Category Archives: wildlife

Take the time: Nick Werle on Free Markets and Nature

We tell ourselves stories, and sometimes we can see with frightening clarity the impact of those stories on our behavior.

A recent essay in 3 Quarks Daily by Nick Werle (Competing to Live: On Planet Earth and Being in Nature) takes a careful but wide ranging look at the many stories we tell ourselves about Nature.  He looks at David Attenborough’s Planet Earth series and the focus on the delicate balance in nature…and its requirements.  He looks at Darwin’s story in The Origin and sees similar threads regarding competition and the urge to survive. They both have a keen interest in understanding the mechanism of competition.

“In the rain forest, which we have seen has both high productivity and unceasing conflict, ‘competition for resources ensures that no one species dominates the jungle.’”

David Attenborough, Planet Earth

All of Nature is Regulated and Interconnected…and we are part of Nature

At the end he raises the obvious question of how we humans, the closest relative to the marauding gangs of chimpanzees that are depicted wrecking havoc in the jungle, care or alternately don’t seem to care about our place in the balance of nature.  Deregulationism has at its core a willful faith that the market will balance out all transgressions, that it is a marvelous–nay, Magic–self-regulating machine that is well within the bounds of Nature itself. It is a faith that ignores the obvious issue of interconnectedness.  Witness the global concern over Japan’s under-regulated, under-managed, growth focused nuclear program in the last month.  Earthquakes and tsunamis are natural disasters; nuclear meltdowns as a result of deregulation are not, and no market forces  can adjust the damage done.

As we have seen with increasing regularity, our wave of deregulation–from bubble to bust, from drilling and chemicals to “clean-ups,” implosions,  and overpopulation, we are not living in balance with the planet we call home.

We have managed to upset the balance of so many systems that it seems to me we are now living well outside of nature.  Plastic may well be the iconic metaphor for all we have become. The story we tell ourselves, and what we are actually doing, are not concordant, even as they could be.  Attenborough makes an argument that yes, we are part of Nature, and our particular playing field is uniquely human, but is nonetheless part of the large balance we would do well to have an interest in. The point Attendborough makes is more subtle than those put forth by deregulationists:

It positions humanity not as an alien force superimposed on an independently existing natural world but as a part of the same precariously balance system. The argument is so affective because it refuses to plead. Instead it suggests that we reconsider the boundaries we draw between systems we hope to keep in balance.

Instead of defining the jungle as the wild and unthinkable state of nature, this naturalist approach seeks to fuse man’s understanding of himself with the complexities of Nature in order to ensure that Planet Earth never becomes a stunning monument to irrecoverable beauty.



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Days 308-313: MLwC and random New Year Thoughts

It’s going to be a very good year. I got a new squirrel feeder for Christmas from my nephew’s kids who are smitten with our resident squirrels, all of whom are named (of course) Sandy. The new feeder is the one they use in some state parks, and is pretty cool, looks like this:

Squirrel Feeder

Ours is rougher than this, but the same idea. So far, the stellar jays have made it their own because Sandy is accustomed to coming to the door for direct hand-outs, but they’ll find it soon enough.

A friend of mine in Sandpoint, ID, where we spent some lovely days this week snowshoeing, eating well and playing, was wondering what kind of bird feeder she could get that would keep squirrels and other varmints out, and after years of experimentation, I suggested the one we’ve currently got which is the only one that not only feeds our target audience of finches, chickadees, juncos, and others, but keeps the local ring tail doves from chowing down every last shred of food, and the jays and the flickers and others. They get the scattered seed on the ground as well as other treats, but will clean out your store of small bird feed quick as you can say Yipes. This feeder is called a Squirrel Buster and you can

It looks like this:

Squirrel buster bird feeder

So why should anyone care about this, other than because having song birds around is a pleasant thing? Especially in urban settings, habitat loss is a real threat and food sources become key–not just to resident bird populations but to migratory birds as well. Most of us don’t consider that our homes may be part of a larger migratory pattern and some species may actually come to rely on food we supply to get where they’re going. I know the Wilson’s Warblers and Varied Thrushes come through our yard at specific times every year, on their way somewhere…who knows where, but they show up like clock work. At our house, we’ve participated in a number of backyard and neighborhood bird counts that help larger organizations like Cornell Ornithology Labs and Nature Conservancy track movements of populations through urban areas.

“The greatest threat to songbird populations is habitat loss and fragmentation in their wintering and breeding grounds, and along their migratory routes. Birds must find rest areas with an adequate food and water supply to enable them to continue their journey. Conservationists are placing greater importance on these stopover points hoping to reverse the trend of songbird decline. “

So, making a sweet spot in your own backyard could have untold positive benefits for bird populations that you might not even realize! It all counts, and anyway, the heralding sound of song birds in late February is a treat not to be missed.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Daily Stats: (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon, Tue)
Car: 8.5 (three tasks)
Bike: 0
Ped: approx 10 miles
Bus: 0

Day 208 and 209: MLwC, Fremont adventure and more on whales

Fremont Seattle

Neighbor Susan sent me the directions for taking the bus to Fremont yesterday….but too late! I’d already been and back, and it all took a lot less time than I thought. Two buses there, two buses back, little waiting and a lot of sight-seeing on the way. That’s the thing about riding the bus–you actually get to look at stuff. While on Dexter to Fremont, I had the chance to see the new condo corridor that comprises the west bank of Lake Union. Urban living at its best–it’s actually a vibrant, attractive community. Where once there were few people out walking or riding bikes, now there are outdoor cafes, sufficient population density and plenty of walking traffic.

And then there’s Fremont (aka Center of the Known Universe. Please set your clocks back 5 minutes.). Fremont has never been without its vibrant community, and while a long time ago when Adobe moved in I dreaded a lot of the things that were happening because traffic became even more impossible and the funky little hood was suddenly a lot more glitzy, somehow Fremont has maintained its predictable quality of weirdness while supporting a level of sophistication. The transition period in the late 80s and early 90s was a painful series of miscalculations (the old PCC was dreadful; the new PCC is divine, however), but the new Fremont is a walker’s heaven, and if you like Thai food, there’s nowhere better to go. And don’t forget Peet’s. In a town bristling with Sbux, it’s nice to find a Peet’s coffee where you can settle in for a good long while at the epicenter of the Center of the Known Universe.

So, I’ve branched out on the bus front.

On the gray whale front, I’m still thinking about and following the issue with the rogue hunt team from the Makah tribe out of Forks, WA. Previous post here. On Sunday, the Makah tribal council denounced the action and will prosecute the hunters to the fullest extent of tribal law. At the same time that this event has been in the news, studies regarding the “success story” of saving the gray whale from extinction have been thrown into question by recent studies; it appears that there is maybe only a third of the population recovery previously reported, and that the populations are not healthy, some are even emaciated due to vastly diminished food sources. It’s a systemic issue: global climate change impacts food sources, over fishing impacts food sources, over fishing is related to population increases, and on and on.

Last week I ran across a letter to the editor, written by First Nation tribal member Ann Stateler, which helped open my heart again regarding this incident. Here it is in full:

We are First Nations whale conservationists who regard whales as our sacred brethren. The heinous poaching of a gray whale by five Makah tribal members pains us deeply [“Gray whale shot, killed in rogue tribal hunt,” Times page one, Sept. 9].

No tribal tradition we know of would condone the ruthless killing of this whale. The poachers desecrated an ancestral whaling legacy, compromising it beyond redemption. Their selfish, cruel act betrayed whales and the Makah Tribe.

Inflicting mortal wounds that cause an animal to bleed to death over 10 hours; killing out of frustration with bureaucratic delays; putting ego and self above community — such behavior mocks traditional Native values. The poachers’ blatantly illegal actions warrant full prosecution in Makah tribal court and under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The time is overdue for Makah elders, culture bearers and tribal leaders to reassess the viability of whaling in the 21st century. Imperiled by global warming, habitat destruction and other monumental threats, fragile whale populations will not endure for the next seven generations if only select groups of humans commit to protecting whales, while others persist in exploiting whales.

— Ann Stateler (Choctaw/Five Tribes)

Daily Stats: (Mon, Tue)
Car: 0
Bike: 4.5
Ped: 2
Bus: approx 25

Day 198 and 199: MLwC and WTF?

Under the heading of WTF? we find this story from Forks, Washington, a fishing town near the Makah Indian Reservation on the Olympic Peninsula. Apparently five guys from the Makah tribe decided it was time to kill a Gray Whale–weather was fine, water was calm, and they were armed to the teeth with the largest rifle on the market. The odds of successfully killing the creature simply could not be better, so who could resist?

My nephew is a resident out there and stood on the shore with a lot of other people watching this scene. He said there were grown men crying to see how the whale suffered the inept and senseless attack. The Coast Guard was slow to respond and ultimately took action seemingly only after the television networks picked up the story.

What’s the matter with us as a species, anyway ? We wait for a migrating population, arm ourselves in order to galvanize the odds in our favor and then call it, what? Shooting fish in a barrel? No. Tribal rights. Part of a cultural prerogative. Call me callous, but I have a feeling the previous generations didn’t use .460 Weatherby Magnums and didn’t let the poor creature struggle and suffer for 10 hours before it drowned and sank to the bottom of the ocean. Subsistance and cultural needs, my ass.

So, that’s it for today. The perpetrators have been handed over to the tribal council for punishment–perhaps jail time and 20K in fines. Whew. Can’t quite rid myself of this event.

Daily Stats (Saturday and Sunday)
Car: 0
Bike: 12 miles
Ped: approx 5 miles
Bus: 0