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Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about life, the natural world and writing.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Let's get our smudgy fingers all over every last thing!

Warning! Intemperate rant ahead--level Red

I love Kickstarter, the whole idea of the thing. I love that it's so successful. It warms my heart that folks will just up and invest a little money in a worthy project, usually with no expectation of any personal benefit.

But one project that was funded for 2011 (192 backers, almost $15,000) strikes me as a really bad idea.

These energetic, well-meaning folks have bought themselves an undisturbed island "teeming with wildlife" and they are going to put up a "sustainable" artists' residency. Minimal impact, respectful, protected forever--all good. Well, I've got a better idea for uninhabited islands that have never suffered development.

You guessed it. Leave that island the %$#* ALONE!

Go find yourself another island, one that's already trashed. Plant native trees and grasses, get rid of unneeded asphalt, remove buildings that serve no purpose. Restore it and make it work for you and for wildlife.

But the island that is doing fine without you? Leave it alone--you are way too late to play at pioneer. And if you just can't stop, for pity's sake, quit congratulating yourself for only messing it up a little. Really? And don't give me that crap about how "humans are a part of nature, too." Not since we invented permanent agriculture and not at 7 billion of us.

Look, folks. We all know we've screwed up the planet in a big way. We do it in wholesale swoops, such as clear-cuts and mountaintop removal and carbon dioxide. We do it bit by bit with creeping agriculture and suburbs and roads. The challenge for us is to stop changing natural landscapes to benefit ourselves at the expense of all the other species that use that land. (I'm leaving the oceans out of this for simplicity.) This is the only way WE are going survive--if we leave enough of the planet working the way it did during our whole evolution. You think we can survive without oxygen and clean water and fertile soil?

This self-discipline would be something new to us--individual self-restraint for long-term survival of Homo sapiens and our fellow creatures. That is our challenge. How can we make ourselves draw a line around what we've already damaged, then look inside that line and see how to benefit ourselves there? We need to develop only that which is already damaged and include the possibility of restoring some of it and putting it back outside the line.

Quit kidding yourself that if we take a piece of land and wreck only 90% or even 50% or 25%, we are being responsible and ought to be congratulated.

Sometimes my species makes me want to weep.

Where do you stand on this? Have you got it in you to support that line or does the very idea make you furious?

Legal logging in Oregon
Kenya from the air: roads, agriculture. Forests? Not really.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wild animal pets: Sometimes a good thing?

Often I'm not at all ambivalent about people acquiring an exotic animal for a pet. A tiger cub, a snake that will grow to 150 pounds and enjoy swallowing your toddler, a lonely parrot, high-strung serval, any  monkey--these are not going to work out well in your backyard or living room.

We can raise a young wild animal to be crazy, but we can't raise it to be domesticated. It took us thousands of years to get dogs and house cats to where they are today. Why would you and an animal only a few generations out of the wild co-exist happily?

I'd like to point out to "animal lovers," in case this isn't obvious, that wild animals deserve a better fate than your average homeowner can provide. Many end up sick or dead due to ignorance of their diet and housing requirements. Or they survive in a cramped environment with no opportunity for their natural behavior--no companionship of their own kind, for one thing. The rescue centers are full of these failures. The media report the more terrible catastrophes.

This is a well-marked trail and those who don't do their research and act on impulse ("It was so cute!" "I rescued it from the pet store!") cause a lot of misery to themselves as well as the animals and possibly their family and neighbors.

But... I waver. I think people need animal contact, especially kids. We benefit from the family dog or cat or parakeets. We value the emotional support, we learn a little biology, we develop a life-long habit of noticing and caring about animals, we are immunized against many prejudices and myths about animals.

Where do wild pets fit into this? If a kid loves snakes or frogs or turtles, should this passion be stopped short of setting up a terrarium in her bedroom for a garter snake or a banana slug? What about raising an orphaned raccoon or crow? (Yes, I know it's illegal.) What about all the small, non-dangerous wild animals that have been bred in captivity for years, the bearded dragons and corn snakes and lovebirds?

I kept a half-dozen pet turtles as a child. My husband fondly remembers walking Chicago streets with a boa around his neck, terrorizing other kids. The library is full of sweet tales about what a tamed wild animal contributed to a family.

Usually this isn't the best life for that wild creature, but there's a trade-off. Perhaps the effect on the pet owner, that emotional and cognitive experience, is to the benefit of other animals and their habitat. The youngster delighting in a special animal is nudged toward a future as a biologist, amateur naturalist, and/or conservationist. We could use a whole lot more of those folks. Is this part of how we grow them?

What do you think? Where do you draw your line in this gray area? Anything goes? Dogs and cats only? Or somewhere in between. I'd love to hear your thoughts.