28 December 2009


On this day in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed into law by then-President Richard Nixon. From an environmental standpoint, this legislation was one of the three most significant laws passed in the latter half of the twentieth century, along with the Clean Air Act of 1970, and the Clean Water Act of 1972.

The ESA has consistently aroused controversy, meeting considerable (and myopic) resistance from both private and corporate sources ranging from hunters to the fishing and logging industries, to name a few. How unfortunate that the short-range pursuit of profit and/or a trophy on the wall prevented, and continues to prevent, so many from seeing that we inherited a garden planet, as far as we know the only one of its kind in the universe. It is more important to assume the role of responsible stewards for our fellow creatures and their habitat, than it is to view them as resources to be harvested. We must disenthrall ourselves from the homeocentric view that humans are the masters of the planet, and embrace the view that we are co-residents along with all those animals, birds, fish, plants and microbes we take for granted.

Where it has been enforced with care and balance, the results have been spectacular. Our national bird, the bald eagle, has rebounded in numbers sufficiently to be removed from the list of endangered species. Humpback whales are beginning to rebound from their near extinction. Similarly, gray wolves have been reintroduced to portions of their former range in the Rocky Mountain West, and have thrived to such an extent that (prematurely) several states have issued licenses for renewed hunting seasons on wolves. This is a travesty, as their populations are still much too small to possess the genetic diversity needed for successful long-term survival.

If I were king of the world, my approach would come as no surprise to regular readers. Given that there are now roughly six billion humans on the planet, and given that (by my estimate) the earth can reasonably sustain only one-tenth that number if significant tracts of true wilderness are to be preserved, I would institute (at least) three requirements. The first would be the reintroduction of all top predators (e.g. wolves, mountain lions, tigers, sharks, et al.) and their representative prey species to all areas of the world, including urban areas. The second would be the outlawing of human technology which lends unfair advantage to the human hunter, including firearms. The third would prohibit human hunting in groups. Solo hunting only. You want to kill a wolf? Use your woodcraft skills and a knife. At least it would be a fair hunt.

Oh, lest we forget, we also need to brainstorm acceptable ways of rapidly decreasing human numbers. I do not advocate euthanasia, genocide, or anything of the sort. At the very least, there should be a limit of one child produced by any individual (regardless of how many serial partners he/she has). This practice would be followed until world human populations decreased to around 600 million. [If there should be any who wonder if I practice what I preach, I do. I fathered one son. Period.]

Radical problems sometimes call for radical solutions. And we are undeniably both the cause, and experiencing the effects, of a plethora of radical problems in the natural world and its enviroment.

For now, let us recall and celebrate victories like the ESA, and work locally, nationally and globally to strengthen and broaden their scope -- for the sake of all species, and for the sake of the world which our grandchildren will inherit.

Note: top photo, Siberian Tiber. Bottom photo, Northern Spotted Owl.

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