s idyllic island is as much endangered by rising sea levels as the bayous of the Gulf of Mexico.  World food and water resources are endangered by drought and soil exhaustion.

Third, perhaps most frightening of all, is science telling us that though humans tinker with the planet, in the end it will all be gone -- even rocks and air and things living or non-living.  We are urged to get to another planet.

The good news is that re-forestation, river reclamation, and satellite monitoring are working to turn the tide.  Many NGO's are doing their best and they're pretty good.

Where are we to draw courage and vision?  Our best resource is each other.  But we hardly know each other.  This set of stories might or might not help.  It’s a try.  Fiction is just one strategy.



“It seems to me,” said the preacher, “That human beings are the apex of life on this planet, and though we may be predators, we are also sustainers.  If God has created grizzly bears, than we as God’s stewards should protect them so that we can learn about them.  The Bible says that the duty of believers is to praise God and enjoy His creation.  I believe that includes those bears.   We must treat them with respect, the same respect we have for the mighty and terrible God.”

“Well, that was unexpected,” said the reporter.  “And very impressive.  But Time magazine has explained that God is dead.  Now what?”

The head of the Chamber of Commerce remarked,  “You know, every bear is worth a certain amount in terms of attracting tourists with money that they will spend here.  Bears are an asset and should be appreciated.”

The conservationist grumbled,  “If you start saying bears are worth money, then people are going to start figuring out some amount per bear and then others are going to start figuring out the minimum number of bears we need to make a certain amount of tourist profit and will lobby to kill off all the others.  It’s a slippery slope greased with bear blood.”

“Or,” said the hunter wryly, “You could just issue hunting licenses for the surplus who don’t want to tour around taking pictures.  Money for guides, for taxidermists, and all that Boone and Crockett stuff.”

The artist drew his finger along the edge of the table.  “Without bears an entire symbol system going back millennia would be lost — the songs, the art, the bear dances, the animal that is like a human but not.  Ceremonies done by hominins before they were fully human and the bears were not grizzlies yet, still huge cave bears.  I guess I should wait until the paleoanthros have had their say.  I’m trespassing a bit, but that’s what artists and writers do."

The land specialist said: “And it’s what bears do — dig stuff up, turn rocks over, rake the sod, carry the fish back up under the trees where they become fertilizer.  Bears shake up the wolves and the humans, both.”

The rancher, looking out the window at his beloved landscape, said:  “All I’m trying to do is to make a living the way my family has for a century.  I know how to relate to bears, how to protect my cattle, but I need the freedom to make my own decisions without some pencil-necked government bureaucrat interfering.”

Mom was folding laundry while she talked.  “I want my children to be able to go out into the yard without being in danger.  A bear broke into my friend’s chicken yard and when the family dog went to intervene, the bear killed it.  Do you know what that does to a kid’s feelings?  And it could have been one of her kids.”

At the High Line Steak House, most of the talk was about excellent beef and the controversy was more about grass-fed versus feedlot cattle.  They liked the quality of grass-fed, but also the price of feedlot beef, though they worried about antibiotics.  They never thought about bears.

There aren’t a lot of old-time tribal people around now, but the oldest of them said,  “All this will change again.  Might be a lot less people someday.  Might be a lot less fuss.  Might be pretty quiet.  No bears.  No people.  Wind, sky and grass.”

No comments: