Thursday, July 31, 2008

Impacts on the Resource

I often get the chance to hear about issues facing visitation to our wilder lands. These conversations usually shake people into one of three groups, and such a polarizing effect tends to retard debate by eliminating the subtleties and complexities of the threats. What may help, in this case, is to get a real understanding of each group's sense of a place, and move beyond stereotyping and demonizing, to get to honest land management.

The three categories: 1) People who believe that the wild lands should be left alone; 2) people who believe that visitation should not be limited at all, and; 3) people who believe that access should be restricted for everybody but them. Of course, there are variations among people, and very few people hold strictly to one view, but the ensuing battles always bear the threat of regression into hostile camps, and these tend to be the camps. Let's consider the merits of each of these positions.

The first group usually has a serious love for the idea of wildness. These are typically the crunchy, gorp-munching neo-hippies, right? But, to take the extreme case, we all know it's wrong to eat the last puffin (and not just because they probably taste like rotten sardines). And we all know that we do impact natural resources by our physical presence, and sometimes the negative impacts of that presence may precipitate a total collapse. Also, people who believe this way about a place deeply feel a sense of inherent worth they know that place to contain. We do, too, or else why would we protect a place like Yosemite from resource extraction?

Next, consider those who want access to be unlimited, or nearly so. Though I'd be willing to guess those who read this blog are more likely to be turned off by this notion, we all use materials taken from these lands - wood, petroleum products, and mineral resources. But even on a smaller scale, removing resource extraction as a "visitation", and just considering visitors to, say, Yosemite National Park, we would be remiss to disallow visitation. The same sense of inherent beauty felt by the first group actually pulls this group in like a magnet. And, visiting beautiful places creates experiences that lead to a desire to protect them. As more and more people become urbanized, they visit these places less, and care about them less. In time, they won't want their money squandered on things they don't understand or care about.

People usually have a gut reaction to the last group. How can you feel so superior that only you should be allowed to visit a beautiful place?!? And yet, how many of us have a place or two where we go to get away from folks - a little backwoods spot, or little patch of overlooked land? How many of us would gladly tell people about this spot, and encourage them to visit, too? Belonging to a place is important for people. Knowing a beautiful place's nuances and little secrets, knowing how a place moves and lives over time, because of your time, is vital to humanity. People don't just visit sometimes; sometimes they belong, sometimes they are a part of the land, as much so as the other animals, the plants, and the soil. And just because they live next door to a place as gorgeous as Yosemite doesn't necessarily mean that they have to have their connection diminished by the masses come to buy their coffee mug.

All three groups fight because of the beauty and power of these special places. They also bring in other agendas (business, animal rights, etc.), which tends to cloud the proper choices, but hopefully, by honestly considering each perspective, we may come to some better management decisions.


Bob J said...

A fair assessment, but I think groups like those you described have an iron certainty that they're 'right.' Pragmatists are few and far between in those groups. So how do you propose to bring these folks together?

Anonymous said...

In a later interview (late this year) Pollan changes his perspective a bit, contemplating the idea that vegetarianism may, in fact, be a more evolved state of being. Nothing definitive, but he did address that idea.

I'm a vegetarian who spends a great deal of time in the outdoors, including working with wild animals in researching migration, populations, etc. It bothers me deeply when people characterize a choice to limit one's harm on animals (by choosing not to eat meat) as some kind of naive, urban existence. I grew up in the bush (literally) around hunting, trapping and later, farming, which contributed to my decision to be a vegetarian. I saw way too much suffering of animals at the hands of humans who don't care enough, or simply detach themselves from the process of how their desire to kill affects another being, either in a hunting or an agricultural setting.

As a vegetarian, I would argue that those of us who experience and understand that connection with nature and animals are even more invested in the authenticity of life. Particularly when we've been on both sides. (I've been hunting once as a youth -- only once, I couldn't bear the killing -- and thus understand what it entails on some level.)

So, this is a flawed and generalized paradigm, whether stated by Pollan or other writers paraphrasing Pollan. In as much as I try to accept hunting, however hard it is for me, I get a little annoyed with this model constructed to suggest that hunters are the true conservationists while those of us who adopt a more pacifistic stance toward animals are somehow naive and deluded. It doesn't serve any cause to play those labels on either side.

I certainly understand the cycles of life, the cycles of death. Which is precisely why I try to minimize my own contribution toward unnecessary suffering of human animals and other animals alike. I have suffered great physical pain in my life, have experienced great personal loss, and I choose not to inflict similar pain and loss on other living entities. That hardly renders me removed or ignorant of our living reality.

Josh said...


Please re-read this post, and you will note that I begin the description of each group with a sarcastic comment on the stereotype of others.

However, your comment would be perfectly appropriate to my post titled, "What is Your Calculus of Death?", in which I more directly comment on my decision to hunt. Please read that post, and comment there, as I would greatly appreciate your perspective.

Having grown up on a farm, you must be aware of the enormous numbers of animals maimed and killed by harvesting and pest management (even organic pest management), and the loss of biodiversity and habitat through the introduction of food plants (not just monoculture, either).

I feel that the only way a person can limit their harm to animals is by paying someone else to do it for them, from time to time, through farming and the manufacturing processes all the way down to driving the bus they ride.

I do not claim that hunters are the only true conservationists, and I never will. One purpose of this blog is to try to work out ways to bring them all together to work more effectively toward our common goal.

I work with many folks just trying to figure out the right thing to do, and I respect the choice to vegetarianism. However, it is untrue to characterize vegetarians or vegans as people who harm fewer animals.