May 06, 2021

Death of a Wildlife Protector

 

I started donating at the "get a logo ball cap" level.
In 2018 I went with some other Backcountry Hunters & Anglers volunteers to clean up a cartel-run marijuana grow on national forest land in southern Colorado.

Although the growing crew had been arrested and the plants pulled up and piled. there was a lot of non-biodegradable trash to be collected for later helicopter pickup: a mile of plastic irrigating pipe, soggy sleeping bags, wire, chemical containers, food trash, etc.

We hiked in escorted by two Forest Service law-enforcement rangers armed with pistols and a AR-15 rifle. They scouted ahead to see if anyone had snuck back in (nope), and then we went to work. I thought at the time that with all the public-lands volunteer work I have done since Boy Scout days, this was first time that I had had an armed escort.

Central Africa, of course, is a different story. Armed escorts are a fact of life.

Rory Young (Chengeta Wildlife)

I learned about Chengeta Wildlife from Alan Bunn of African Expeditions magazine, which tracks a lot of poaching issues.

Unlike some well-known groups fighting poaching (mainly for the rapacious Chinese market) in East Afica, Cengeta works in central and western Africa — in nations such as the Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Mali, and Burkina Faso.

Chengeta trains and equips anti-poaching rangers while also conducting "Education and outreach to ensure that the current generation and the next are aware of the need to conserve wildlife and protected areas" and attempting to create "Social pressure to deter and prevent wildlife crime: Working through traditional and religious leaders to positively influence local behavior.."

Its co-founder, Rory Young, was born in Zambia to Irish parents. 

On April 26th, Young was with two Spanish documentary filmmakers, Roberto Fraile and David Beriain, working on a film about anti-poaching efforts in Burkina Faso, when they and their escort were attacked by fighters from Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, yet another Muslim jihadi group. All three were killed.

According to Chengeta' Wildlife's statement,

Rory was leading a wildlife protection patrol in Arly National Park, Burkina Faso on 26th April 2021 when they were attacked by terrorists, which resulted in his death and that of two Spanish journalists who were capturing his efforts to protect precious wildlife. 

The Spanish government flew their bodies back to Madrid. Here is video of their arrival at the Torrejón  Air Base. The cooperante irlandés would be Young.


The work will go on. Meanwhile, you can donate to a separate fund for help Young's wife and children. I did. I wouldn't feel right about wearing the cap unless I had.

If Looks Could Kill . . .


 . . . then these tom turkeys would be dead, because they are engaged in a hostile stare-down with their own reflections. Angry gobbling was heard.

Some mule deer in the background. Southern Colorado foothills life, at some friends' house.

May 02, 2021

What's Wrong with Arbor Day?

Born in southern Colorado, I spent much of my childhood in South Dakota, living where the Black Hills met the prairie. When it came to trees, the ethos was Trees Are Good — Absence of Trees is Bad

One Arbor Day we pupils at Canyon Lake Elementary School in Rapid City were marched out on the front lawn to watch a tree-planting. As best I can tell from Google Maps, that tree is still there, although its top looks a little drought-damaged.

Two hours south of Rapid City is Chadron, Nebraska, gateway to the Nebraska National Forest, "the largest hand-planted forest in the U.S." Not-coincidentally, the first Arbor Day in America was held in Nebraska and marked by massive tree-plantings throughout that state.

President Theodore Roosevelt thought that Arbor Day was a splendid idea and issued a national proclamation to that effect in 1907.

Trees Are Good, right? Or as the bumper sticker has it, "Trees Are The Answer."

Yet even in Nebraska, not everyone thinks so.

Chris Helzer, who is the Nature Conservancy’s director of science in Nebraska, speaks out against the Trees Are Good attitude beyond Arbor Day, when it affects prairie ecologies, in a blog post titled "The Darker Side of Tree Planting in the Great Plains."

Euro-American cultural attitudes, once again, collided with ecological realities, he writes,

In 1907, a combination of those [western Nebraska] tree plantations was designated as the Nebraska National Forest, something many Nebraskans were and are proud of.  I’ve always seen that whole process as a kind of sad appeal for respect (‘See, we DO have forests in Nebraska!’)  It’s like an accomplished and popular actor, musician, and philanthropist feeling inferior their whole life because they’re not good at basketball – and repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) trying out for teams. . . .

We have a lot of work to do if we’re going to get the public to support prairie conservation. Tree planting isn’t the problem, and neither are the people and organizations who advocate for it. Trees are very nice. Some of my best friends have trees.

The problem is that tree planting is linked to an unsavory and unfortunate legacy in the Great Plains that still colors perceptions today. We need to separate the reasonable practice of planting a tree for shade, shelter, or fruit from the concept that white Europeans have a God-given right and duty to convert barren prairie wastelands into neat rows of corn and trees. I’m sure most people aren’t consciously making that connection as they dig a hole for their new apple tree seedling, but that doesn’t mean the cultural influence isn’t lurking in the background.

He makes a good argument: healthy prairie ecosystems are wonderfully complex, and yes, they do store CO2, if that is on your mind. We could let prairie be prairie without "improving" it  — although even Helzer admits that shelterbelts are OK around farmsteads.

May 01, 2021

3 Nature Writers Lost in 2020: Richard Nelson

Earlier Posts: (1) Barry Lopez (2) Pentti Linkola 

I am fudging this one just a little. The anthropologist Richard Nelson (b. 1941) actually died in November 2019, but I did not hear about it until January 2020, when an archaeologist friend sent me a link to a number of news items in his field.

Reading email on my laptop in some coffeehouse in Colorado Springs, I was skimming the news items when I read of Nelson's passing —  "having asked that he spend his final minutes, after being taken off of life support, listening to the recorded sound of ravens."

Richard Nelson recording a gray jay, up close.
(Liz McKenzie for the Rasmuson Foundation).

The type got all blurry after that, and I don't remember any of the rest.

I did not know him, never heard him speak. His radio program, Encounters, was not on any station around here to my knowledge, but you can get samples online, such as here.

The Alaska-based Rasmuson Foundation  has a good page about Nelson.

I knew him through books: he wrote a number of them, first in a more anthropological vein, such as Hunters of the Northern Forests

As his Wikipedia page puts it, "[he] moved from anthropological studies to a more literary style" with Make Prayers to the Raven: A Koyukon View of the Northern Forest.

That was the book that pulled me in, with bits such as the Koyukon people telling him that it was impolite to point at a mountain. (The Koyukon speak a related language to Navajo and Apache; evidently they are the ones who said, "Fine, you go south. We like it here.")

The video above is based on that book. It is one of a series that you can find on YouTube.

He also wrote Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America, among others, with its often-quoted statements that ""When it comes to deer, wildness is the greatest truth. And tameness is a tender, innocent lie." 

A reviewer on Goodreads wrote, "It's a really interesting look at people's relationships with deer from all angles (our spiritual and ecological connections with wildlife, the dilemma of controlling overabundant deer, trophy hunting, hunting deer for venison, the anti-hunting movement, etc.)."

I remember the passage about hunting blacktail deer in the coastal Alaska forest with his Border collie Keta:

Now . . . rather than staying close, Keta sidles off and lifts her nose as if there's a faint musk drifting in the breeze. She comes reluctantly when I gesture toward my heel. Taking her cue, I pause and watch ahead, then move when a sigh of wind in the trees covers the sound of our footsteps. Luckily, the ridge is well drained and densely carpeted in sphagnum moss, so it's fairly quiet going.

Keta's behavior telegraphs the scent's increasing strength: she moves forward, catches herself and looks back, falls in beside me, then shunts away to my left or right like someone pacing at a line she's been warned not to cross. She probes her nose into the breeze, occasionally reaching to the side for a stronger ribbon of scent. She hesitates and stares intently, aware that something is nearby but unable to pick it out. And most telling of all: she leans back and anxiously lifts a forepaw, possessed by her desire to charge off but yielding to the discipline she's learned, as if an inner voice were ordering her to wait.

By this time I'm convinced it must be a deer. If it were a bear, Keta would refuse to keep still and she'd woof suspiciously, deep in her throat. I edge along, furtive and stalking, as if I'd already seen the animal. At one point I even try sniffing the air, but for me there's not a hint of smell. It's strange, being completely numb to a signal that's as obvious to Keta as walking into a cloud of smoke. I stop for several minutes to study the ravel of shrubs and trees and openings ahead. But despite Keta's certainty, the place looks vacant to me.

And that passage concludes,

No scientist, no shaman, no stalker, no sentimentalist will ever understand the deer . . . and for this I am truly grateful. I am possessed by a powerful curiosity about this animal, but what I desire most is to experience and acclaim its mysteries. In our explorations of scientific and practical information about deer, we should always keep in mind what the elders and philosophers teach: that while knowledge dispels some mysteries, it deepens others.

I just wish someone had kidnapped him from the hospital to let him spend his last days with friends on that island, beneath the open sky, hearing real ravens, letting his spirit float free.