BLM Sells Wild Horses to Colorado Dealer with Links to Slaughter

ProPublica repoter Dave Phillips has written an article about the BLM selling wild horses to a Colorado livestock hauler who has ties with slaughterhouses.  And, Democracy Now featured a segment about it on today’s newscast. From Western Colorado says check it out.

Stay tuned…

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Wild Horses

Fall Colors At Their Peak in Colorado Mountains

Photo by Amy Hadden Marsh
all rights reserved

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Rain Rescues West Douglas Wild Horses

 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced today that the White River Field office is suspending the emergency round-up of the West Douglas herd on and around Texas Mountain, south of Rangely,CO. The round-up, also known as a gather by the BLM, began on July 15th after Judge Rosemary Collyer in DC District Court gave the go-ahead to gather no more than 50 horses within 30 days.  In other words, after 30 days, regardless of how many horses had been removed, the round-up had to stop. Or, if BLM captured 50 horses before the 30-day limit, operations ended there.

According to the BLM’s tally, which was posted on the White River Field Office’s webpage throughout the round-up, 19 horses were shipped to the Canon City facility early last week.  And, BLM spokesperson Chris Joyner said one foal whose dam could not be found was put in foster care.

After that, BLM took a day or so to observe the horses around the trap sites.  I should add here that the round-up did not involve typical helicopter drive-trapping. Instead, BLM used a water- and possibly bait-trapping technique in hopes that the horses, whom BLM believed were suffering due to the drought, would come into the trap to get a drink.

Apparently, that stopped working late last week. No horses were gathered all week despite a few days of attempts.  So, either the horses got wise to the traps or the rain doused drought conditions, which made the emergency situation moot. BLM says:

The resource conditions that warranted an emergency gather do not presently exist. The area has received rain on and off for the last 10 days. The horses have dispersed themselves throughout the HA and are no longer coming to the water trap.

BLM has placed a Suspend Work Order on gather activities “for the next 30 days” but says this is conditional:

However, these present conditions are likely to change quickly and we could be right back in an emergency situation…Should the drought problem return to West Douglas HA we will resume work to remove the affected wild horses through the stipulation outlined in the gather EA.

The current unknown is whether the 30-day Suspend Work Order starts today or if it’s good only until the end of the original time period for this particular gather. If it means 30 days from today (July 30th), simple arithmetic shows that somehow the BLM could have added on 2 weeks to the original order. In other words, the original order was set to expire 30 days from July 15th, which was when the gather began. Now, with the new 30-day Suspend Work Order, gather operations appear to have basically been extended for 2 weeks, even though BLM will simply be observing conditions on the ground.

To the agency’s credit, it has been more accessible this time and has posted videos and photos of the horses on the White River Field Office’s webpage, which is something new. Chris Joyner was friendly, helpful, and well-versed about wild horses. But, you know, this is what proper mustang management is all about. Too bad it hasn’t happened before now on the West Douglas Herd Area.

Stay tuned…and thanks for listening.

1 Comment

Filed under Current Events, Wild Horses

Colorado’s Endangered Crystal River: Guest Post by Brent Gardner-Smith and More

The Crystal River is one of two remaining free-flowing rivers in Colorado. But, water augmentation projects that have been on the books for over a century threaten to dam the river and one of its main tributaries.  In November 2011, local citizens groups called on American Rivers to consider the Crystal for its Top Ten Endangered Rivers list for 2012. And, last month, they got their wish.

From Western Colorado is proud to present a guest post from Brent Gardner-Smith, director of Aspen Journalism, who has been covering the issue for over a year. (The article was originally published on May 17, 2012 in collaboration with the Aspen Daily News and is reprinted here with permission.) 

In late May, From Western Colorado’s Amy Hadden Marsh interviewed Gardner-Smith for KDNK Community Radio  about the issue. Click here to listen.  Marsh also produced a feature story for KDNK about the impacts of the American Rivers listing on rivers across the West. Click here for the story. 

American Rivers Attempts to Influence Colorado River District

The Crystal River winding through Placita toward Redstone. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith

 By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism
Thursday, May 17, 2012

The listing of the Crystal River by American Rivers as one of the top-10 most endangered rivers in America this year is designed to influence the boards of two regional water districts: the Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District.

“It is purely to influence the districts,” said Matt Rice, the director of conservation in Colorado for American Rivers. “Our interest is having them play a leadership role in the protection of this river and protection means no new dams. And success would be that the districts abandon all conditional water rights on the Crystal and the river continues to flow free and be without a dam.”

But Chris Treece, the external affairs director for the Colorado River District, said his organization and the West Divide District already have the river’s best interests at heart.

“The Crystal River goes dry just about every year and certainly will this year, in this drought year,” Treece said. “Having a little bit of storage where we pick up spring snowmelt and hang on to it for later-season release, principally for the health of the river, could be a huge benefit to the Crystal River. And I wish American Rivers recognized that.”

The lower Crystal often flows at barely a trickle in late August and into September, in large part because of significant irrigation diversions in the middle reach of the river.

But American Rivers says high spring flows are important for river health and that a dam at Placita would flood an expansive wetland that provides valuable habitat for wildlife.

The Crystal River at Placita, looking upstream. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith

 

The large diversion structure on the Crystal River between Redstone and Carbondale that takes water from the river and delivers it to the Crystal River Ranch. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith

The two water districts have asked a judge in regional water court to keep conditional water rights on the books that would someday allow them to build a dam and a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir on the Crystal between Redstone and Marble, and a dam and a 5,000-acre-foot reservoir on Yank Creek, a tributary of Thompson Creek which flows into the Crystal above Carbondale. (One acre-foot contains 325,851 gallons of water.)

Treece said he did not speak with anyone at American Rivers before it made its announcement on Tuesday about the Crystal River being placed on the most-endangered list.

He called American Rivers a “public relations machine” and downplayed the effect the listing would likely have on the Colorado River District, which levies taxes in 15 counties on Colorado’s Western Slope, including Pitkin County.

“I’d disappoint them if I didn’t tell them the listing was a headache, but it doesn’t change our mission, which is to provide water for the future benefit of the district,” Treece said.

Rice said American Rivers does not contact organizations it is attempting to influence prior to the unveiling of its annual list because they often send out press releases trying to pre-empt the announcement.

“Our intention is not to paint the Colorado River District in a bad light,” Rice said. “They’ve already abandoned a significant portion of these conditional water rights, and we commend them for that. Our interest is having them play a leadership role in the protection of this river and they are in a position to make a very popular decision and abandon these water rights.”

Calling the potential reservoir on the Crystal River a “pond,” Treece downplayed the size of the 4,000-acre-foot reservoir that the districts want to retain the right to build at Placita, an old mining site just below the turn to Marble off of Highway 133 below McClure Pass.

The reservoir would be about four times as big as Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek outside of Aspen, which can hold 987 acre-feet of water at peak level.

Looking at it another way, it would be about one-quarter the size of Paonia Reservoir on the other side of McClure Pass, which holds 15,459 acre-feet of water.

The potential Placita and Yank Creek reservoirs are part of the West Divide Project that dates back to the late 1950s. It was designed to take water from the Crystal River watershed and transport it in a series of long canals to the relatively dry mesas south of Silt and Rifle for irrigation, municipal, hydro and energy uses.

The water districts have asked the court to take the Osgood Reservoir, which would have put Redstone under a reservoir bigger than Ruedi Reservoir, off the books.

They’ve also asked the court to reduce the size of the potential Placita Reservoir from 62,009 acre-feet to 4,000 acre-feet and the potential Yank Creek Reservoir from 13,695 acre-feet to 5,000 acre-feet.

Other features of the filing include the right to divert 250 cubic feet per second (cfs) out of Avalanche Creek, a tributary of the Crystal, and the right to use 150 cfs of water from the Placita Reservoir for hydropower, which is three times the amount of water proposed to be used by the city of Aspen for a new hydro plant.

In the West Divide area itself, the districts also have filed to retain a variety of conditional water rights, including 45,000 acre-feet of storage in the Dry Hollow Reservoir; 15,450 acre-feet in the Kendig Reservoir, along with an enlargement right of 2,610 acre-feet; and 6,500 acre-feet in the West Mamm Creek Reservoir.

None of those reservoirs would receive water from the Crystal River as they would have under the original West Divide Project design.

Those reservoirs and related canals are likely one reason why Garfield County is supporting the two water districts in court.

But it is the two potential dams in the Crystal River watershed that have prompted American Rivers, Pitkin County, the Crystal River Caucus, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association and Trout Unlimited to oppose the districts.

A trial in water court has been set for August 2013 over the diligence filings. In the meantime, the battle over the Crystal River will likely be waged in the court of public opinion.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Poll: Fire Rush Limbaugh?

The wires are all abuzz with radio personality Rush Limbaugh’s splenetic rant directed at Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke and her testimony to Congress about birth control. He called her a slut and a prostitute, and demanded she post sex videos online. He also offered to supply her with aspirin, presumably his idea of birth control, to place between her legs.

I’ve heard that one before. It only works if the woman’s legs hold the little round aspirin pill in place.

According to reports, at least three companies have pulled ads from his nationally syndicated show. Women’s rights activists have condemned his vitriol. And, Limbaugh has apologized. But is that enough?

Three years ago, both NBC and CBS Radio dropped Don Imus –  and his syndicated Imus in the Morning radio show – for slinging slurs about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.  What’s the difference between this and Limbaugh’s biliousness? 

From Western Colorado wants to know what you think. Is it time for Rush to move on?

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events

Adventures in Letter-Writing: 8 Easy Steps to Success

While perusing one of those ubiquitous job-search websites, I came upon a post about writing thank-you letters after being given one of those now-coveted job interviews.  The author suggested hand-writing the note and then sending it via the US Postal Service to boost your hiring chances. 

I realize this is a slight departure from my usual posts and it’s not the thank-you note idea that drew my attention. It was one of the comments to the post that astounded me: 

“How do I do this thru snail mail?” queried the commentor.

Huh? Double-take, did I. Can this person be serious? Who doesn’t know how to mail a letter at the Post Office?  Obviously, someone doesn’t.  Maybe they do all their communicating via email, Android, Facebook, and Twittr. Maybe they pay bills and handle banking transactions online. Maybe they don’t have bills or a bank account.  Even so, I thought, how can they not know how to do something as basic to human existence as mail an actual envelope-and-stamp letter?

So, I thought I’d offer some instruction here to help out all of those who are letter-illiterate.

1. Find a piece of paper. Something plain, white, or maybe a soft cream or vanilla color. Avoid hot pink or lime green even if it matches your wardrobe.

2. Find a good pen. Not a pencil, a pen. This is a stick of plastic or metal with ink inside that you click (something the Android/Twittr generation can get behind) or uncap. By clicking or uncapping, you allow the ink to flow when you place the pen in your hand and then press it against the paper to write.

3. Write something. Start with placing the date at the top left of your letter.  Then, skip a line and add the name and address (street, city, state, zipcode) under the date. Skip another line and write a greeting. Like, “Dear Ms. Smith” or whomever it was that interviewed you. Don’t write “Hey Ms. Smith” or “Hi” or start the letter as if you were entering into a conversation that is already in progress.  After that, write what you want to say. This is called the body of the letter. Do nt wrt w/out vwls.  Then, skip a few lines and write “sincerely”.  Don’t put  “Ciao” or “Later” or, worse, “Cheers“.  Kindly write  “sincerely” (with a capital “S”) and below that, sign your name.

4. Create a signature. If you can’t read your signature, try printing your name and then signing it at a jaunty angle. The recipient needs to know who it’s from or this will have been an exercise in futility.  How will they know it’s you if they can’t read your signature? 

5. Fold the letter (unless it’s one of those pre-folded notes) and place it in an envelope.  Legibly write the recipient’s name (including a title, like, Ms. or Mr., preferably before the name).  Then, the address. (Again, street, city, state, zipcode.)  Seal the envelope.  Years ago, I used sealing wax.  Sealing wax?  Look it up.

6. Add a return address to the top left corner of the front of the envelope or the center of the back of the envelope. And, yes, this means you must have an address, someplace where you might actually get mail. I remember standing in line once at my local Post Office and hearing a guy tell the clerk, “Gee, I don’t know what my address is.”  Figure it out. Then, put it on the envelope. If you don’t, the letter tends to look like maybe there’s Anthrax in it.

7. Now, here’s where things can get a little challenging. This is when you have to actually go to the Post Office.  You have to put a stamp on the envelope in order to mail it and the Post Office is the best place to purchase stamps. They come in all sorts of styles – famous people with brief bios on the back, scenics, holiday, famous buildings, space exploration, old airplanes or cars, TV personalities of yore, etc.  You can also buy a plain flag or Liberty Bell (look it up).  Anyway, buy one for 44 cents, peel off the backing, and stick it in the upper right hand corner of your envelope.

8. Mail it. Give it to the clerk at the counter, stick it in the slot in the wall, maybe drop it in one of those rounded boxes on four legs that stand somewhere near your Post Office and…that’s it.  

And, no, you don’t have to re-open the chute to see if your letter actually went into the box.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Utah Wild Horses Saved from Slaughter

Two Utah men could face 25 years in prison  for allegedly buying 64 mustangs from the BLM under false pretenses and attempting to take them to Mexico for slaughter. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Robert Capson of West Jordan, UT told BLM that he wanted to breed the mustangs for rodeo stock in Toele County. But, that wasn’t the case.  Instead, he loaded the horses into a trailer owned by his partner in the alleged crime, one Dennis Kay Kunz of Willard, UT, and headed in the opposite direction. Apparently, BLM was wise to the plan and intercepted them at  Helper, UT on their way south.  The two men will appear in U.S. District Court at some point in the future. The horses were transferred to a BLM facility in Herriman.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Wild Horses

Wildfire on Colorado’s Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range

A wildfire in a remote area north of Grand Junction, Colorado has grown to over a thousand acres as of this afternoon.  Lightning strikes from last week’s storms may have ignited the blaze, known as the Cosgrove Fire, most of which is burning in the north- central area of the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range. According to Norm Rooker, BLM Fire Information Officer, there are no structures or operating natural gas wells in the area.  David Boyd, BLM public relations officer for the region, said yesterday that the agency is managing the fire to avoid burning the mustangs’ summer and winter range and that the herd was not in danger.   The BLM and Marty Felix, of Friends of the Mustangs, a Grand Junction-based mustang advocacy group, believe that if the fire is managed properly, the results of the burn could increase forage for the herd.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Wild Horses

Poll: Mouthwatering Mustangs?

Mustangs at Colorado's BLM Canon City Holding Facility (C) ahmarsh 2009

There’s a bit of a twit about a Canadian cooking show that aired on May 16, 2011.  According to CNN’s Eatocracy website, the lesson for the day was how to cook traditional French food, including horsemeat.  Apparently, Food Network Canada, the show’s producers, justified the idea by playing the goodwill culture card:

Horsemeat is also considered a delicacy in many cultures around the world. While we understand that this content may not appeal to all viewers, Food Network Canada aims to engage a wide audience, embracing different food cultures in our programming.

The article stated that eating horsemeat is not just about wild horses but the photo that accompanied the article clearly suggests otherwise. Instead of showing retired race horses or petered-out pleasure ponies, the photo gives us a view of what looks like a herd of captured wild horses against a dramatic, anonymous high country backdrop.  If I were a Canadian who knew little about the wild horse controversy raging in the United States, I might connect the show with wild horses. Like, did the meat sizzling on the show’s stoves come from mustangs captured in the American West?  Is my local butcher featuring mustangs this week?

No one except maybe the top chefs and perhaps Food Network Canada knows where the meat used on the show came from; however, an Eatocracy poll from January 5, 2011, says the article, shows that “a substantial portion of the population expects to see a shift in perception toward horse meat consumption in the United States” .  The poll, titled Making a Meal of Mustang, followed brief coverage of the 2011 Summit of the Horse, which convened in Las Vegas, NV that same month.  The January poll showed that almost 35% of 24, 213 responses thought that the US would never eat horsemeat.  Of all the 5,547 responses to a previous June 22, 2010 poll about eating horses, 42% said no way, no how. 

But, what population? It’s unknown whether participants included those living in the US,  Canadians speculating about US food preferences, or both.

Back in the early part of the 20th century, mustangs in the American West were hunted down and rounded up, and many of them were sold to supply the growing pet food industry. Now, seven months away from the 40th anniversary of the passage of the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which federally protects these animals, we’re still talking about sending them to slaughter.  Only this time, some are trying hard to create a market for human consumption, which if successful could mean that federal protection is nothing more than government sanctioned mustanging. 

And, speaking of eating wild-caught horses, From Western Colorado wants your input and we’ve created another poll.  This time, we want to know if you would really make  a burger from horses raised on the ranges of the American West.  Poll is open until midnight  June 17, 2011.

 And, thanks for listening…

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Polls, Wild Horses

Guest Post: Scott Thompson on Overpopulation in the American West

From Western Colorado welcomes Scott Thompson’s return with his essay about the implications of overpopulation in the American West.  A timely warning in light of congressional battles over Title X funding cuts and proposed legislation in Georgia, which passed the state senate last night and would allow wrongful death suits on behalf of fetuses.  Thompson’s essay was originally published in the August/September 2010 issue of the Canyon Country Zephyr and in it, he challenges assumptions about immigration and entitlement.  While Thompson does not discuss abortion or the fervor of the pro-life movement, his words suggest that a women’s right to choose isn’t the only thing at stake. 

Enjoy and…thanks for listening.

Overpopulation and Liberal Taboos: In the Lands of Entitlement

By Scott Thompson

You’re damn right there’s an immigration problem in Arizona: far too many white people have been emigrating there.

If you doubt that, here are the numbers: while the Hispanic population in Arizona increased by 856,000 between 1980 and 2006, the white population escalated by 1.2 million. (Population Brief for the State of Arizona, Western Rural Development Center 2008, p.2).

Yet we don’t hear about Latinos in Arizona strutting around in the dry heat, demanding that the white folks move back where they came from.

Why is that?

I think the reason is good ole white entitlement; an attitude that has complicated if not contaminated the touchy subject of overpopulation. I know more about white entitlement than I care to, having grown up in the small town South before the civil rights movement took hold. The year I spent in Mississippi in 1962 is burned into my mind like they did it with a branding iron. And even though the right wing is (officially) no longer racist, sometimes I hear the same tone of self-satisfied superiority and indignant outrage in the voices of those who fairly spit out the words “illegal immigrants.”

Within these words lies the assumption that we Americans have some righteous claim to the lands comprising Arizona and the Southwest, when the facts plainly show that’s bullshit. That attitude does remind me of the white people in Mississippi in 1962, who thought they were entitled to the de facto slave labor of the African Americans living there.

The only, repeat only, reason all that land is within the territorial United States is because we stole it at gunpoint from Mexico. Which in turn took it from Spain, which stole it from Native Americans, some of whom stole it from other Native Americans.

It’s quite a daisy chain.

A brief recounting of how America came to possess the Southwest is instructive. In 1846 President James K. Polk concocted an excuse for invading Mexico in order to grab as much of their land as he could get his hands on. Some members of Congress did have the integrity to question the necessity for war, among them a young, gangling Abraham Lincoln.

But as is true with power-hungry people, Polk would not be stopped. The crushing blow to Mexico was delivered by General Winfield Scott, who in 1847 invaded the port city of Veracruz and marched toward Mexico City, which he took after six months of brutal fighting. Scott himself admitted that his soldiers had “committed atrocities to make Heaven weep and every American of Christian morals blush for his country.” Translation: they slaughtered civilians.

In the end, the United States paid Mexico $27 million for all that land; a farcical sum in order to whitewash its dishonorable aims.

The great Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail to protest the taxes to support this war, and then went to his cabin to pen his classic essay, “Civil Disobedience,” which championed an individual’s right to oppose an immoral government. Gandhi himself was later inspired by this essay. (See the textbook Out of Many: A History of the American People, by Faragher et al, 2005, pp. 416-419).

In short: we Americans are in no position to wax indignant about “illegal immigrants” from Mexico entering the Southwest, given that we stole that land from them in the first place.

For the irony-challenged reader: I am NOT talking about giving the land back to Mexico. This is about attitude.

The reason I have written first about racial or ethnic entitlement, whoever may perpetuate it, is that it is the one attitude that will make resolving this great problem of overpopulation impossible. If people fear that the call to reduce our numbers is merely a ruse to weaken them in the face of an enemy, their willingness to cooperate will disintegrate.

Unfortunately, Latinos have grounds to fear just such an attitude. Consider, for example, the recent Arizona statute (Senate Bill 1070) that will inexorably lead to the racial profiling of Latinos who are American citizens in order to locate “illegal immigrants.”

But not all entitlement is about racial, ethnic, or cultural prejudice. When it comes to overpopulation, there are diverse layers of entitlement spread out among different groups. Challenging them all is what makes me want to drink twelve Budweisers at the end of the day (and I gave all that up a long time ago).

I would like to explain what’s driving me to get into the turd-laden issue of overpopulation. It’s this: in the late 1960s I fell in love with Arizona. The way it was before its developers, business tycoons, and state leaders systematically destroyed it with their culturally sanctioned avarice. It was as though they had tied a Javelina to a stake and scourged it with tendrils of hairline glass, all the while thinking, hey, this is what good people do.

You don’t forget witnessing something like that.

Edward Abbey had a similar experience. In 1959 he rafted through Glen Canyon on “the golden, flowing Colorado River,” to use his words. Later he worked there as a seasonal park ranger. Ed knew the river and the canyon before Glen Canyon Dam stopped it up like a vast, stinking toilet. He said, “The difference between the present reservoir, with its silent sterile shores and debris-choked side canyons, and the original Glen Canyon, is the difference between death and life. Glen Canyon was alive. Lake Powell is a graveyard.” (The Damnation of a Canyon, pp. 1,3).

Ed loved Glen Canyon the way it was.

In the late 1960s Arizona was a shifting, turning mosaic of brilliant colors; everywhere there were crystalline expanses of space and light; the outline of a mountain peak 80 miles away was as clear and sharp as the verdant trunk of a paloverde that you touched with your fingers.

Arizona was: the pervasive beige of the sun-blasted Sonoran Desert outside Tucson, studded with enormous green stalks of Saguaro cacti; the red and gold evening light atop etched black horizons; the state roads heading north, twisting into sharp green blankets of juniper and pinyon pine and red striped sandstone; the rough black lava rocks and the sweet smooth lava cone near Flagstaff, adorned with spare, regal stands of Ponderosa Pine; the burnt-brown edge of the Mojave Desert, stippled with rough-barked Joshua trees, their limbs curving into clusters of spines.

My microbiologist mother first drove me from Tucson to the Navajo Reservation when I was 18. I had no language of description for the Navajo world; I just I called it “the place with no telephone poles.” It took me a long time to find the words for what I discovered there: that once beyond the telephone wires I was in a sacred land, and that these people knew something about the power of the landscape that my own culture had lost.

In 1971 my mother died of heart failure in Holbrook, Arizona, while driving to the sacred land.

Now here’s what tripling the population of Arizona in less than a generation did.

In the summer of 2005, as Gail [Thompson’s wife] and I flew into Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, we glided over forty contiguous miles of tract houses; the many thousands of tiny yards and blue dotted swimming pools were packed against each other like cells in a massive tumor. We sped north on the interstate in our economy rental car, but even sixty miles beyond the metropolitan melanoma of Phoenix, scattered human structural litter occluded the adamantine splendor of the land.

On it went like this. North of Prescott a shapeless growth of bright green golf courses and oversized luxury homes had metastasized far beyond the once compact, historical shape of the town. It went on for miles. The primordial majesty of the Arizona landscape did not open up until we neared the Hualapai Reservation in the far northwestern corner of the state. A territory for refugees, it now seems. For people like me.

In Arizona, you ought to be able to go outside any city or town, look out over the crystalline vastness of the land, and feel something dazzling inside. I call this the enchantment of the land. That’s what’s been destroyed in Arizona. Now you can only find it in special spots: in the national monuments, wilderness areas, Indian reservations, and remote corners of the state.

The enchantment of the land is not some trifling pleasure. It is the fundamental signal the landscape has always given our species that the relevant ecosystem is in adequate health. It is infinitely more significant, more real, than the Gross Domestic Product or growth in consumer spending or construction starts or even the unemployment rate. Its absence in the landscape is a blunt warning, like a mass in our lungs on a CT scan.

But our culture, through its self-perpetuating frenetic activity, much of which is crazily entertaining, has long tuned out this signal (witness the Dust Bowl of the 1930s). The destruction of the enchantment of the land in Arizona was specifically caused by massive overpopulation, overconsumption, and overdevelopment.

For me it’s clear: no human being, whether White, Latino, African-American, Asian-American, Native American, Australian, African, Middle Eastern, European, Asian, or whatever, has a right to overpopulate any ecosystem, be it in Arizona or anywhere else. The main point is not whether people cross a border or a state line, but whether the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for humans is being exceeded. If so, the population there needs to be gradually lowered by reducing birth rates, emigration from other states, and immigration from other countries, until our numbers are within the ecosystem’s carrying capacity. Probably over several generations.

Which is a politically incorrect position to take. 

That’s because a series of perceived human entitlements have grown up over time that are in conflict with the health and well being of our ecosystems. That’s why it’s politically incorrect to broach the subject.

Let’s look at some of these entitlements.

But first, I ask you to bear in mind that that a trend that characterizes a group – think of a bell curve – will often not apply to many of that group’s members.

Epistemologically challenged readers may find that fact a bitch to deal with.

The basis for liberal entitlement is a compassionate, but ideologically utopian worldview, often rigidly held, which aims to protect people perceived as oppressed or otherwise vulnerable. I think that as a group, liberals have been avoiding serious public dialogue about overpopulation because they are afraid that efforts to reduce it will be used as an excuse for persecuting vulnerable groups. That’s an understandable fear, but silence isn’t a rational strategy for them in the long run. By silencing each other and most of the rest of us, liberals may well be endangering the lives and well being of the very people their ideological commitments have sworn them to protect.

Liberals may have another problem with addressing overpopulation. For decades the foundation of their politics has been wealth redistribution based on continuing economic growth: they claim that everyone should get at least a narrow slice of the pie. Certainly including themselves. Radically reducing our numbers, however, will bring an end to cornucopia economic expansion. It will mean a satisfying but far less materialistic way of life; something many liberals may not be prepared for.

Right-wing business entitlement is barefaced; right-wingers see themselves as the realists, after all. In order to maximize business profits, and therefore growth, and therefore spiraling profits, they need hordes of frightened, desperate, and therefore compliant laborers to hire and underpay. Cheap labor is to soaring profits as warm ocean water is to growing hurricanes. Reducing the human population will make inexpensive workers more difficult to find, therefore making wages climb, therefore reducing profits, therefore dampening business growth. And it will reduce consumption, exacerbating the downward cycle. Our metaphorical hurricane will transmogrify into an unremarkable series of thunderstorms, perhaps with interesting displays of lightning.

I enjoy a good thunderstorm.

Right-wingers revere individual property rights. I cannot imagine them putting the health of an ecosystem first if that will limit the profits they can derive from their investments in private property, or will reduce the market value of that property. They will see changes of this nature as de facto communism (some will decry climate scientists as henchmen in a sinister Marxist plot and hack into their e-mails).

Yet another entitlement is pronatalism, the perceived right to have children up to one’s biological capacity. This has been the predominant tradition since the end of humanity’s hunter-gatherer days.

Pronatalism is backed by big time Western religion. Consider, for example, the Old Testament’s “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28). In general, Judeo-Christian religious authorities have felt entitled to perpetuate the credibility of their traditional teachings and scriptures, despite Sinai-sized evidence that their pronatalist stances are a disaster for living systems (the Catholic teaching against birth control deserves its own Flat-Earth award, with a free coupon for all the credible books on climate science and climate change biology Pope Benedict and the College of Cardinals are willing to read).

Given that mainstream religions do have a lot of good teachings, why can’t they figure out that to “fill the earth” with homo sapiens means up to, but not exceeding, each ecosystem’s carrying capacity? That they refuse to figure this out in the face of escalating danger to us all is religious entitlement.

Nevertheless, there is a helpful trend. It’s become clear that as more women are educated and given opportunities outside the home, as well as access to birth control, birth rates predictably drop; at least they have thus far. If humanity does somehow avoid a series of population-related catastrophes, women and the women’s movement will deserve the credit.

The danger, as ever, is complacency. It’s easy to forget that even with lower fertility rates the world population will continue to grow at an alarming rate, simply because there are more people around to reproduce. And that the climate is now unstable for the first time since the beginning of the Holocene 11,000 years ago, and that it will steadily grow more unstable for centuries to come, imperiling fresh water supplies, agricultural production, and of course the ecosystems that vitally sustain us.

Centuries from now, as teams of archeologists turn their trowels through the debris of our ex-civilization, I wonder if they’ll conclude that we trivialized the most important signal of approaching disaster: the loss of enchantment of the land. Perhaps after a scorching day sifting through the ruins, one of them will lean back and say to her team mates, “You know, it’s like a critical mass of Arizonans way back then, certainly the most influential ones, were walking around with their eyes shut. They literally didn’t see what was happening to the landscape.”

The crew will nod and smile sadly.

Over the years Gail and I have visited the following Indian reservations: Mescalero Apache, Wind River Shoshone, Arapaho, Flathead, Blackfeet, Taos Pueblo, San Ildefonso Pueblo, Navajo, Hopi, Hualapai, Havasupai, Yavapai, Acoma, and Zuni. On every one of these reservations, wherever the tribe has retained enough land and political power, it has carefully preserved the enchantment of the land. While the tribes may explain this differently according to their own paradigms, that’s what they’ve been doing.

My opinion? Native Americans are walking around with their eyes open.

Leave a comment

Filed under Guest Posts, Indian Country