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Fading wilderness and dead fish floating

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 18, 2001


Among politicians and businessmen, Pragmatism is the current term for "To hell with our children." — Edward Abbey

When one thinks of wilderness they usually think of large tracts of undeveloped land. Free of the trappings of man, wilderness exists for planetary purposes. In Southern California undeveloped land is considered to be "open space," which in itself is defined as land not yet developed. Such languaging completely takes the concept of wilderness completely out of the conversation. I wish to put it back.

In this column I often lament the collective disregard for the natural environment. Here in the land of sprawl and crawl we have elevated ecological demise to an art form. The habitat that greeted Spanish missionaries exists now only in isolated fragments. Where once there was a healthy biotic community, now there is only a monoculture we call modern suburbia. Civilization has resulted in monopolization, and monopolization has done nothing but diminish the viability of the ecosystem in which we live.

It's hard to argue with history. We came, we saw, and we conquered everything except our desire to conquer. Trying to create the ideal human environment, we have destroyed a functioning environment which, where harsh at times, was more than sufficient to meet every human need. Having rejected the idea of balance we now teeter on the verge of systematic collapse.

For human populations to continue growing, other species must give way to make room. And as we design our communities to foster economic exploitation, we deplete the natural elements that make survival possible. To expand Chief Seattle's "Web of Life" analogy, I would suggest biodiversity is a chain of chains, dense beyond comprehension, and fragile beyond belief. Tipping the scales out of a pretense of superiority weakens the chain one link at a time.

Now that every piece of the planet has been deemed a commodity, profit has become a religion more powerful than L. Ron Hubbard, Allah, Buddha, and Jesus Christ combined. The scriptures of profit defines forests as a store house of future resources to be spent at will. Unable to bear the waste of open spaces the church has defined wilderness as an evil to be covered with asphalt, cement and other profit generating amenities.

I'm often assumed to be a neo-marxist Luddite, blind to the shiny glory of global capitalism. None of which is even remotely accurate. The conversation I'm involved with, on a daily basis, is how can humans exist equally and a peace with the planetary community. Considering our current trajectory, the possibility of returning to a more primate state does not seem farfetched. As biodiversity dwindles, due to our voracious appetites, so too do our options.

Defining creation as capital has meant borders and boundaries must be maintained, making it clear who profits from what. Wilderness can not exist with artificial boundaries in place. Since humans evolved in response of, and a part of an untamed wilderness, it seems the boundaries we create for the natural world become obstacles to our continued existence. In other words as we dam rivers, we damn ourselves to a similar fate of stagnation and death.

Speaking of rivers, I enjoyed my brief time rafting the Rouge in Southern Oregon. Of course I could have done without the constant reminder of the damage we continue to do in even the remotest of places. The reminder I speak of is the numerous dead salmon floating along side our rafts, victim to warmer waters resulting from upstream dams and unseasonably warmer weather. I could have also done without the thin sheen of petroleum that could be seen everywhere except the rapids.

The section of the Siskiyou Mountains we rafted where once picked over by gold miners, but luckily for us the forests we rafted through were blessed with more than a hundred years of regrowth. So although this was not wilderness it was the next best thing. In a Disney sort of way.

The one bear I saw, lingered just long enough for a few photos and then was gone. The shuttle guide who drove us back to Grant's Pass said we were lucky to have seen a bear at all, as poachers have been hard at work in the region for about a year. Where bears were scarce, water fowl was abundant, as were osprey and turkey vultures. However, in the four days spent on the Rouge I saw more outhouses than deer. How's that for a statistic?

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