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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Civil Disobedience: A River of Change in American Democracy

“We the people”

“A government for the people, by the people, and of the people”

“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”

These are phrases by which we define our society, our beginnings, and our path forward. These are the things that define American Democracy. Upon gaining our independence from Britain, by means of civil disobedience, and, eventually, war, we chose for ourselves a system of governance that would represent the morals and provide for the needs of the governed. It is designed to be adaptable to change. In it, we constructed checks and balances to ensure that the “consent of the governed” would always be the highest law of land. The legitimacy of any (democratic) government can only be derived from the will of the people it governs. Insofar as the government ceases to represent the will of the people, it loses any and all power over the governed. But does this theory work in practice? Perhaps eventually. But as is the case with most systems, there are delays. Just as it takes time for a river to force its way through granite, it takes time and pressure for democracy to adapt when there is dissonance between the status quo and what the public conscience can no longer endure. That pressure has come in many forms. Perhaps most often, and certainly most successfully, in the form of civil disobedience.

The history of civil disobedience in the U.S. has been overwhelmingly non-violent. That is not to say though, that it has come without harm to the individuals involved. Significant consequences have been paid at every turn in the road to creating a better nation. Take, for example, the Boston Tea Party, Women’s Suffrage, the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, nearly every environmental movement – deforestation, animal rights, etc. Each of these chapters of our history trace their beginnings to the actions of those who risked the consequences of rising up to force government to follow the moral right.

In his famous work, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.” Today we face many unendurable inefficiencies. And as history would predict, resistance and change are inevitable.

Breaking news!…your action is needed NOW!

On the heels of today’s earlier post about some positive developments for wolves in the U.S. comes heart-breaking news from Washington and several state governments. Please read the following from Defenders of Wildlife:

“First, the leadership of the House and Senate and the President brokered a budget deal that sold out wolves by including a provision that would eliminate protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, weakening the Endangered Species Act and leaving these magnificent animals with little safety net against the threat of widespread killing.

Next, our settlement agreement in the ongoing fight over wolf management was rejected by a federal court – blocking a collaborative path forward that could have helped ensure that science, not politics, dictated decisions on wolf management.

Meanwhile, state legislatures in the Northern Rockies continue to prove why state management of wolves is a cause for concern. For example, the Idaho legislature has passed a bill authorizing the governor to declare a state of emergency over the presence of wolves and extremists in that state are calling for law enforcement to find and kill these amazing animals.”

Please take action now by sending a message to western governors urging them to prevent an all-out slaughter of a species that has fought so hard to stay alive.

Kudos to Progressive Ranchers!

Prior to European settlement of the area that is modern-day America, the landscape and its inhabitants were vastly different. If you’ve flown across the States you’re familiar with the patchwork appearance of the neatly divided areas and intense agricultural use of so much of our land mass. But back before we “conquered” this territory, it was a vast, diverse, thriving landscape composed of connected ecosystems, enormous diversity in flora and fauna, and people who respected this intricate balance. While we cannot go back in time and undo all of the damage we’ve done, and while it is unrealistic to wish that giant areas of populated/cultivated land would ever be “given back to nature,” there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for some.

Ranching in the mid-west and west is a practice that has historically been at odds with the health and well-being of many ecosystems and native animals, large predators in specific. As we “settle” more and more of the land that wild creatures once roamed freely, finding enough land and food has become not just a challenge, but in many cases impossible for some native specie like the Gray Wolf (Canis lupis). What have we done about it? Well, for a long time we systematically extirpated them. The greatest threat to wolves in the U.S. came from angry ranchers whose livestock became substitute prey for the wolves and other predators when local habitat changes dramatically reduced the native prey populations. Fenced-in livestock are easy-pickins. But while the wolves had lost most of their home and their food to human encroachment of their native areas, picking off livestock cast them into the role of the villain. Their ecological value was ignored and systematic extirpation went unchecked for far too long. The Gray Wolf was nearly extinct throughout the U.S. until serious action was taken to save them. The year 1978 was a big year for wildlife in the U.S. The Endangered Species Act was signed into law providing unprecedented protections for animals threatened with, or on the brink of extinction. By 1978 the Gray Wolf was listed as endangered throughout the lower 48 states except for Minnesota where it was listed as threatened. The protections afforded to the wolves by the 1978  ESA and later additions in 1982 which allowed the relocation of wolves by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from areas where they live to areas where they could potentially reproduce and repopulate saved the species from extinction. But it wasn’t enough. The core problems remained. Ranchers still have to ranch, and wolves still have to eat AND fulfill their roles in the greater systems of which they are a part. Like all apex predators, wolves serve vital functions for the ecosystems in which they live. They keep deer, elk and rodent populations under control, for one thing. Many have argued that if wolves are killing the deer and elk there won’t be enough left for hunters, but this heralds back to the age-old question: “Do we manage populations to support hunting or do we manage hunting to support populations?” Manipulating populations of game species to ensure that hunters have enough to kill each year is unethical on so many levels, particularly when it means local extinction of natural predators.

A herder and guard dogs protect a flock of sheep in Big Wood River Valley, where coexistence measures are proving effective. (Photo credit: Cindy Hillemeyer, Defenders of Wildlife)

While many ranchers still hold stubbornly to the practice of killing wolves, others have made extraordinary efforts to conduct their business and safely respect the presence, and the NEED for wolves. Kathleen and Brian Bean are on the forefront of respectful, progressive ranching. While continuing to operate their ranch, Lava Lake Lamb, this couple has worked hard to implement innovative ways to protect their sheep without killing the wolves. A recent story released by Defenders of Wildlife describes the many ways the Beans are working WITH, rather than AGAINST the wolves they share the land with. A number of measures designed to scare off, rather than harm wolves have been implemented in the Beans’ effort to peacefully coexist with their wolf neighbors. For more information on this successful rancher-wolf partnership, check out the Defenders of Wildlife article, Good News from Idaho: Proof That Farmers and Wolves Can Coexist.

For more information about the history of Gray Wolf decline and recovery in the U.S., please visit the Yellow Stone National Park Web site.

A lesson from Spike

I have had the incredibly good fortune to have worked with some amazing organizations over the years. One of the most rewarding experiences was volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center in New Hampshire.

One of our most memorable patients was a porcupine named Spike. As a rule, you don’t name wild animals in rehab. In a way it diminishes their wildness. But we thought Spike was going to be a forever resident, meaning we did not think he would ever recover from his injuries sufficiently to be safely released back into the wild, but that he could have a good quality of life in captivity. Spike’s mother had been killed (most likely by a fisher) and Spike wandered onto the porch of a house. The dog that lived there came face to face with him, saw him as a threat, and bit him in the head.

When Spike arrived on our doorstep he was about the size of a grapefruit with severe head injuries and neurological damage. As he grew, his physical wounds healed, but it was clear that not everything was well with this little guy. He seemed to not really know what being a porcupine was all about. He didn’t know how to climb trees. He didn’t know what to eat. He didn’t know how to use his defenses. These were all factors that led us to believe he would be a lifer at the center (Eventually we helped Spike to learn all of these skills.)

When you work closely with animals,  you begin to realize that we’re far more alike than we are different. Just like humans, other animals have likes and dislikes, emotions, positive and negative reactions, things that annoy them, favorite things, etc. For Spike, if there was one thing he REALLY did not like, it was the wind. I’m not just talking about your average, run-of-the-mill pet peeve. I mean Spike REALLY, REALLY hated the wind! I’m fairly certain he thought it was personally attacking him every time it appeared.

Most porcupines (the kind that know how to be wild porcupines, that is), will give a series of threats before attacking any perceived danger. They’ll puff up their quills to look much bigger and false charge before ever whacking you with that quill-covered tail. (The idea that porcupines “throw” quills is a complete myth, by the way.) Once they feel they have no option, they’ll whack you with their tale leaving countless quills embedded in your skin/clothing.

Spike, on the other hand, didn’t quite have this whacking motion down. In stead, he would begin what looked like a normal whack of the tail…but then just keep going…round and round. He twirled. Every time the wind came, he just twirled. It was a bit disconcerting at first…just another sign that Spike really didn’t know how to be a porcupine. But eventually he did learn how to use his tail, and in the meantime, it provided endless hours of good laughs. (Seriously, if you’ve never seen a porcupine twirl, you really haven’t lived!)

The greater lesson though, for me, anyway, was in the twirling. By the time Spike had finished his twirling, he was just too darn tired to be mad at the wind anymore. He’d just climb back inside his den and go to sleep. We could all take a lesson from Spike. So many of the things in life that we let get under our skin just aren’t worth a real attack. Whether it’s a person, an event, an opinion…whatever the case may be, perhaps we could all stand to be a bit more like Spike. Rather than launching into a tirade or mounting a full-scale attack, we should all just learn that life could be better, if only we could just…twirl.

So the next time something really gets to you, take a moment. Pause. Hold off on the real attack. Try twirling. And when you’re done, see how you feel. Like Spike, you just might find that you’re not so mad at the wind anymore!

After learning all the necessary skills to be a wild porcupine, Spike was released in the midst of several hundred acres of protected forest in the Spring of 2005.

NOTE: If you believe you have found an injured or orphaned animal, PLEASE contact a wildlife rehabilitator. Remember, it against the law to keep wild animals in your home. If an animal absolutely needs to be moved prior to contacting a rehabber (has been hit by a car and is in the middle of the road, for example), please use the utmost caution if an expert is not available to handle the animal. ALWAYS wear gloves and handle the animal as little as possible. Get a box with holes or a laundry basket to put over the animal to keep it in one place. Remember that injured animals are scared and may not recognize that you are trying to help. No matter how helpless or cute they look, they are still WILD ANIMALS.

The following is a list of resources for finding local wildlife rehabilitators:

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