Thursday, August 6, 2009

Puttin yer money where yer mouth is

© 2009 Joshua Stark

A recent post over at Albert Rasch's blog, on the amount gun-purchasers put into conservation efforts through excise taxes on firearms and ammunition ($109 million 1st quarter) got me to thinking. The first thing I thought about was this recent letter (scroll down a bit for the letter) from the California Fish & Game Wardens' Association, asking that a particularly large conservation effort be tabled due to funding restrictions around enforcement.
What really stuck out for me was this section:

"Poaching and environmental law violations are an everyday occurrence as we continue to provide the ''thin green line" of protection in spite of the ongoing statewide budget crisis and a requirement for taking three furlough days each month. With only a little over 200 field game wardens, the furloughs create a situation where we lose the time equivalent to 28 wardens."

For those of you living outside California: California is suffering through a horrible budget crisis, and one solution put forth by the Governator was to furlough state employees. Several law enforcement agencies are exempt from furloughs, but not game wardens. Additionally, California has the fewest game wardens per capita of any state in the union. 200 wardens for 158,706 square miles. 1 warden for every 183,800 people; 1 warden for every half-million acres. Last, for those outside California who tend to think of us as palm trees, L.A. and San Francisco, I can only point out that there were parts of California even Jedediah Smith couldn't go (namely, the Trinity Alps). It's harsh, rugged, and probably has the most varied habitat conditions of any state in the Union, from craggy beaches & 1,100 miles of ocean coastline, to the Mojave Desert, to Mt. Whitney(!). 40% of our plants are endemic. We also have the single most important watershed in the Nation, moving water about 1,000 miles, through a delta with 1,000 miles of waterways, and supplying 2/3rd's of our population, or roughly 8% of the population of the entire U.S. And only 3% of the land in California is urban.

So, to say that we have a warden shortage isn't the same as saying that Rhode Island has a warden shortage.

Now that I've removed folks a bit from their stereotypical image of California, I'd like you to return to it. What are California politics? Left-of-center comes to mind, yes? And on environmental issues, you'd be mostly right. If you wave a proposed offshore oil rig concept in front of us, we get all crazy-eyed (myself included). However, it seems that oftentimes, once we get a bill passed through the Legislature and signed by the governor, we move on to the Next Big Thing. We don't try to follow through. And we end up with little regulatory oversight.

This makes me particularly angry over wardens. Californians often profess a true love for the wild, yet we won't put up the money to protect it. Californians profess a disdain for pollution, but we won't pay to enforce clean air and water rules. And wardens are left running around after some real kooks: This is the one law enforcement group that knows the person they are pulling over is armed, and probably with a loaded weapon.

Now, I am 90% sure that if we had no excise tax on firearms to go to conservation, but it were put to a vote by gun owners this year, or even, say, 2005, we would assemble en masse to vote it down, with shouts about the 2nd Amendment and hippy tree-hugging enviros come to take our money. However, these taxes were passed back when hunters were the front line in conservation, and because they passed when they did, we can continue to claim that front line. But, we still have a responsibility to the place, beyond our politics. Californians prove that, these days, very few will step up and offer to pay for our wildlife and habitat. We parse management and impact and political intent until we justify our opposition, rather than taking the mature route of hiring someone to do a job, and then letting them do it.

So, hunters, I encourage you to find a program that your money is funding and volunteer for it. And Californians: demand that your fish, wildlife, habitat and water be protected through our game wardens. It's funny how we expect to pay for good service everywhere but with government. It's also amazing how requiring oneself to pay for a government service leads to pride in that service and payment, regardless of politics.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cluck Life

© 2009, Joshua Stark

As this is my first year raising ducks, I've come across some interesting folks, and a way of life that seems to be a growing interest for many, raising animals that also provide food. However, our legal system is a slowly-evolving one, and although usually that's a good thing, communities are finding themselves stuck in early- and mid-20th Century city ordinances that tried to strictly delineate rural, suburban, and urban living. Sacramento, touted as Cow Town, for example, doesn't allow backyard chicken-keeping, much less actual cows.
We are lucky to live in the more civilized West Sacramento, over the river and in a different county, and where home-buyers must recognize the right to farm. But Sacramento is stuck in the Tyson Age, where all meat and animal products must come from hundreds of miles away, double-sealed and processed so as to eliminate any living thing's desire to get any sustenance out of it.

But times are changing, and raising small food animals is one place where there can be seen a great convergence in the four major environmental communities: hunting groups, conservationists, environmentalists, and environmental justice folks. In particular, enviros who hope to decrease the carbon footprint in our food industry and eat more seasonally and geographically appropriate foods, and environmental justice folks who raise animals because it is a part of their cultures and traditions, can find real common ground on this issue. Enter the folks at the Campaign to Legalize Urban Chicken Keeping.


Funded through Pesticide Watch's EAT Sacramento program, CLUCK is trying to change chicken laws in Sacramento. They have a relatively new blog, and are currently drumming up support for changes that would allow Sacramento residents to raise laying hens. Right now, they are trying to allay councilmemebers' fears that if Sacramento relents and allows people more freedom to choose their pets, it will quickly regress to a backwater podunk. Born and raised in a podunk, I think there are worse things to fear, like a 25% high-school dropout rate, but that's just me. However, such holes-in-the-wall as San Francisco and Denver currently allow laying hens, so perhaps fears are a tad out of place. I think I'm arguing here that, in fact, a city's acceptance of local food and self-reliance among its residents is actually a symbol of progress. After many years of trying to sterilize our urban environs, and with the results being greater fear of super-resistant bacteria, obesity, and no connection to the outdoors, this one small step may be just what we need.

I know that since we've started raising ducks, various neighbors have purchased chickens, roosters, and quail, and the little kids in the neighborhood are excited and interested in real animals. We are off to a great start to this century, I think, in West Sacramento. Good luck, CLUCKERs, hopefully you can get our sister city to the East to join us.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My other blog

© 2009, Joshua Stark

If you notice, I've changed one of my blogs on list from my "Josh's Reviews", where I don't post anymore (it's too expensive to review new things, and I don't think people care to hear how well my 20 year old stuff is working out), to a blog on which I've been posting for the past few months, but mostly for family. It's titled 'Agrarianista', and is more of some notes and ideas for my evolving back yard.
We have a tiny parcel of land in a city just outside of Sacramento (1/10th of an acre, to be precise), but I am hoping to use this land to grow more and more of our own food each season. Though my original goal of one meal per week from our own (growing, hunting, fishing, etc.) proved too much for us this year, it stays on my horizon. In the meantime, I try out interesting new ideas and directions, like raising ducks, and making things out of green walnuts (sort of the life and lemons problem, where life=tree squirrels and lemons=green walnuts), blackberries, and the like.

This attempt at living differently also applies to ethics and the environment, in that I see our food culture as the single largest negative current impact to our environment, but also as the place where the single largest amount of change can occur relatively quickly and easily. Naive, I know. But as Martin Luther said, "if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I'd still plant a tree today."

Now, I am nowhere near the culinary calibre of Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook, nor am I the gardening genius of the fellow leading the one trowel revolution, nor have I the animal husbandry of someone like Joel Salatin or the horse whisperer (though I sorely wish ducks would whisper sometimes). And maybe that can make for some interesting writing, especially if I study my Patrick McManus a while. I can only hope.

But in my short time learning the ropes of an agrarian life, I've learned quite a bit already, and I'm gearing up for all the new mistakes to make next year, as well as repeating some of the more interesting ones, if that keeps folks' interest. So, if you get a chance, shoot on over there and take a look-see, and (please, please) if you do (please), leave me some advice.

A quick note on a possible academic route

© 2009, Joshua Stark

In trying to broaden my horizons, I'm considering writing a piece to try to get published in an academic journal or some such thing (I think I'm finally coming to terms with my stuffy writing).
Right now, I'd like it to be an ethics essay, and I have a couple of directions to possibly take, but the one I'd really like to pursue, I think, is on the concept of animal rights. I have a thumbnail opposition to animal rights, in that I don't think it possible (or therefore fair) for a non-human entity to fully enter into a social contract, and I also think that attempting to grant animals our libertarian form of rights is an immature, and ultimately nature-damaging idea.

So, dear reader(s, I hope), please shoot me some ideas of your own. Is there a particular line of thinking that can support/destroy this idea of mine? Do you know of any good journals to which I should write? Do you think I should write about something else, or stop writing completely, and take up something non-verbal? Let me know.