On the brink of becoming an official card-carrying senior, I find myself embarrassed, more and more often, at the things we humans do. As a younger person, I was rather optimistic about the world. Now I’m not. Now I wonder, every ten minutes, what are we thinking?
What are we thinking, for example, when we decide to slaughter 10,912 Double-crested Cormorants, shooting them out of the sky with shotguns, and at close range with rifles as they tend to their nests in the Columbia River Estuary? Or when we plan to destroy 26,096 of their nests? All this slaughter is supposed to solve the problem of declining salmon populations. But the cormorants about to be slaughtered didn’t create the salmon decline, and killing them probably won’t solve the problem.
Thankfully, the Audobon Society of Portland is trying to stop this slaughter. Along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Wildlife Center of the North Coast, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Friends of Animals, they’re seeking an injunction to stop the killing while a case now in the courts proceeds through the system. (Read more at http://audubonportland.org/news/march20-2015-cormorants and http://audubonportland.org/news/april20-2015)
Closer to home, here in BC, what are we thinking when we decide to kill Barred Owls in order to improve the survival chances of the Spotted Owl? The Spotted Owl problem is due to the fragmentation of their old-growth forest habitat by logging, not to any crimes perpetrated by Barred Owls. (http://blog.aba.org/2013/02/who-shoots-for-you-who-shoots-for-youall.html#comment-6a00e5505da1178834017d40eb2fad970c)
And what are we thinking when we okay the shooting of Grizzly Bears by trophy hunters in BC’s Chilcotin Cariboo? (http://www.vancouverobserver.com/news/clark-govt-under-fire-illegal-grizzly-hunt-tsilhqot)
Or as we plan to shoot wolves, by helicopter, in the South Selkirk Mountains and the South Peace in BC in order to save dwindling caribou herds? (http://globalnews.ca/news/1943910/84-wolves-killed-in-b-c-during-cull-program/)
Are the government officials making these decisions out of touch with their citizens? It would seem so. Certainly, many many BC citizens actively oppose the Barred Owl cull and the hunting of Grizzlies and the barbaric and ineffective wolf cull. Over sixty national and international organizations, in fact, signed an open letter to the Premier of BC on Feb 25 2015 in opposition to the wolf cull. (http://pacificwild.org/media/documents/press_release/save-b.c.-wolves-press-release-officiaal.pdf)
Farther afield, in the Mediterranean, what are we thinking when we allow the killing of millions of migratory birds a year to line the pockets of poachers and satisfy the palates of European diners? In Malta, Cyprus, northern Italy, and southern France the poaching of protected migratory birds happens on an industrial scale operation. In spite of the laws of their respective countries, hunters trap and kill Ortolan Buntings, Thrushes, Golden Plovers, Finches, Skylarks, Bramblings, Sparrows, and Lapwings for sport and to sell to restaurants that serve them as a delicacy. As if cats and windows and habitat loss weren’t enough to deal with!
I am, therefore, very grateful for the brave and persistent work of The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), a group of volunteers dedicated to stopping the illegal hunting of migratory birds in the Mediterranean. Recently they’ve been celebrated in Emptying the Skies, a documentary based on a New York Times article by Jonathon Franzen. He describes the group as an “intrepid squad of pan-European bird-lovers waging a secret war against poachers, disrupting illegal trapping to free as many as possible.” Trailer: (http://www.musicboxfilms.com/emptying-the-skies-movies-114.php)
Among its many activities, CABS conducts training camps where “novices learn to move unobtrusively across rough terrain, detect the poachers’ carefully concealed nets and traps, and lead Forest Police patrols to ambush positions.” It’s not a job for the uncommitted – volunteers have been beaten up, shot at, had their cameras smashed.
CABS is also involved in research, in making legal challenges to ‘special regulations’ that benefit trappers and hunters, and in educating the public about the illegal bird-trapping problem. A non-partisan, politically independent organisation, it is financed exclusively through donations from the public.
The CABS volunteers who risk their lives to save the lives of birds remind me of all the good work being done on behalf of the natural world by all kinds of people. They help me feel a little less mortified at being a member of the species that slaughters innocent animals in a half-hearted attempt to solve human-created problems. They remind me that many people are not only thinking about the long-term needs of the natural world but also working hard on its behalf.
So, this year, to celebrate my 65th birthday, I am doing a slide show, Celebrating the Birds of Gabriola, as a fundraiser for CABS. It’s May 8 at 7 pm at The Commons. If you’re on the island, please come. I’ll pass a hat at the end.