Monday, October 20, 2008

Enviros? Conservationists? Tree-huggers? Killers?

I love the political realm, for the most part, though I also hate it. In fact, my fascination with it probably has nearly as much to do with the emotions it stirs as it does with my personal belief that we are all responsible in our democratic republic. But, one place that really bothers me about political 'discourse' is the prevelance of half-formed ideas, urges and reactionism that get rolled up and kneaded into little soundbites, or worse, labels.

People are labeling creatures, we are ordering creatures. We create boxes of meaning into which we place ideas about people and things. Then we attach words to these boxes, for ease of use. This is very helpful in remembering, for example, that a particular mushroom killed Joe-Bob, or that cars with the word "Hyundai" on them may not be solid purchase decisions. However, when it comes to labeling groups of people in the political realm, we can really step on our own feet and hinder good management decisions.

Let me be perfectly clear here: The number one threat to the environment right now is unfettered development. Were we to efficiently manage our future development, and re-configure existing development, we could:

1) Help to effectively mitigate greenhouse gasses;
2) Much more effectively protect habitat and wildlife corridors;
3) Improve the health of our people;
4) Provide more opportunities for healthy outdoor connectedness, and more of a sense of place.

I could go on, but those are the big four when it comes to our future.

So, why am I seemingly jumping from one topic to another? Because our current political climate has so polarized us on environmental issues that we cannot even speak in civilized tones about the environment, much less push effective legislation.

Hunters, think about it: What is the bigger deal, that you can't shoot a lead round in condor country, or that you can't shoot ANYTHING?
Nonhunters, think about this: Hunters killing deer in a forest managed mostly through their dollars, or no deer at all, because the forest is now a string of Kinkos, Targets, and ticky-tacks?

The political upheavals of the 1960's & 70's completed a great schism in the community of people who love nature. This schism has reached such heights, that now, when I write about these topics, I have to write convoluted sentences about the "environmental-conservation community", and probably stay away from words like "natural resources" or "movement". Even the words "environment" and "conservation" are loaded!

It's downright ridiculous.

Of the four major groups spawned by the first folks loving nature in the late 1800's, three of them can share in an honest attempt to rein in sprawl, protect valuable habitats and corridors, re-establish watersheds, wetlands and prairies, and any number of other important goals for places. These three groups are hunting organizations (like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, SCI, Pheasants Forever), conservation groups (like Defenders of Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy), and environmental groups (like the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity).

The fourth group, believe it or not, is another symptom of unfettered development. In our expanding suburbs, with no real rivers or wild places, there grew a group of people who 'love' nature. They often have had little or no contact with it, with particular places or creatures, because of where they live and how they were raised. They have no experiences with death and life, realities of our world. They only think of these things in the horrific. In this vacuum, fed by an honest longing for nature and the wild, but with no way of getting the genuine experience, the animal rights movement was born. Of course, I'm labeling, and I know that many animal rights' proponents have had many experiences with the wild, but for the most part, of the folks I've run across, most have come from urban or suburban environs, and may have worked in healing or rescuing animals, but haven't really seen a cat catch a bird, and do not understand that death must occur for even their continued survival.

If the three major groups who care about the environment and have experience with it could honestly engage young people by helping to curb sprawl and create living places where kids can respectfully experience the wild, then we can also help develop people with a true understanding, and therefore appreciation, of that wild. To do that, we don't need to put down our differences about other conservative/liberal ideas. We just need to meet and stick to the subject.

Where do you see connections that can be made?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

To support

If you've stuck around here, you've noticed that I've listed a few blogs that I like over on the left-hand side. One of those, NorCalCazadora is brilliantly written by a journalism professor at CSU, Sacramento, by the name of Holly A. Heyser. Her latest post is about a student who passed away too young.

I taught and substitute taught for seven years; teacher - student relationships often run deeper than either realize until moments like these. If you would like to help out, her blog offers the chance to donate to a scholarship program in Jamie Gonzales' name, the young woman who passed from us. Even if you can't help in that way right now, it helps to take a moment and think about (and pray, if that's in you) for those who mourn her passing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My trip to the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy

At the last minute I was able to attend the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy, organized by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and in response to the President's Executive Order 13443. This order calls on federal agencies to, "facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities and the management of game species and their habitat..."

The event was spread over two evenings and two days, with fine dinners hosted by major conservation organizations. DU's evening was especially nice, due to the short film they kept re-playing, showing birds flying; I felt like a dog, mesmerized by the cupped wings and slightly rocking descent of two drakes and a hen, orange legs outstretched, putting on the brakes from sizzling through the air to drop down onto some decoys... okay, snap out of it.

One day was dedicated to "plenary sessions", based on a series of white papers prepared by a number of organizations and sent out to participating groups. These papers outlined ideas for achieving the goals of the Executive Order, and also provided the framework for conversations. I was disappointed by this method, as it really framed the questions, rather than opening up the floor to hear ideas from many different perspectives. Of course, folks jumped outside the boundaries when offering ideas or questions, which is always a good thing when you get a chance to talk to the government in a public forum.

Personally, I felt a bit disconcerted by the amount of emphasis on resource extraction, in particular for "biofuels", a controversial topic right now. But, I'm going to accentuate the positive here, and state that I found two points of focus on which groups from the entire spectrum of the conservation and environmental community can focus: Funding and youth involvement.

I defy you to talk to an involved hunter or angler for five minutes about conservation without hearing about how these folks contribute more dollars to the effort than any other group. It's stated so often (and I'm one to blame) within the community, that it starts to feel more like self-aggrandizement, however, so I propose we take it a bit more public. NorCalCazadora has mentioned some recent hunting-related news in some major publications lately. Perhaps we could build on this publicity by reminding the public of the importance of hunting/fishing dollars to conservation efforts, especially as they relate to the current economy?

In the meantime, environmental and conservation groups are looking to help out in funding. Many would love to see an additional funding source, like binoculars taxes, or making people buy duck stamps to access wildlife refuges. Many would love to see an uptick in the numbers of people hunting and fishing, thus buying more excise-taxed items and licenses. These are both areas where coalitions of groups who may not always see eye-to-eye could actually accomplish a shared goal.

The other idea where collaboration potential exists is in youth involvement. There is a movement afoot right now by the moniker, "No Child Left Inside." Folks see that kids these days aren't getting out, they aren't gaining a love and appreciation for a place, and they (and we) are suffering for it. This is just another symptom of unfettered suburban development, the single largest threat to the environment today, and it is one that needs to be addressed in a big way. Requiring the application of outdoors activities to particular curricula is one step, but in poor, urban schools, access to park lands is limited, and pollution is a big problem. We need to combine mandates with the funds and ability for schools to accomplish the goals we set.

Last year, the Sierra Club offered legislation to encourage outdoor education for young people. It didn't make it out of committee. Next year, why not get some kind of bill at the state level which offers outdoor education with an archery component, and possibly some fishing or hunting access? This could garner the necessary bipartisan support (no small task in California) for passage, and could be accomplished through cooperative efforts between groups like the Sierra Sportsmen, Ducks Unlimited, and the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance.

Which brings me to the best part of my trip to the conference: I was able to meet some great folks representing a wide array of organizations and interests. In particular, I got to meet a man I highly regard, Jim Posewitz of Orion, the Hunters' Institute. I recommend a trip to that website. I came away hopeful in our ability to gain hunters and anglers, to come up with wise resource and habitat management decisions, and to find some common ground and make some concerted moves toward the goal that all in the conservation and environmental community share: Protecting and preserving our common inheritance, and instilling in our children a love and passion for our places.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Roots of conservation

Well, my baby and I tried watching the debate last week (it's fun to hear a 21 month-old say McCain and Barack Obama), but wound up turning to the Family Feud on Ion Television, instead. What a waste of an opportunity for both candidates. First, they only agree to a format where they get about two minutes per talk, then they spend those two minutes spouting the same general rhetoric that you hear on their commercials and in their stump speeches. Big, fat waste of time.

But, one discussion really made me angry and frustrated, and made for fodder for this post. When asked about energy, and, even more directly, when asked about sacrifice, neither candidate spoke of the need for Americans to use less. In fact, the only time I've heard this idea promoted in the public sphere lately is from, of all places, a Chevron commercial. Local, state, federal, and Presidential candidates are all spouting the horrible line that we have to use all available methods and opportunities for meeting our demand for energy, including clean coal, nuclear, wind, drilling, blah, blah.

We have reached a strange time in our history, when sacrifice is no longer asked of us during times of trouble. What does it say about us that the people running for office feel that to ask us to sacrifice is a sure way to lose an election? Or, is it a sign of the financial times, that their major donors are absolutely wedded to the current economic conditions, and therefore require spending, even though we know that we are sitting on false values created by a bloated housing market? And, how does this relate to our ethical relationships to the environment?

The root of the word conservation is obvious, as are its implications. Believing that we can consume our way out of our financial and security problems is wrongheaded, and it's bad environmental policy. Under typical bad economic conditions, and in times of war, we are often asked to stock up and save things, to use less and hold onto valuable assets. Right now, for some reason, our candidates are not encouraging this behavior, and I am saddened by it. Many Americans like to sacrifice for the betterment of their country, they like to feel connected through actions, but being told to purchase another Chinese-made toy as your American duty is an empty gesture.

So I would like to simply suggest to folks that you use less. Hold onto some money, learn to can some food and get a garden going (for those of you in climates like California's). Perhaps walk down to a local pond or creek and catch some bluegill for dinner every week or so. Also, get to know your neighbors, so that you can help out in case they see some bad times. Call up the local government and get a free tree or two to plant. Take some short trips around to the local open areas near you, spend a little bit of money locally, and learn to appreciate your place. If you see something not quite right, let somebody know, or ask to fix it. Getting to know your environment while using less can go a long way to protecting it. Also, if you needed it, you get a good reason to catch some bluegill.