Monday, April 25, 2011

Collectively, The Land

The past three years of my indecision about school and things related has had a new light shed upon it. I just finished reading the famous "sand county almanac" by Aldo Leopold. He preaches of ecology and the definition of land going beyond just soil to include the flora and fauna. I have never felt settled into one field of study, nor have I found an ecology major that was not based around the idea of restoration. I believe in preservation more than I believe in restoration. We live in an ever-changing world, that we barely understand. Who am I, or anyone else, to take a piece of land or river that has been abused for a century and pretend that I know what it is supposed to look like, what it would look like had it not been mistreated for decades? Sure, we have armies of scientists and libraries of research showing what we have learned, and much can be extrapolated and applied to our current environmental situations. However, if there is one thing I have learned from a history of mismanagement, it is that most of our efforts backfire or have unintended and unanticipated effects.

After the Gulf oil spill last year, I did some research on potential ways to alleviate the stresses placed on the ecosystem by the outpouring of oil. I found a study from a spill off the coast of Normandy, where dispersants and other means were used to clean up the oil only in places where it made economic sense. They only cleaned up the beaches that were used for tourism, and left the remote beaches to fend for themselves. At first it appeared that the treated areas were responding well and improving. However, thirty years later the treated sites have still yet to fully recover. The untreated sites recovered fully in only five years.   I don't believe that we should abandon restoration practices entirely. I am not advocating a throw in the towel approach by any means. I would much rather see our efforts, time money and otherwise, spent towards promoting responsible respectful coexistence. Thus I have issues committing myself to one field of study, or even one cause. Saving the buffalo isn't going to save the world, the Great Plains, or even the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. However, I am still here nestled in the Hebgen Lake Basin volunteering my time and energy to save those buffalo. As a species we are too proud; I would like to see us bow our heads in shame and admit we have been careless with our mother Earth. Until we admit that we are entirely too fallible, we will continue with aggressive management practices with unintended consequences. And the big overshadowing theme in my mind as I contemplate these things, is the nuclear crisis in Japan. It almost always takes catastrophe to get people to really see the big picture and have a whole-world perspective. As radiation spews out of failing nuclear reactors, I am disheartened. It won't matter how much pressure we put on our land and wildlife management agencies if those things are instantly spoiled by radiation. It is the constant battle I fight in my head, small incremental changes or large paradigm shifting ones? I just don't know what it is going to take to cause the paradigm shift we need, so I resign myself to the small incremental change approach.

(I wrote this first part as an email to myself while volunteering at BFC)

At the time I wrote this, I felt a great sense of urgency. Perhaps it was the fact that I had been isolated in the world of BFC volunteers and buffalo and little else. All of these huge things were going on around me and goddamn it if I was just going to sit there in the tiny wooden cabin and read about it on the internet. I felt a push of inspiration which I can honestly admit has faded a bit since. Our society is so easily coddled and deceived, myself included. I'll just grow my veggie garden, buy local and carpool to work and everything will be just dandy. With the number of times I have heard people say "I'm going to end up with cancer anyway..." I shouldn't be surprised by the short lived concern about the radiation from Japan. If its not going to keep me from feeding myself tomorrow, I'll worry about it later. Lots of places in California sold out of iodine and kelp after the reactor crisis, but what are we doing now? Life as usual. I want to reiterate that I don't exempt myself from my own criticisms; I always feel the push to be doing more, but do not always react to it. Once again, indecision cripples. There is so much to be done, yet I end up doing so little. I can no longer pretend that living my quiet little appreciative life, off the grid, nonparticipant in the evils of the world, is enough. I wish it were, but something has pushed me to the point that I have fully realized it is not enough. I care too much for the fate of the world, and it may be my own downfall. Am I going to become the well-intentioned, overbearing management specialist trying to save the world all the while contributing to its demise? I hope not, but I'm not sure how much weight my hope bears. I intend to dive back into the institution, obtain a wildlife degree, and do something useful after that. Or maybe I'll just end up back on the farm...

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