BOLD VISIONS MATTER.
Sunday Sermon Vol. 2 No. 6
When we set out to create a new conservation group, one thing that was important to me was not to be limited by geography. In fact, not to be limited by anything more than the circumference of the earth. So it is that in the coming week, we will be taking members on our first official outing to Big Bend National Park for a week of hiking, exploring and enjoying the majesty of this stunning part of the Chihuahuan desert.
When that trip is complete, we will regroup in New Mexico for a short couple of weeks, before heading east to begin our engagement on an issue that is both important and close to my heart. North Carolina for those who do not know me, was the place that I spent my summers, it is where I learned to drive a car, it was also where I made a sad attempt at a college education many years ago. The North Carolina of my youth was a land of pine trees, humidity, and dirt roads. It was a place that a young man was forced to wear a suit every Sunday and accompany his grandmother to church; one that had no air conditioning.
In the summer to escape the heat, we headed to the coast to spend a magical week on the ocean, searching for shark teeth, body surfing and making castles in the sand. In mid-March I will have a homecoming of sorts, and the focus once again is the coastline. You see North Carolina has grown up in my lifetime. It is an economic power, the land where banks rein supreme, where golf and shopping malls are tempered only by evangelical preaching, stone ground grits and college hoops.
It has also has become an epicenter of national news with the tons of coal ash that has exploded into the Dan River and the ineptitude of the Governor and his so-called Environmental head, John E. Skvarla III to control the situation.
Our purpose in going to North Carolina will not be coal ash, there are many good groups fighting that fight. We are there to help organize and fight off Big Oil’s efforts to open most of the southern coast of the United States to off-shore oil and gas development.
You see, with a radical governor, Pat McCrory and (if it’s possible), an even more radically-right controlled legislature, North Carolina's citizens are being sold out: by a mix of creationist thinking and the crushing of women’s rights and efforts to suppress voting. In such a toxic environment, the oil industry and the far-right are making a power play.
In planning the trip, I spoke to faculty at several coastal universities, fishing guides, business owners, students and foundations. One thing is clear: Big Oil representatives have been throwing money around on the coast. They've benefitted greatly from the legislative control (which they helped create), and desire to move with stealth and aggressiveness to make sure drilling occurs. With a preoccupied public, that tact is working.
Governor McCrory is diabolical in nature, and has a very aggressive timeline for getting the coast open to drilling, while enjoying the perks of his relationships with industry. Had the recent coal ash spill not occurred, we may well have been in very dangerous waters, but the spill and his response have opened a window into his dogmatic approach to the environment.
Last Thursday, Rachel Maddow did a brilliant piece on just how Republican elected officials work to create controversies on environmental issues where none exists. From Climate change, to coal ash clean up, many Republican leaders fight science, because it directly conflicts with creationism. So oil cannot take millions of years to create, it must have another explanation, one that fits the byline of 'less than 6000 years.'
With the coal ash spill, Republican leaders were saying that there was a debate amongst scientists on what would be the best way to solve the cleanup. What Maddow showed clearly (and what many of us know all too well), is that amongst scientists, there is no debate on how to clean up this spill, or for that matter protect our environment, or protect species; these are simply creative talking points, designed to fool an uninformed public and cause division amongst the electorate.
North Carolina’s coast is second only to California’s in biodiversity. Endangered right whales and humpbacks pass the coast. Red wolves hang on, despite recent killings just a few miles from the coast. Research continues to reduce overfishing and preparing the coast for the rise in sea levels. Yet, next month a decision will be made as to whether to allow seismic testing for oil and gas, off this very coastline.
Some coastal Tea Party mayors have already come out in support of offshore development. Many fishermen, tired of government regulation (so they say) will have to decide if they want to support conservation of the resource, or sellout to Big Oil.
The wheels are turning, in a state with no experience in oil and gas development. Our role is to share--with as many as we can--the realities that we have faced in New Mexico: from pollution to the destruction of safe drinking water, from childhood asthma spikes to the elevated cancer rates that rob families of quality of life and from the money which controls small towns and mayors and perpetuates the addiction that is destroying our planet...oil.
Bold Visions may be small, but we never think that way. We continue to search for the problem spots and work to find solutions for the planet, not for fools. The month ahead will be busy; it will also be a chance to rediscover a part of my personal past while helping a beautiful part of America and the wildlife that depends on our shared existence, fight for a saner future.
We have all heard the stories about a crime being committed; a person is put on trial and then convicted. In some cases the person gets out of jail and is finally freed to recommit the crime. We have created a justice system to find the balance between crime and punishment. We also set up via prisons some form of rehabilitation with the goal being to return a person to society and remain crime free.
You see in my mind science plays the role of rehabilitation in our society. As we learn about wildlife and their behaviors, we adjust our thinking, our way of viewing a so-called crime. As a society we learn and our learning equals how we dole out punishment and efforts to rehab offenders. The slaughter and destruction of wildlife and destroying Native American cultures across the Great Plains and the West was perhaps the darkest chapter in our history. It was a crime for which there was little punishment, except that future generations were left with only drawings, stories and their own imagination to think of passenger pigeons, Merriam Elk, tribal life and the Plains grizzly. One animal managed to suffer like few others could. That animal is the Bison.
It is striking that a segment of society, the ranching community, has not learned the value of wildlife, the importance of protecting genetic diversity, unless it moos. The slaughter of the bison is perhaps the greatest example of human greed and stupidity on record. The killing of the bison was not just done by ranching interests. The railroad played a major and destructive role.
As we look at America today we have witnessed the ranching community passing out endless nonsense about brucellosis, intimidating anyone from the Popplers and their visionary plan; the Buffalo Commons, whose goal was to resettle bison on the Great Plains; to those who have begun the American Prairie Reserve.
Ranchers have yet to be rehabilitated. They continue a crime spree, without remorse, without learning from mistakes of the past. It does not matter what animal competes for grass or possibly harming a cow. It must be killed. This is part of the cowboy mythology of controlling nature.
What makes this especially sickening is that the very people entrusted to protect the bison, the National Park Service, view cooperation with ranchers as a far higher priority than actually protecting wildlife. Again and again from wolves to bison, the Park Service has shown itself to be weak and politically manipulated, by ranching and livestock interests. No park has had a higher learning curve than Yellowstone. Its history is full of killing predators and allowing bears to perform at the garbage dump. Despite the science and understanding that has been revealed, criminal tendencies toward the needless destruction of wildlife remain.
So now they are preparing for a large scale bison killing. Of course, we are told this is to thin the herd. The reality is that ranching interests have been pressuring the interagency task force that oversees the bison for some time. Efforts have been made to buy grazing allotments north of the park, the ranchers have said NO.
Despite their criminal intent, and the fact that no cattle have been afflicted by brucellosis from bison, the livestock industry continues to wage a campaign to kill more bison. They, in coordination with the park service, have tried to make this palatable to the general public by saying the meat will go to tribes in need of food. The tribes have responded by stating that killing on this level is too much.
As a nation we have committed a serious crime by killing that wildlife which stirs our soul. Ranching interests continue to wage a war that started more than 200 years ago. They do not learn; are beyond rehabilitation and continue to coordinate their actions as conservation groups fight amongst themselves for funding and the chance to show balance.
If we are going to stop the slaughter of wolves and the killing of bison, we must organize the communities of Montana. This will take time- five years. But like most western states the vast majority of the population does not hunt. In New Mexico only 4% of the population actually hunts. Larger communities tend to be more liberal. We must show that businesses, churches, tribes and the vast majority of citizens of this state are sick and tired of cowboys controlling their lives, their politicians and their passion-wild nature.
The Park Service will continue its meek and pathetic efforts to appease, while stealing from those that love nature the most-conservationists.
Bold Visions is committed to true organizing and changing public opinion but it requires boots on the ground and the serious art of organizing. This is something we have done for many years with two new National Monuments to prove the point. This is the only way to break this stranglehold and protect the species that define wild nature.
We must work every day to change hearts and minds. Only then will we find justice, the justice I crave every time I stare into the face of a bison.
Few animals stir the heart more than the bison. Few make me feel real shame. They are the magic gift. Their story is one of true crime. The punishment has been little. Our job is to crusade for justice, and in this justice, we will transform a society that comes from a vision, determination and a passion to see it to completion.
Sunday Sermon Vol. 2 No. 5
Bison-The Magic Gift
Humpback Tales Vol. 2 No. 3:
Hold the Champagne
For the past nine years one of my most important focuses was the creation of a large protected area for the Organ Mountains in southern New Mexico. There have been many times when it looked like the proposals we created were simply not going to make it, or we thought victory was close at hand.
One thing you learn about politics is that you rarely get everything you want; compromise is the word that rings in your ears. The news that we are receiving now is, the President is poised to create a new National Monument in New Mexico and one in California. So all the calls, all the lobbying and the organizing has paid off and soon we will be celebrating a very special victory, close to 600,000 acres of land in New Mexico and acres in California will be forever protected.
In the weeks ahead groups of all stripes will take credit for the success, many more will celebrate. I hope to be there for the ceremony which will inevitably take place, but the compromises which have led to this day, include the President selling out the conservation community once again to the oil industry.
So while we all celebrate and we should, this was not easy. I only want to make clear that the President is giving us this victory so he can then announce his support for the Keystone Pipeline. The Monument and the pipeline are in truth not related; however, they will form the backdrop for the President to show his version of BALANCE.
He is willing to protect perhaps 900,000 acres of land in perpetuity and in exchange he will then aid the destruction of our environment, by allowing tar sands to be developed via open pit mines, and be transported across farm land, water tables so that our country and others will continue to bleed for oil.
Many will say, stop your whining, this is going to be a great day. Others will say the pipeline was inevitable and getting the Monuments is both important and something the President did not have to do. Fair enough.
Yet, this seems to me part of the problem we face in conservation. If our victories continue to be relatively small to the compromises we must accept, then we are little more than a lifeboat in the pacific. The President has a choice and a real victory; a statement on the need to protect our earth would be this. On the day he says NO to the XL Pipeline he then lets Congress know that he is protecting more than 900,000 acres of land and that’s just for starters.
I understand, and argue that if we do not begin to think this way and keep pressuring elected officials and the media, then we are going to find ourselves fighting more battles and losing exponentially the land, oceans and wildlife that define Earth as we know it.
Every day the oil and gas industry looks to mold public opinion, change our perspectives and control our elected officials a little more. They understood the importance of this pipeline as do many of us.
Republicans, who have fought us so hard on this National Monument, see their pound of flesh in Keystone and the President has been the focal point of their furry. Yet they are simply the lackeys for Big Oil, an industry that like American Banks are becoming too powerful to touch.
So soon we will meet in Las Cruces to celebrate. For me nine years of my life were focused on this moment. Yet to win protection, while witnessing the loss of sanity is bittersweet. The earth is interconnected by nature. Bold Visions Conservation understands this and tries to make this point to our readers and our elected officials.
Protecting land is important, wilderness is life! If we continue to allow big oil to determine environmental policy, we will all lose.
So there will be a day to celebrate soon. For all the people that worked so hard, it is a day of celebration for the Monument of our dreams. But hold my champagne for now; there are clouds on the horizon.
Sunday Sermon Vol. 2 No. 4
The Keystone Mob
It was not that long ago that Bill McKibben was standing in front of the White House demanding an end to the XL Pipeline. With people encircling it, many began to see some life in the modern, stale, emotionless conservation movement. Big oil saw it as well, and began doing what they do best-doling out money, coordinating with Canada’s new more conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Most importantly, they continued to lie to the American public and stressed safety on a commercial cycle that could be called 24 hours of misinformation.
The misinformation also included the fire cry of the right wing, “Give America energy independence.” Listening to the President speak at his state of the Union, I began to wonder if the oil industry had just moved into the White House. His love for natural gas was simply hard to swallow. His big moment of telling us “Climate Change is real” was naturally squashed by his own actions; that with the new report from the State Department making clear that Big Oil can create fake reports and this Administration is willing to sell out the conservation community once again.
Everything about Keystone is wrong. It continues our dependence on oil. Sorry, I am not impressed with oil industry lexicon like “Bridge fuel” Mr. President. We are once again saying that oil is far more important than water, a situation that will be the premise for future wars. We are taking peoples lands with eminent domain, to sink this pipeline that will transport some of the world’s dirtiest oil, with the US more than happy to use its ports for Canada’s enrichment.
Climate change! Yes its real, our solution is to allow a country with a conservative government, and an industry that is literally killing our planet to strip mine, tear down forests, destroy wildlife and by the way make billions more so their control of our country and the world is that much more solidified.
The President still has a chance to show he is serious about Climate Change. He can say NO to the XL Pipeline. We will continue as will many groups to pressure him to the end. Yet, it is more likely that he will say yes, and within days declare a new National Monument, hopefully the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. But like National Parks, we are given a postage stamp of protection, while the polar icecaps melt, while crops fail, and we hear about good paying jobs and the safety of an industry devoid of morality.
After he leaves the White House and looks to make money on the speaking circuit, the President will likely enjoy some invites from his new friends, the ones he once famously said he “would free our country from their tyranny.” He will cash in, while the planet is slowly imploding.
Many will now say that the conservation community overplayed its hand, bet on the wrong horse, so to speak. That would play only into the hands of large corporate conservation groups that want this all to be a Washington insider operation. NO to the XL Pipeline from McKibben on down the line, put life back into a stale movement; it showed courage, passion and determination.
If common sense had prevailed, if science was truly being used, we would have found victory. It would have been done in a truly grassroots manner, something the conservation community as a whole needs to see as a bright star, not childlike.
In the days ahead, we will continue our pressure as will many groups that see this for what it is, continuing our addiction to oil, accepting that we will continue to harm the planet so that one industry can continue its control on our lives.
Mr. President, it is not too late for you to show that you are the man we elected. We did so because you gave us HOPE. My hope is that your heart and conscious will guide your decision, not money. It might be a first in politics, but I remain an optimist.
Let us fight tyranny! War is not about people, rather it’s about control. This industry must be reined in and disbanded for the sake of future life on our planet. For the sake of the children that will soon inherit this planet. For their sake Mr. President, just say NO!
“The word impossible is not in my dictionary.” Napoleon
Humpback Tales Vol. 2 No. 2:
When Duck Dynasty Jokesters Are Called Leaders
We continue to fight for the basic respect that all animals deserve. We educate and inform all of our members and those that choose to visit that the killing of innocent wildlife in so-called contests is not a sport, but a mental illness. It is an example of the Buffalo killers of the 1800’s where waste was designed not only to crush Native Americans and starve them, but to shoot what at the time seemed limitless. Greed, stupidity and lawlessness almost left the great animal extinct.
The same can be said for the passenger pigeon. In his famous essay of 1813, Audubon speaks about the nights in Kentucky when the flocks, the black clouds of passenger pigeons flew by; how the men would build fires or kill them in trees by the thousands for fun, for something to do, while drinking the night away. Those black clouds of such vital spirit are now only memories, because of the stupidity of early settlers.
Today in our state of New Mexico came the news, not the least bit shocking that the Chairman of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department Scott Bidegain went to Nevada and paid $300 to be in the World Coyote Calling Contest. The contest is designed for two men teams to go out and slaughter innocent coyotes by using distress calls etc. to bring them in. More than 307 coyotes were killed on this day, Bidigan and his partner proudly killed seven, and won $1,300. Bidegain, as I have reported before, enjoys the perks of being commissioner since his appointment by our Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican who seems to care little about wildlife in our state.
Earlier Bidegain has enjoyed selling tags on his ranch in Tucumcari for profit seeing no conflict of interest being the Commissioner of NM Game and Fish. Another commissioner Robert Espinoza, a pawn of the oil and gas industry also has been involved in such killing contests and proudly supports them.
All of this gets to the main point that Game and Fish Departments not just in New Mexico but nationally do not respect or care for the very wildlife that they are charged with protecting. Like many other states, predators, because of the large influence of ranching and livestock interests, have no rights. They are to be killed. Now with the influence of our Redneck nation and shows like Duck Dynasty, it has become fun to kill innocent life, to kill for bravado, to kill for what is missing in their stupid, dull self-centered lives.
The killing of these coyotes; the fact that a member of the Game and Fish commission would not only go to such an event, but participate without any concern of the publicity it would create goes back to the sense of pride in a culture, a cowboy culture that is sick. The sickness is permeating certain aspects of our society. While many politicians obsess about controlling woman’s bodies, they think nothing of killing wildlife and they pride themselves on killing wolves, coyotes and protecting the rights of the torture sector of so-called sportsmen-the trappers.
For the past year Bold Visions has made it, its mission to fight for the reform of the Game and Fish Department. We have gone to the press and editorial departments and they have failed to cover the story. We have spent countless hours with elected officials and are moving towards some positive results.
These contests must be stopped. Our countries history shows us the folly of such ignorance. If we kill wildlife for fun, what are we teaching our children? What do we show society by those obsessed with owning an arsenal of weapons and talking about government conspiracies? These are the bottom dwellers that need bloodlust for life and it is why our society is being rocked by such senseless gun violence.
Commissioner Scott Bidegain should be fired! Period. Like any professional athlete or elected official, he has a responsibility to represent not only our state but the Game and Fish Department in a responsible manner. He allowed his cowboy ways to overrule common sense.
More importantly, the Game and Fish Department must be reformed! We continue our campaign; with a request of you. We have a donor who will match your giving to our Game and Fish Reform Campaign up to $5,000. We must force the issue and we must use New Mexico as a model for reform nationally.
Coyote Killing Contests will lead to wolf killing contests, to bear killing contests, because gun manufactures, magazines and so-called sportsmen which cater to Rednecks and others continue to both normalize such behavior and to make it sexy for bottom feeders.
It angers so many to their core and for those that choose to kill, they enjoy the pain they give to us, because they represent the divide that confronts our nation. Unwilling to grow and mature, they seek to legitimize their brand of ignorance. It is time for change. It is time for reform. Wilderness was designed for predators, for the cries of coyotes; not for gunshots and laughter.
Please help us and stop the madness.
P.S. I hope you noticed at the State of the Union address, the Republican magistrate stood in line to be seen with Mr. Duck Dynasty. Does this make it clear where our educational level has fallen?
“Beware Jesters do often prove Prophets.” Shakespeare King Lear
Please Donate to help to reform Game and Fish Departments! Your Donation will be DOUBLED through February, Thanks to a VERY generous donor!
Sunday Sermon Vol. 2 No. 3
The Monument that Could
When I began working at New Mexico Wilderness Alliance more than 14 years ago, one of the things that was prevalent was the ambiguity between those who wanted to protect the northern half of the state and those that wanted to protect the south. When I became the Executive Director I understood that the vast amount of wilderness remaining in the state was in the south and I already had worked hard to put Otero Mesa on the map.
I was also guided by my then Board Chair Wesley Leonard who for more than forty years had made protecting the Organ Mountains and surrounding lands his priority. About nine years ago, I began to approach my Board about the concept of protecting these lands and additional lands, the Sierra de Las Uvas, Portrillos and other lands of historic and ecological value.
If there is a campaign I am proud of, it is this one. From hiring the staff to oversee it-Jeff Steinborn and Nathan Small; to pouring over maps, meeting with ranchers and building what has been described as a “model for organizing” the most diverse coalition people can remember. When we began this odyssey, then Senator Domenici was working on a bill that would have protected a small amount of land and allowed other lands, federal lands to be sold off to developers. By hiring someone of the talent and experience of Jeff Steinborn, I knew we had the skills to ward off our opponents. Jeff and Nathan organized the city and county commissions and blocked Domenici’s land grab.
Over the years I went back to Washington more than twenty times to lobby for passage of this legislation and with Jeff and Nathan we brought back coalitions from business to religious to sportsmen all to show the depth of support. For a time it looked like we might have to accept a smaller bill, some 200,000 acres or so, despite our continued push for more. Then came the change of senators; with Martin Heinrich elected we now had a true conservationist, despite the chaoticism of the southern Congressman Pearce who threatened, cajoled and made clear he wanted nothing protected.
Protecting a large area of land is never easy, despite polling, and money to fund campaigns they take time, often that time results in compromise, but the team we had built was clear on one objective. We were in this to win and our goal was to protect the largest amount of acreage possible.
The Organ Mountains would be easy; it was the other lands that presented the challenge. We spent large amounts of time inventorying the lands again, photographing them, creating local “friends groups” and working with funders from across the country that knew this would take time and they made sure we were equipped for the journey. At so many times it looked like the ranchers were going to win, as our politician’s felt their rage and were worried. Yet we were seeing something truly magical. Las Cruces is quite a community and with the influx of new residents it has become a very progressive and engaged community. The people of this town wanted their lands protected and they became vocal and their support began to truly blossom. Sure, their remained the Tea Party and ranchers that would never be happy with anything deigned with a “community” in mind. I met on many occasions with ranchers that screamed and insulted me. They were convinced that our goal was to put “wolves on the land.” I told them, that I personally would love that, but it had nothing to do with any legislation.
Everything was done to make the ranchers inclusive in the process, to hear their concerns and adjust boundaries according to concerns, needs for vehicle access. Yet, by and large many ranchers choose to try and block any meaningful attempt at a compromise. Their objective as we see often was to simply say no to anything, figuring that would mean NO Protection.
Understanding the politics, and the reality that Congressman Pearce would never allow this to pass the Congress, we turned to the most logical approach of all. Have the President declare this a National Monument!
So yesterday was a very important moment in this process. More than 750 people showed up (300 were turned away) to speak with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in what will likely be the final public meeting on this issue. In that crowd was my Board Chair, who had left NMWA and has helped me start Bold Visions. Joe Adair was there to film this moment as so many people made clear they want this Monument to improve the quality of life that defines their community. Some rose to recite their Tea party rage and small minded feeling about government. But the day was ours and after nine years of fighting, holding our breath, creating strategies, raising money one could finally see the end in sight.
After nine years of fighting a bill that once would have protected a small amount of the Organ Mountains, then grew to about 200,000 acres is now destined to become a National Monument of almost 600,000 acres. Which shows that sometimes time and imagination can work together to create something really special. The next few months will be important, the Congressman and the cowboys will fight with desperation to derail this effort. Your calls and letters to the President will be more important than ever.
As I looked out over this large crowd, I could see my Board Chair, Wesley Leonard staring on with sheer disbelief. For more than forty years he dreamed of protecting this landscape. On this day his dream was in sight. I saw Jeff, his face beaming and felt a surge of joy. Sometimes the best things in life are those we fight the hardest for.
When it was my turn to speak, I looked directly at Sally Jewel and said in a clear voice, “Be Bold, Madame Secretary, Be Bold!”
“I am easily satisfied with the very best.” Winston Churchill
January 24, 2014, Las Cruces, New Mexico, Bold Visions Conservation Executive Director Stephen Capra addresses US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, in support of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
Stephen and New Mexico State Representative Jeff Steinborn were the primary architects
of what will become America’s newest National Monument
Humpback Tales Vol. 2 No. 1:
A Day of Joy
When you spend your life in conservation, one thing you begin to understand is the difficulty one often faces trying to do what seems logical; saving land, protecting wildlife and educating our future generations about the importance of wild, protected wilderness.
After a bitter cold windy day in Clovis, rescuing the first 100 prairie dogs and feeling the negative energy that flows in Clovis, I am now going to speak about the joy and magic that comes from a day spent on Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch and watching hopes and goals come to fruition.
Coming into the more than 400 square miles that defines the Ladder is in itself much like entering the mouth of a whale. The view is immense, rolling hills of native grass, intermixed with a yucca, or ocotillo. Turner’s ranch manager Steve Dobrott explained how just fifteen years or so ago this was nothing more than acres of creosote. After some aerial poisoning, which is about the only thing one can do with creosote, they had removed the cattle, replacing it with bison, which are rotated on a regular basis, allowing the land to come back and truly thrive, even with the low rainfall that most of us are experiencing in New Mexico, all part of global climate change.
By 12 o’clock the prairie dogs had arrived after a five hour trip from Clovis, driven by Trent Bokin of EcoSolutions, the person and his team we hired for the relocation. We had several Bold Visions members and part of the Ladder Ranch research team. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked Steve Dobrott if there was any chance following the release, if we could see some Bolson Tortoises! He then introduced me to the Bolson Specialist Christiane Wiese, PhD who had come to help us with the prairie dog release.
The day itself could not have been more perfect, the sun was shining, with little wind to speak of; we all were removing layers as we began the release. The site was an old prairie dog colony. The prairie dogs had died as a result of the despite drought we have experienced over the past five years. Yet, late last summer the rains came to this part of the state, too late for the prairie dogs, but allowing an explosion of grass, that while now brown and dry, will provide perfect forage for our new arrivals.
Before the process began we scanned the horizon to see if any prairie dogs remained in the colony? To our surprise, we found one lone prairie dog, in this massive colony. We could not tell if this bachelor enjoyed his solitude or just felt as though he had won the prairie dog lottery! As Trent opened the first crate, we heard some definitive squeaks, cries and some jousting from our prairie dogs that were clearly ready to be set free! Trent explained the routine of grabbing them by the scruff and warned of their teeth and the scares he now bears. One by one we set them into old burrows, generally two to five in a hole. As the process began we quickly had a burrowing owl flying around us curious about this newly arriving group.
For more than two hours we opened crates and watched prairie dogs drop into holes and into a new life in the heart of 400 square miles of protection. We all laughed, took photos, and watched as certain male prairie dogs showed off their voices and cunning as we tried to take them from cage to hole. On one occasion, a male broke free and we watched Trent and David chasing this determined male in circles and zig-zags to much laughter, as they guided him to the safety of his new colony. As we placed the last dogs in their new home, we turned to look back at the colony, already we saw the scampering from hole to hole, the Sentinel standing watch over his domain, and the burrowing owl flying low and we felt that the renewal of life was before us.
How wondrous to know that soon, bison will march past this town, and like the Great Plains of old, will interact with prairie dogs, while a big sky fills the horizon, eagles soar and on grass called blue and perhaps black grama, in a place where they are safe from human stupidity and folly.
As we finished I asked Christiane, if we could see some tortoises. She was more than happy to take us to a five acre enclosure where older tortoises were hibernating. The story of the Bolson is cloudy. It is the only true Chihuahuan desert tortoise. Yet, little is known about it. Researched by scientists in 1959, in a remote part of Mexico, it was clear these tortoises can grow large and live long. Turner was given these tortoises by a woman who cared deeply about the tortoise and had been given a few years earlier. Upon her death, she gave what were now about twenty tortoises to Turner.
So for the first time that anyone can remember, the Bolson, is in New Mexico and is beginning to stretch their legs, be it, in a protected enclosure. Christiane explained that there is simply so much to learn about this mammal and little research to help them understand. So about twenty-five now have radio transmitters so they can watch their actions, which she says has not involved moving over large distances. Rather they appear to be more social and inclined to stay in a given area, at least so far.
Soon we were passing the river rock lodge and Turners personal residence in the true center of the ranch. After crossing a low flowing stream, we came to an old stone house in need of repair. It was here that Christiane invited us in to see another enclosure, this one with heat lamps and more than sixty bolson hatchlings! Perhaps half the size of a cell phone these beautiful and naturally wizened mammals were nothing short of a spectacle of joy as I held one atop my hand. If awwwww is a real word it was said with religious vigor as we marveled at the fact that this animal has even survived.
It was time to leave, though we know it is the start of something much bigger. As we crossed the river and passed the rock enclaves, we began to follow the dried streambed, where 150 year old cottonwoods stood bare in the winter light. As the road climbed we passed the columns of rock outcropping now turning pink with the fading light. We passed a few mule deer, perfect in their size, their antlers pointed and tall, the gravel road soon transitioned to pavement.
It had been six hours of wonder, on a January day filled with sun, laughter and a feeling of joy, the joy that comes from allowing animals to live, to giving them a chance at living the way they were designed to be; Wild. Like any wilderness experience, when you leave such a setting, it is a real transition. As we drove the last two hours back, we were mostly quiet, reflective, tired but when we spoke our words, our faces were filled with a twinkle, a sense of the power of animal spirit, shared on this perfect January day at the home of Ted Turner.
And so we went beyond the horizon – into the country of the dawn.
From Gilman’s Tightrope Walker
Sunday Sermon Vol. 2 No. 2
Prairie Dogs & Ted Turner
It seems like forever since we began talking about rescuing the prairie dogs of Clovis. What started out so simply, turned into a battle royal and months and months of delay? It was embarrassing and frustrating. The level of hate and anger that one small, dusty town can create is a reflection of the divide our nation today faces.
Starting Tuesday and we are confident this time, the rescue and relocation will begin. We will be there to film, capture and record the excitement and relief, which come from giving more than 150 prairie dogs a new lease on life. It’s amazing how complex something so simple can become. For the past year the county commission of Clovis, which really means people that are not in town, IE ranchers, farmers and anti-social angry at the world types have fought our every effort. Not to be outdone, some in the conservation community have fought our efforts as well, there concerns stem from the belief that we must cooperate with ranchers and rural communities and never fight back.
While it is a nice concept, it reflects a naïve approach that has cost us dearly in the Northern Rockies as such a strategy has led to the mass slaughter of wolves we are currently witnessing. In my many years in conservation, I have made extraordinary efforts to work with ranchers in particular. That was the key to getting wilderness designation on Sabinoso, and Ojito wilderness areas. It also was key to getting the win on the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and it will be a factor in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Designation that is still to come. Since I managed these campaigns until last year and their success, I am well aware of how, as conservationists, we must always be willing to reach out.
However, I have also seen how wildlife seems to hold another emotion, both for us who care deeply and for the livestock industry that sees no value in any life that is not connected to their profits. When confronted with such anger and battling over what in effect is the new West, it becomes necessary to stop fooling yourself about cooperation, unless the person that owns the ranch has made their money in another field. This is true in protecting wolves, as it is also true in trying to save a small group of prairie dogs that frankly were the only happy occurrence in a town like Clovis. That means challenging the norm and breaking the defiance and power that ranchers have over federal policy and our lands, the public lands that we all own, and that ranchers are granted the “privilege” to use.
At Bold Visions Conservation, we viewed last year as getting started, making our case to you to get involved and creating a message. This year will be marked by action. It begins this week in Clovis and will continue on our very special trip to Big Bend next month. Spots remain to be filled, so get signed up soon!
When it comes to protecting wildlife we will not sit ideally by. Nor will we try to work with the very people that are responsible for the killing of a creature as important to the health and viability of our land as the wolf. So rather than pretend, we will speak from the heart.
We believe firmly that ranchers have a covenant with the public lands they use and abuse. They are given pricing well below market value and as such must be made to sign an agreement to continue leasing their lands that they will co-exist with all predators, which means no killing, period!
Ignorant politicians such as Congressman Steve Pearce must also stop their harassment of agencies like US Fish and Wildlife Service, for there loud voices and threats that led to bad policy decisions.
The prairie dogs are going to an amazing home. The hundreds of thousands of acres that define Ted Turner’s Ladder ranch for starters. Mr. Turner wants more prairie dogs for his other ranches, and I hope we can help a man who has done so much to protect lands and species. These prairie dogs will be sharing space with Ted’s bison, so it makes one wonder if it will stir something in the memory banks of an animal that once shared the massive Great Plains with herds of bison that once were beyond numbers.
We are excited about the coming week. It will be a very special time and we will next post to you some video from the rescue. Thanks again for your patience and generous support.
Sunday Sermon Vol. 2 No. 1
As Winter Comes Action
For many years it has been clear that Congress is incapable of passing anything that resembles meaningful legislation. If the focus is conservation, well then you are seemingly asking the world for really important, aggressive and meaningful legislation. It’s clear the sixties and early seventies are history, or are they? Part of the problem is the enormous influence of money into politics. Well, frankly that is the whole problem. Money breeds or spawns more problems. The motivation for Congress is to make more, create more and of course always in the name of freedom. Between large banks and Wall Street, job creation and rising prices, one must ask where does wilderness, endangered species and global warming fit in?
The answer is, naturally, that such legislation creates jobs, and balances the endless greed and obsession with having it all that currently is strangling America. It allows us something old fashioned, yet vital to our soul-quality of life.
So today, I would like to make the case for some new legislative directives which Congress is welcome to use and introduce, along with the reasons why they should.
The Range Reform Act of 2014
This legislation is a covenant. Like any planned community and frankly our federal public lands are planned, monitored and go through evaluations. So those that use our public lands, i.e. ranchers, must abide by a new covenant, one that states clearly that “ranching is a privilege, not a right, and as such must share their lands with all predator species in order to renew their leases.”
This is a simple straight forward contract that makes clear-you are leasing lands at a subsidized rate, which in itself is a privilege. Therefore, moving forward you must, as part of your contract, share the land with all species and the killing of any predators will result in the loss of your lease.
At a time when so many in America are seeing cuts to pay, cuts to benefits, why is it that ranching interests continue to have it all their way? We know they, more than anyone, are responsible for the slaughter of wolves in the northern Rockies, and in New Mexico they are licking their chops at the chance to start killing Mexican wolves, in fact they already are.
Nothing would do more to stop this killing than to tie their leases directly to sharing the lands. They are enjoying subsidies, the ability to sell game tags, and record prices for meat. It’s time the playing field is leveled. Why can such a small minority overpower the wishes of such a majority in a democracy? The answer is because Congress is afraid of them and not us. This must change.
The Wilderness Expansion Bill of 2014
The purpose of this bill would be to double the amount of wilderness in the United States within 10 years and thus speed up the long delays we continue to face on wilderness. It would be introduced to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
For the legislation to have teeth, it would require that wilderness bills “must be put to a vote within one year of introduction and can be passed by a simple majority.”
Republicans have made a mockery of the system, gumming up wilderness bills for years or even decades and there must be a change in the way wilderness bills are handled. There will always be a minority opposed to wilderness, but currently wilderness study areas like the 57 we have in New Mexico on BLM lands are being trashed, while Congress, who should have acted within 15 years of the 1980 legislation, continues to let the lands languish and degrade. Representatives are far too slow to move legislation wanting the idea to percolate for years, while changing few minds. In the interim, thousands of other acres are being lost to development, over-grazing and other abuse, while conservationists are held in check awaiting the passage of legislation.
The oil and gas industry, mining, logging, off–road groups, and some sportsmen’s would fight this bill tooth and nail, yet with all the warning signs about the health of our planet screaming, this is a solid investment in a healthy future.
The Advertising Fairness Act of 2014
The idea is to put some balance in the runaway ad budget of the oil and gas industry. It would require that their ads which speak of safety and environmental concern make clear that oil and gas development is risky by nature, in which oil spills, death, environmental destruction, global warming and wildlife killing have resulted, as well as contamination of ground water. Such ads would be much like the ads we see for Viagra or other medicines.
Such legislation would state “any depiction of safety or of environmental concern must be balanced with real facts and data, and cannot be used to blatantly distort facts.”
The oil and gas industry continues to create for the American public their own version of reality and they must be stopped. With their massive wealth, the only way to get balance is to change the context of their runaway ad campaign. They cannot be allowed to continually distort the facts while destroying our planet. Congress must move to change this fairytale and allow the American public, especially those not living near an oil patch or off-shore facility to understand the reality of their threat.
These rules are no different than what many industries have faced and must be posted for the sake of fairness.
These are but a few thoughts as we move into the New Year, more than anything it is time for Congress to take meaningful action for our environment and the wildlife that so depend on its healthy state. Once again, this is not some funny idea or zany concept. It is a question of morality. It does not require the banks or Wall Street to approve it. It requires the will of the people who seek harmony and respect for our most important asset, Mother Earth.
“The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Just a reminder, please take a moment to watch our video about the upcoming Big Bend trip, just a few days left to sign up at a very special price! This is going to be one amazing trip. Please come and be a part of it!
Today was a chance to get up into the foothills, to take my dogs to a place free of leashes and to breathe the air that follows a downpour of rain. To my surprise, what I found was about six inches of fresh snow. The trial was simply a few footprints that meandered around balls of snow, where the ends of yucca protrude in search of light. The snow was soft, and allowed my stride to be brisk.
I walked in a large bowl at the south end of the Sandia Mountains. Walking from the south I peered at the foreboding clouds that covered the top of the mountains and colored the sky a muted black, blue and silver. As we climbed, the dogs ran in splendor, alive with the feeling of winter, their paws creating a path and sending snow into the air with their exuberance. As we climbed, snow began to fall and as I looked around the desert was white, with the green of pinion and juniper. The wind was whipping, sometimes with gusts that made me wish for a hat. My face was the conduit for cold joy of a winter day.
The land was quiet; the sound was the crunch of boots on snow, the wind, and an occasional bark. A walk that most of the year seems so simple suddenly made an adventure. Snow, wind and cold, darkness of sky, allowed the mind to feel Himalayan. The snow which blanketed the often, hot dry land, was now covering the usual landmarks; the wind showing the tops of dried blue grama painting its form in the fresh white covering.
Our hike took us up high in the bowl and as I turned south, the mesas were a crustation of black and white, or so it seemed to my eyes. The snow was deeper near the top, my basset hound struggling to stay above the waves of snow that flowed from the trail.
The dogs began to run with the wind and jump at me in play. They ran hard, sliding, but smiling with their own sense of freedom. At times they would dig into the snow, searching for a scent, a smell and naturally leaving their mark for their brethren.
The walk back went quickly, the sky now darkened by weather, snow falling lightly. We did not pass anyone on the trail, though footprints that were slowly disappearing making it clear others had come for the chance to feel the earth come alive.
Winter is here, my woodstove confirms that fact. As dinner warms on the stove, the dogs lay quiet, the stomachs full from dinner. More snow will fall in the mountains tonight. The desert is taking a break, the grounds covered for now. The rock, prickly pear, and the black bear are enjoying some rest.
Winter is short here. By February, the ground will lose the snow, the winds will roar us through spring and the heat will let us know its summer. But for now, and on a day such as this, winter has come to my part of the desert. The hike was not long, but it was fuel for the soul. The snow was perhaps six inches deep, yet one could get lost for a moment in the sense that it was deep and if we stayed we too might be covered.
Today was a simple day in winter, it was a time for reflection, and it was time for a taste of wildness. It remains the fuel that keeps us alive. So it is when winter comes to the desert.
I once heard grownups say, “Teddy Bears stay as young as our favorite yesterdays.” Memories are everything.
Sunday Sermon Vol. 1 No. 26
As Winter Comes Action
Eco-Vacation with Bold Visions Conservation!
Humpback Tales Vol. 1 No. 25:
Time for a Deep Cleaning
Sometimes in life things actually work out very well indeed. New Mexico has been given a short-term grace with the sudden and strange departure of Jim Lane who headed NM Game and Fish Department. Lane, a zealot trapper and killer of all things that were not “game animals,” was allowed to resign according to a wonderful article by Laura Paskus.
Many in the New Mexico sportsmen and conservation community are both celebrating the removal of such a proud killer of wildlife and also wondering why, with our conservative Governor, did this happen? Ms. Paskus in her article made clear some important points: the fact that even in his e-mails he loved to speak about killing things, his e-mail about going to Washington to lobby boasted, “If I can kill more birds (meaning the endangered Lesser Prairie Chicken) while I’m there, I may stay an extra day.”
His mean-spirited hunger and redneck mentality did little to make him popular in or outside of Game and Fish, but it reflects far more than many people care to understand. First Lane was chosen by the Commission in what can only be described as a sham hiring process. Five candidates were finalists, including one, as I mentioned in an earlier piece, had produced a resume on yellow legal paper written in pencil. It’s clear the Game Commission wasn’t looking for qualifications, but rather for someone who was an ideological fit. In the case of Lane, he was simply more of a cheerleader than most, posting images of dead coyotes on his Facebook page, and publicly speaking out to support coyote killing contests, showing a strong level of personal disdain for conservationists.
Let’s face it, Lane came from Kentucky, where he did nothing extraordinary, and was (by some accounts) demoted. Yet, he was hand-chosen over several veterans of the agency, which means that the commission was in search of someone who could be their pawn, and share their personal hate for real conservation and the desire to kill all non-game species. The consolidation and other unusual actions that upset Game and Fish employees were likely at the behest of the commission.
This is an important part of what I believe is part of what is occurring across the West and speaks volumes about the devastating killing of wolves in the northern Rockies. It also is a warning about what could occur with grizzlies and wolverines. It is why eliminating trapping has been so difficult, along with the general sportsmen paranoia about losing the right to hunt.
While Lane and his buddy, Game Commission Chair Scott Bidegin (who himself profits from commission-issued game tags on his own ranch), were enjoying a few days in Washington and spending money freely, that really does not add up to a sudden, surprising resignation. The more than 30,000 signatures we were able to present to get Lane removed, likely did not change their minds. It could be his ridiculous lobbying to disallow the National Park Service’s purchase of Valles Caldera played a role with our senators saying, “Enough”.
However, one thing that has been underreported, and may play a longer-term (and more critical) role in helping to uncover the radical polices and restructuring of Governor Martinez’s Game and Fish Department: State Representative Jeff Steinborn called for an audit of Game and Fish, cosponsored by the Chairman of Legislative Finance Committee and other representatives. Steinborn introduced the legislation after seeing that the Department willfully and repeatedly sought to undermine and in some cases violate the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act.
The Conservation Act requires the NM Department of Game and Fish to work to recover Endangered Species, and develop recovery programs for them. When Martinez became governor, her handpicked Game Commissioners voted to remove the NM Game and Fish Department’s participation from the recovery program--seemingly in direct violation of the Wildlife Conservation mandate.
Happy Trails Mr. Lane, Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
In recent times, the department and Jim Lane specifically took a lead role in undermining use of the Endangered Species Act to protect the Lesser Prairie Chicken in southeast New Mexico, even attending a political rally against use of the Act. When Steinborn questioned the science used by the department on the Prairie Chicken, Lane provided an industry-funded report created by Pacific States legal, a non-profit organization created to support oil and gas, nuclear and other industry interests. One current commissioner, Paul Kienzle III, worked for a time at their Pacific States’ sister group, Denver-based Mountain States Legal.
Lane did not have the skills or experience to run the agency from the start, but that is where the ideology of both Lane and the commission, and the very nature of the commission, need serious reform and must be forced to allow far more scrutiny of their actions.
In my personal meetings with former commissioners they made clear to me that while State Representatives have a far more formal “code of conduct,” the Game Commission--while supposedly having to live by the same rules, tends to ignore them. Ranchers and other special interests spend ‘buddy time’ with the Game Commission on their ranches prior to meetings; Commissioners enjoy food, hunting and opinion, which results in game tags, wolf opposition and other profitable quid pro quo measures, while the public is left in the dark.
Game and Fish is an agency in need of serious reform.
What is occurring in New Mexico is happening nationwide. The audit of Game Commissions should be replicated nationally! For Bold Visions Conservation, reform of this Game Commission is perhaps our biggest priority. What comes from that, is changing so many other issues: trapping, the killing of wolves and the obsession with eradication of non-game species.
These commissions across the West, in particular, remain at the behest of ranching, oil and gas and other non-conservation interests. While we were able to remove one really bad person, there are many waiting to fill his shoes. It is unlikely that this commission will suddenly see the light…it is not in their best interest.
Lane was a man filled with a desire to steal life from the wild. Karma has caught up to him.
Our goal is to transform these agencies, and their commissions into a force for good, one that understands the true meaning of ecosystems. If we want wolves in the wild, if trapping is going to be stopped, the river flows though Game and Fish Departments. It’s time for a serious cleaning of this broken house.
Sunday Sermon Vol. 1 No. 25
Honest, Direct Action
I am not sure how many of you have gone to a hearing dealing with wolves or gun control and heard the following, “I am a fourth generation Montanan, I support ranchers, but want to protect wolves”, or “ I support the second amendment, but still want some measure of gun control.”
It is a fairly common approach designed to demonstrate credibility and reason.
The reality is that saying this repeatedly only makes us look as though we are being disingenuous at the very least. It reminds me of the many meetings I have had with ranchers, and people always telling me to get a cowboy hat and boots to meet with them. I always responded that I would when I meet a rancher wearing Patagonia and Tevas.
When you begin a conversation or a meeting with what many would say is a stretch of the truth, you convince no one. In fact, when you begin the whole conversation with deceit, you only weaken your stance.
I have often found this line of double-speak frustrating, but the conservation community--at the behest of several foundations, has often been forced to work with media groups that find this part of the strategy a measure of shrewd balance. I am from here, I like ranchers, but in this area we disagree. My personal history and reason somehow makes me believable.
What remains so surprising is their perception of success when it comes to wolves. Is it the trapping and killing horror in Montana, or maybe wolves in Wyoming killed just outside the boundary of Yellowstone. Perhaps it is wolf killing contests that are now starting in Idaho? My point is, this strategy is an abject failure.
I think of the hearings I have gone to where conservationists have started meetings this way, and ranchers have responded by leaving their hats on as a form of intimidation. They then spoke of threats, the killing of livestock. The fear of the emotional impact of testimony in these meetings strikes definitive chords with elected officials and mainstream America.
We must remember cowboys have many movies made about them. Their myth is engrained in so many, and likewise, the myth of the wolf has been something most of us have seen in movies and in literature since childhood. To begin with a concession deletes a position of strength and power.
So let’s drop the used car salesman rhetoric, and begin with an opening line something like this:
I love wolves, they are vital to a healthy environment. I am sick and tired of ranchers that are enjoying huge benefits on our public lands continuing to try and control all life on them. It has evolved into a despicable killing of all predators, without reason or logic. If they are going to continue to enjoy federal subsidies, then they must be forced to share the land-period. Such an opening is the equivalent of keeping your cowboy hat on! What it does is make you look determined, and while some would argue is confrontational; it is no different than what we hear from the other side. It is honest and during your speaking allows for a changing tone. However, it does not begin with disingenuous double speak.
In recent days I have thought about what Mandela said, along with Martin Luther King. While both understood the need to forgive, they also felt very powerfully that the struggle they were in was just. People need to understand, the fight for wolves is a battle for rights and dignity, and it is symbolically about ending the war on nature that white men began when their boots touched down on American soil.
It is about moving forward to a new future in the American West, not being the same serfs that once left Europe. It is ending the rancher-induced Apartheid that contaminates our beautiful public lands, and leaves a trail of blood to those animals that the ranching community deems the ‘wrong’ species.
So let us speak with clarity, let us speak with conviction. Wolves need us and we need them. They are the key to a truly healthy environment. They are essential to ending the reign of terror which ranchers have used for generations to control the very lands which belong to all of us.
We should all be proud to fight and fight we must, until the traps are removed and the killing of innocents is stopped. When that time arrives, we may well forgive, but never forget.
Wolves are the future; they are the wildness that our lands need for their soul and sustenance. Let their howl return, let them roam free and when they are free, we will understand the true wild nature of spirit.
This must come quickly for our lands and wildlife need healing: it begins with speaking the truth.
Sunday Sermon Vol. 1 No. 24
Why We Must Say NO to Big Oil
The propaganda just gets heavier, the commercials deeper and more repetitive, and the oil and gas industry pounds away on several key themes; they are all about safety; they care about the environment; they are creating jobs and they care about community. Naturally, nothing could be further from the truth. Well they are creating jobs, but otherwise it is occurring without regard to safety, health, better communities or the environment.
I have mentioned this before, but the level of investment the oil industry is making in brainwashing not just America, but the world, reflects the fact that we have more ways to live on less oil and have grown weary of fighting wars for oil. So the industry continues its’ massive lobbying budge;, continues to control Republican elected officials and many in the Democratic ranks; the President for one still seems to feel their threat.
What many cannot understand is the real impact all this massive advertising is having on people. The impact is real and in tough economic times even more seductive. In the past few weeks I spent time on the East coast. It is there, where I felt an impact far different than what I experience in the West.
The East coast of the United States remains the population center of America. It is the land that was developed before conservation became an ethic, and as a result, development has a special relationship to the common mindset. So the last twenty years have seen an explosion of development that dots the landscape. Cities have exploded in size and despite the influx; the politics have remained a toxic brew of conservative South. There are higher levels of abject racism and pockets of Democratic and liberal thinkers, often related to college communities.
When you are in the East, you are confronting people that have not seen oil rigs, either on land or on water. They have not seen firsthand, the health problems of people living in the oil patch, the asthma in children. They have missed the once quiet communities that are filled overnight with people coming from across the country in search of good-paying oil jobs; the tent cities that result; the car living and the roaring effects of this on crime. It seems that oil and crime are more than a true metaphor.
In communities in North Dakota that are part of the Bakkan oil field, crime has become a major part of their new life. Drugs, prostitution, murder, rape, the list is endless and the violence very real. Injuries on the job are many and safe drinking water is suddenly a concern. The once pristine night skies now resemble a major city and can be seen from space. Wildlife poaching, and wanton predator destruction frame out this picture.
Yet, for many southerners it seems like the industry in their words, “Has new technology, they are improving safety, we cannot be dependent on foreign oil.” The list is long and when you live in large areas with limited access to public lands, the mentality also changes for many. Malls and mall shopping are a way of life for many, which means driving, and these new cities are also blessed with lots of traffic, along with new road construction, which means delays and more gas!
In other words blissful ignorance is a part of life for areas free and far from oil and gas development. That is changing for people in Pennsylvania, but little has changed in other states.
This is precisely why the oil industry has a leg up with people in the East. In that reality, the oil industries next move is scary. It’s the opening of the East coast, from Virginia to Florida to off-shore oil and gas development. Southern Governors, Republicans in each of these states, working on orders from big oil are calling for opening the East to drilling and pushing the President and Congress to fast-track areas that have been strictly off-limits to drilling.
This may very well become one of our country’s biggest battles, or it may be a whimper if big oil continues to paint a portrait that never gets challenged; if Republican governors continue to act like stooges and if the public stays silent until it’s too late.
At Bold Visions Conservation, this is an issue we see as vital; vital to stop any and all off-shore development for oil and gas on the East coast. The people of the South are conservative by nature, but seem completely naive on this pressing issue. Our job is to educate people about the reality of oil and gas development and to stop believing the sheer propaganda, that an industry so awash in its own gout will be challenged and ultimately revealed. It is a crucial link in deflowering this industry that is single-handedly destroying our environment and harming wildlife on a global scale. We launch our protect the East coast campaign and ask you to help make the case that oil and gas drilling should be stopped by the creation of millions of acres of ocean wilderness in the east.
It may be too late to protect vast tracts of land, but it is our moral obligation to protect its ocean.
“You can’t lead the people, if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.” Cornell West
Weightless in the Sphere of the Milky Way
I love to fly, to allow my spirit the chance to take flight. It is the essence or genre of imagination. This chance presents itself when I am camping on a moonless night. It will present itself this weekend as I float the Chama River. Spending time on a river in June is an experience of joy. The body craves water, the water on the Chama is cold, running high, the sky is sunbaked hot, and the banks cool where shade can be found.
Spending a day on the river is like being placed in a convection oven. Your skin is red, pulsing heat. The evening brings relief. Deep in the canyons, the sun pulls away, casting chiaroscuro on the red rock cliffs a thousand feet or more above us. With my dog Joseywales close by, we eat dinner as the evanescent light of day begins to surrender to night. My skin refracts heat; the cold beer pretends to quench my thirst, the sound of water is soothing, it allows a meditative waltz as I reflect on the day.
My camp is simple, a sleeping bag, and a blanket for Josey. We settle in sated from dinner, as the first stars take position. I am somnolent from the day, Josey breaths hard as she begins to dream, the water rushes by, while crickets harmonize. The pall of night consumes; laying on the duff, beneath an old pine my nose captures the terroir of decay, of smoke from nearby fires, of the dust of dry years. My eyes close to the dance of running water on a still night in June, along the Chama.
Around 2am, through simple volitional, I force myself awake. The stillness of night pervades. This is when the magic begins. Eyes open, I begin to focus on the shooting stars, the edges of the sky show the zig and zag of man’s invasion of the night sky-satellites. My focus becomes the center of the Milky Way, and soon like an astronaut in space, I begin my walk. From beneath the warmth of my sleeping bag, I disconnect my mind. The world becomes three-dimensional.
In the pulse of night, the stars fall from the sky, like hot flashes they fill a piece of the sky for seconds as they spiral to earth. The Milky Way now is vivid, the staccato of the river, creates the symphony that marries the earth and sky. It is now that I become free, I feel myself lifting from my prone position, the reality is simply my mind is like a missile, absorbing the boundaries of space. I see the colors refract the sense of dimension, the endless sphere that draws me away, I feel my body light, it is the weightlessness of dream, and it is the power of space. My heart rate builds, Josey feels my energy flowing to the sky and peers at the constellations. Her breathing is calm, I am prone, yet floating, earth and sky are one and my body and senses combine for our spacewalk.
On this lonely stretch of river, the owl speaks in hoots, as the earth rotates and the sky rains stars. For more than an hour I have left this planet on the ride of dreams, in the face of other worlds, my ship is returning. My mind slowly begins to remember, to idle down, the stars still shoot across the sky, I hold Josey close. I was gyrating with the solar system, tumbling end over end in the freedom of space that galaxies provide, as the sky pulsed rainbows of color, and yet I had never left my sleeping bag. My mind was washed clean of worry and thought, my spirit recharged by the power of a solar night.
The sky begins to show the refraction of the east, as a coyote sings to announce a new day. The river runs cold, we rise slowly, I am refreshed, yet tired. Joey stands guard of our small borrowed domain. Our visit is short. As the morning fire yields warmth, a couple of wood ducks float by.
Soon the sun will rise to bake anew, we will float the river, staring at the tall cliffs and listen for the osprey. My mind will focus on the now, but my heart remains weightless in the sphere of the Milky Way.
From a sleeping bag, with a clear sky one can watch the night sky long enough to feel the rotation of the earth, at least I believe this to be true. Like a slow moving Ferris wheel, the turning of night into day becomes a movement of stars, a chorography of light and shadow on rock and Joshua Trees, if one is lying amongst the California desert. The world is turning and you are planted to its soil and become one with the sense of movement, the eternal change.
Last night I dreamed of backpacking. A friend had sent me an old photo taken when I was about twenty. I was struck by what was about to happen in my life. I was nascent, strong, and hungry to explore. As it was then, it remains the power of a backpack to open the world to your personal adventure. Strapped in as you are with a backpack, one senses the security of closeness while their eyes and mind ponder the vastness they are absorbing.
To search the land, and one’s self, for the mental aspect of backpacking is far more than the physical, to see the land, much like a palmist, and to understand its sources of life. Well, that is what makes walking with weight on your back so special. It is this burden which is sui generis to the body and the mind. The long hours that flow as you walk, listen, while the landscape engulfs your mind and speaks to your spirit. At times the flow is interrupted by the sound of wildlife, the sprinting of a squirrel, the barking of a nuthatch.
As one moves from level ground to climb, you may pass by cactus, and move to pine, you may climb on “golden staircases” or bushwhack through thick timber and brush. This forces the heart to beat, the legs to strain, while sweat pours from the body, the mind fights each step, the summit always seeming to fool the senses as a false ridge appears, to demand more of your heart.
If it rains or snows, then you understand how wilderness is a place of life. When you hike the Bob Marshall wilderness in the late fall, the snows will come. The trail will be muddy. Along this trail you will see the tracks of the grizzly, the hoof of the mountain goat and sleep to the howls of the wolf. During the day as the snow blows hard and your face stings, you will come to a river. Not once but perhaps five times in a day. Here the glacier water runs with chunks of ice, while the wind blows hard. If you are looking for a bridge, you will be sorely disappointed. If you are seeking wildness, then you shall feel it!
You may remove your boots and place your pack carefully in front of you or unharnessed on your back. However, if you have been hiking for some time, you may decide to just cross. When you step into the icy abyss, your eyes look towards the far bank. As you step into deeper water, your breath leaves you. The slick rocks below leave you weary, the current is swift and your body is being drained of feeling every moment you pause. The snow blows hard as the wind picks up; you find the shore and pull yourself from the bitter cold water into the bitter cold of a late fall day in the Bob.
You can change your clothes at this point, you will feel warmer, perhaps spare yourself hypothermia Yet, there will be more rivers to cross, and so you walk fast your body half frozen as your prints fill the snow filled trail, your feet like bricks have no feeling, your mind simply propels your movement.
It is in such moments that you become one with wildness, one with the very nature you have come to experience. You may have all the best equipment and that makes your time in wilderness far more civilized. Yet, when your spirit asks for wildness, then your response must be simply wild!
After a day of cold and sweat, of rushing water and blowing snow, it is the sleeping bag that becomes your home, a place of security and rejuvenation. If the weather has passed, you may choose to sleep in the open to watch as the sky takes hold and you begin to feel the movement - the revolution of the earth.
You are anchored to the soil, your eyes part of the sky. If you have gained elevation or are atop a peak in the Rockies, then you lay at the altar of the sky. Night is for sleeping, but it is in this time that the earth bares its skin and opens to you the universe. As you lay in warmth and security, you witness the falling stars, the Milky Way and the sense of the three dimensional.
Your mind reviews the day as you stare into the wild sky, while you lay on the ground of sacred wilderness. Your backpack helped you to this place, it carried the supplies you needed to experience this moment of emotional oneness with nature. The city, your job have been washed from your mind, cleaned from you by the rivers, the wind, the sounds of nature and the tracks you saw on the muddy banks.
You are born again, but not with holy water or gospel preaching. You are born again from allowing yourself to become free and taste the wildness that nature offers your soul. You did it with a simple backpack, desire and a desire to feel the beauty and rejuvenation that wilderness offers the soul.
Don Juan said it best, “For me – there is only the traveling on paths that have heart.”
Sunday Sermon Vol. 1 No. 23
The Zen of the Backpack
Humpback Tales Vol. 1 No. 24:
OK, so perhaps this is a strange time to talk about such a subject, I mean the biggest meal of the year comes tomorrow, right? Well, sometimes we simply must take issues head on, and so begins our conversation about methane. Yes, that gas that can leak from the ground perhaps emitted from the backside of a cow. Nothing that you would notice, say, on Thanksgiving!
So the data is overwhelming, and frankly, scary. For those who believe in science and understand that what is occurring to our planet is terrifying it is a real wake-up call, too those who subscribe to burying their head in the sand its simply more alarmist theory. On Monday the New York Times reported a new analysis by 15 climate scientists published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. What it showed was that greenhouse gas methane was roughly 1.5 times greater in the U.S. in the middle of the last decade than previously reported.
Perhaps more importantly, were the findings that methane discharges in Oklahoma and Texas, were 2.7 times more than conventional estimates and emissions from oil and gas development overall were 5 times greater than the earlier estimates. That’s five times more!
All of this comes on the heels of an earlier report in the Journal nature that made clear the reality of a $60 trillion price tag for a potential 50 Gigaton methane pulse from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Now many in the science community were quick to say rubbish to such claims. However, that is based on the assumption that methane released from the sea floor will not reach the atmosphere; all the new fieldwork and studies are showing this to be a very flawed assumption.
All across the Arctic as permafrost melts, methane is released. In the East Siberian Sea they are observing methane plumes of venting gas. Across the Arctic scientists are confronting a free-fall of gas escaping into the atmosphere which is twice the “global safe level” adding more than 50 billion tons of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is perhaps one of the most potent greenhouse gases. Since 1750, we have seen a more than 150% increase in methane release, more than seen on our planet in more than 500,000 years.
The irony to this is that the oil and gas industry is salivating to begin drilling in the Arctic, using the melting ice as an opening for more global destruction. Think for a moment of the irony of looking at a drill rig in the Arctic.
In many ways this argument feels like watching a cigarette smoker on oxygen, pulling out the hose, and lighting up. We are watching the planet dying before our eyes and yet some continue to profit and ignore the pending doom, like thieves on the Titanic, there is simply no way out. That does not stop people like the Koch Brothers and certainly not Big Oil, with their combined wealth and self-interest they continue to fill the airwaves with propaganda aimed at the angry and blissfully ignorant masses.
Oil is killing our planet in so many ways, yet as the science pours in, money is spent to distract the public and to question the science.
It’s fascinating in many ways. Our kids spend so much time playing games that speak of doom and mass killing. We live in an era of Zombies and television is filled with survivor shows and futurist shows that depict doomed cities and a life filled with darkness. It’s as though on a subconscious level we see the future and the closer it comes the more consumed we are by the imagery. What’s missing is a bright future, the one that comes from listening to science, to understanding that progress has not come cheap, that life beyond oil is really a very bright future.
So keep your Zombies, they are not the future I desire, as I prepare to host family and friends for Thanksgiving. I will give thanks for getting this organization underway and to so many for helping us survive the first year of this endeavor to protect the very planet we all love.
When I look forward, I see the potential for such brightness, large swaths of protected lands and waters, wildlife thriving, cities and communities using less power and smarter technologies to heat and cool homes and businesses, cars that use no oil and leave no trace. Because we will have learned how to do it right, sustainably, and we would simply work to find the perfect balance. Commodities like oil do not want such a future, and they will fight an ugly battle to maintain their power, the earth be dammed.
Much like a new business, the earth must survive the next few years, really decades in earth times, before we can break though to a new and dynamic future, though we see the path. What remains’ questionable, is multitudes of people that fight change and a healthy environment, even at their own peril.
So this article was about gas, methane to be specific. It is about slowing and stopping its release, and about saying no to oil. In closing, I would say this. It begins with accepting and embracing change. That change must be focused on eliminating oil in our lifetime as the means of fueling the world. It starts with saying no to the XL Pipeline and it finishes with the future full of promise.
So on this Thanksgiving 2013; let’s give thanks for the scientists whose efforts and understanding of our climate are giving us a true pathway to prosperity. Let us unite in a future that is free of oil and the Zombies that such destruction dictates.
Now, pass the pie. Hope it’s Apple.
“Beware all greedy men-for who knows where they will stop-If they envy you . . . or your cause.” (The Magistrate in the Maze in the Heart of the Castle)
Sunday Sermon Vol. 1 No. 22
Understanding the Great Divide
Another week has passed and we have lost more wolves. Not really a surprise, but we also lost a beloved malamute while its owner was hiking. Shots were fired, screams persisted and a beautiful dog lay dead with seven bullets penetrating his body. This is becoming the mantra from Montana on a daily basis. When walking a family canine, a dog must always wear blaze orange and the master must say his prayer of protection when on a trail. The killing of wolves has become a sickness for the depraved and wicked.
This past week in Albuquerque we had a hearing on the Mexican wolf, with ideas the Fish and Wildlife Service has about expanding their range, what the count will be when they are deemed no longer endangered and perhaps easing the means of killing for ranchers. Perhaps 300-400 people showed up for the hearing in a large meeting room at the Comfort Inn. Clearly the pro wolf people held the majority, but there remained plenty of ranchers and county commissioners and other wolf haters who spoke out with rage about the wolf.
Several things struck my mind as they talked. First, why do ranchers not understand it’s rude to leave your hat on at such hearings? It is clearly designed to show their personal arrogance and sense of control. Yet, to me it just shows ignorance. Then there is this obsession with the constitution. Since when did the people that robbed, killed and destroyed our public lands have such a deep feeling about the constitution? The answer is only when it seems politically viable to their own good. Not for any other more altruistic goal.
Then it was time for the fear game rhetoric-Our children……Their safety……We are losing our entire herds…..We are being wiped out…….Poor me……….
It was the usual regurgitation of lies and their dream of an antiquarianism way of life, circa 1870.
What makes this issue so frustrating and demoralizing are the people- the killers, who seem to glee in the chance to steal life. This is the group I characterize as the “angry mob.” They are collectively the people that best define Obama haters, anti-tax loathers, people, who feel that issues like Gay marriage, Climate Change, Health Care are things that liberals like the President have brought to their doorstep and they must fight back, with pride and furry. They do this by collecting an arsenal of weapons, ammo, scopes, night vision equipment. They speak in chat rooms and share their rage against this new America.
They seek in their twisted way a chance to have power and control. The victim of this demented mind-set is wolves. Wolves represent freedom and the power of true spirit. Wildness is at their core, but also love and a sense of family. Yet, for those who feel they have lost control, this animal and its demise makes them feel a sense of power, a place of control, the means to settle their rage. To allow themselves a sense of freedom and spirit, they must kill and steal it from the very symbol of that, which they seek. It also allows them to show their disdain for conservation. Ignorance it seems is truly bliss.
However, there is another aspect to this fight which is often overlooked and it stems from the conservation side. First, as we have said many times, groups like Defenders of Wildlife, tried to find common ground with ranchers from the start. In fact, even when it was clear it was not working, they simply kept doubling down on a flawed strategy. But some of their rational for this stems from the reality of dealing with foundations.
Foundations in America today define how we work in Conservation. They are the funding, which is the lifeblood of any campaign and any organization. Foundations like much of America tend to be more conservative in how they give. By this I mean they do not tend to like direct conflict or issues that cannot fit into a nice collective ending. Therein lies the problem with wolves. This is a fight that is not likely to have a happy, feel good ending; one side will lose. Right now unless we as a community say, we refuse to lose and we will not compromise any longer, all will be lost. But the pressure on many conservation groups is to find a road to compromise. That in turn has led to hunting seasons and other such destructive outcomes.
The opposition has rallied under one voice, which is to say no to all wolf recovery; to push as hard as possible to fight expanded ranges, to create longer hunting seasons, and to say repeatedly that our children and the livestock industry are threatened! The conservation community by contrast seems to have twenty positions and no clear unified strategy. Instead, wolf recovery has turned into an endless fund-raising opportunity, with little success to speak of.
Bold Visions Conservation stands by its 10-point wolf recovery proposal. It is designed to rally support from urban areas to dwarf that which comes from the rural hot spots. It means changing our rhetoric and understanding we are truly in a war, not just to save wolves, but a war of culture which will define the future of the West.
During the hearing a rancher from eastern Washington got up to thank Fish and Wildlife for not creating a sub-species category for wolves in eastern Washington, meaning they can be killed. My first thought was why was he here in Albuquerque? The answer, I believe, is that the ranching community is sharing strategy, working in a unified manner to take what has worked in Montana and bring it to New Mexico, Colorado or any place that could harbor wolves. They are funded to fight and fight they will.
There comes a time in conservation, as David Brower clearly understood, when you fight for what you believe, and when you do so, people respect you. In order to protect and expand wolf recovery we cannot be cute, or speak in only scientific jargon, rather we must get in the trenches and fight, this is a battle we can surely win, it’s for the heart and soul of the America we want to be a part of and the future of our western heritage.
Wolves define the freedom and spirit that is the West of my soul. Join us in the trenches. Victory is ours, when we cross that great divide, united.
“I am he and you are me, and we are all together.”
-John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Humpback Tales Vol. 1 No. 23:
As November moves towards the Thanksgiving, we are a nation that continues to diversify and evolve, yet at its core it sometimes feels that America remains controlled by men in pickup trucks, guns and beer mentality. Nowhere does this translate more readily than in the new passion directed at killing wolves. We have written many times before about this and throughout this month it will be repeated. Why, after so many years of fighting to get them back into the wild and after extensive research in Yellowstone has shown their importance to a healthy environment; why are Game and Fish Departments only too willing to support outright carnage? Why are men in pickup trucks who drink beer and love guns only too happy to kill an animal of rare beauty and wildness? Sure it’s a stereotype, but be it rural areas, or city boys looking for weekend fun, this madness must be stopped.
The answer in my mind relates to the cultural divide that is America today. Wolves, through no fault of their own have become the drug of choice for this group of people that want to hate government, want to hate the new America that is diverse and not always straight. In the wolf and in such killing, they feel a sense of power, a sense of control.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with the group that calls itself ranchers. For the ranching community, much like the South, discrimination is part of their cultural identity. The men and woman that graze cows and sheep on our public lands, generally hate the federal government, hate the various agencies that monitor public lands and survive on the welfare that the government is only too happy to give for their efforts at destroying not only wildlife, but the very lands they fill with stock, the rivers and riparian habitats they so easily destroy in search of profit.
However, their work is far more insidious. It comes in the form of controlling Game and Fish Departments across the West and frankly nationally. It comes in the form of gaining control of local governments and in educating their children to hate all predators, much like their parents and grandparents did. Naturally, there are exceptions and those ranchers that have grown to co-exist must be praised. But they are a minority, they are outcasts or generally wealthy from other interests.
Within the confines of these rural communists and in their churches, there is a creed that somehow they are the backbone of our nation, that they are a rare working class of people, a group known for the tip of the hat and the power of a handshake. This is all part of the mythology of the cowboy and it’s well past time for people to have a reality check.
For this group of so-called Americans welfare is not a word, but a real way of life. The diversity of America only works if they can have a cheap Mexican hand to do the grunt work needed on their ranch. Wolves, well they are a threat, not only because they might in rare cases take a cow or a calf, but because their presence on their allotments requires more scrutiny by federal land managers. Meaning lands that are degraded are more likely to be noticed by scientists and wolf watchers who will search out packs and their areas. Game and Fish Departments, being politically controlled, will not seek out science, but will present to the public some ginned up version that naturally leads to more wolf killing, trapping and destruction.
Helping ranchers in this effort remain the weak politicians of our time. At the top of this list is Jon Tester, Democratic Senator of Montana. It was Tester and his obsession with being re-elected that led to Senator Harry Reid and President Obama allowing the removal of endangered species status for the northern Gray wolf, not because of science, but because of zealous nature of political ambition. That removal, tied to a appropriations bill, will forever undercut the power of the Endangered Species protection in America, all so a weak political leader, who remains in bed with ranchers could be reelected.
Many groups continue to push ideas about protecting wolves in the wild. Many of these ideas revolve around getting political leaders to act. While that’s possible with enough pressure, it will require a new approach to organizing people and creating that political pressure. The zenith of this pressure must be directed at three states-Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. These have gone from reintroduction sites to killing fields.
For far too long we have allowed those truck driving, beer drinking, gun toting, morally inept small town boys to have a voice, we have tried to work with and appease and it has not worked. We have been made fools of, not them. Ranchers have held far more sway of the lands they rent for next to nothing than people who pay serious money to recreate and drive real money to these states tourism industry.
We have developed a ten-point plan to ending this current state of wolf genocide. (see this on our website) But there is more to be done.
• Jon Tester and other elected officials must be reminded that grazing is a privilege, not a right and if ranchers are going to be subsidized, than they must be forced to share the land with predator species such as wolves.
• Game and Fish Departments must hear in a loud and vocal way that all trapping must be eliminated.
• Write us and ask for one of our wolf stickers or coyote stickers and put them on your vehicle.
• People should carefully consider where they take their next vacation and should call ahead and ask if the community supports wolf killing, if so, find another place for your vacation and let them know of your decision.
• County commissions should be put on the spot to support wolves in their counties and to work to make them -Wolf Sanctuary Zones. We can help with this process.
• Show some emotion and be vocal and out front about your support for wolves.
• If you are in a small community, do not be afraid to speak out for wolves.
• If you are in a city, help us to organize support for wolves!
• Demand more of Game and Fish and challenge them to stop trapping and wolf killing.
Wolves are the magic of wilderness; they are the spirit of the wild. I cannot understand the rage, but I also refuse to allow stupidity and fear to rein supreme over healthier lands and more vital wildlife. It is time to stop the charade of trying to work with ranchers or find common ground. This is a fight for not just wolves but about how America moves forward protecting wild nature and the integrity of our landscapes. Wolves represent the future of protected lands and wildlife. If we allow this rampage of killing to continue, we open the door to losing so much more.
Sunday Sermon Vol. 1 No. 21
Death and the Art of Life
If you noticed the quiet from Bold Visions over the past week or so, let me help you understand why. Being a small organization, it’s easy to take note when things get quiet. No we have not run out of things to say or ideas. This past week my 94 year old father passed away and our website master Joe Adair underwent knee surgery. So this has been a trying week. Yet, from such events, comes renewal and from such events comes a sense of our own human and emotional frailty.
My father was one of 13 children; his father a coal miner raised them in Western Pennsylvania. After fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, my father set his sights and life on New York City and camping was something he would never again experience. Some years ago as his health declined he returned to Western Pennsylvania and spent his final years amongst the mill towns, and regenerating forests of his home town. When he died last week, that tribe of 13 kids was reduced to just one, my Aunt Anita, now 92.
Now do not view this as a sad story of a loss, my father was never really in my life, and when he was, it was to remind me of his hate for liberals and especially those that fought to protect the environment. His cudgel was rage, often directed at life. So his death came as more of a relief, after years of venom. As I drove north, to Vandergrift from Dulles Airport in Virginia, I was stuck by a few things as I crossed into the realm of Western Pennsylvania.
First, it was the rolling hills and deep valleys, the fall colors were crimson, where leaves remained anchored to tree limbs. The towns of the south, which were polished and finely aged, yielded to more decayed and rusted communities, we were now in coal country. The billboards that one passed at 65 miles per hour on the expensive toll roads, a curious contrast in itself, educated us on the following:
Did you know your taxes subsidize wind power?
Or perhaps my favorite, an image of a clown looking perplexed, with a large headline stating-You still don’t believe in global warming-Do you?
After the funeral, many relatives gathered at my cousin’s home, one his grandfather built by hand at the turn of the last century. The wife of a cousin now deceased began, to my surprise, to talk about fracking. For Western Pennsylvania has become ground zero for the oil industry and the rigs came into my viewscape in parts of the drive. Many at the table were older; one had a son that had just retired as President of Exxon Global Exploration.
The conversation showed the mala fide of the oil industry. People spoke to me of new technology, yet had no idea what is was or how it worked, only that it was “NEW,” which was somehow understood to mean both safe and good for the environment. The concern raised did focus on water, while some at the table pointed out the new good paying jobs created by the drilling. In this part of the world, it was seen as a godsend of sorts for families and young kids with or without a college education.
My message to the table revolved around our experience here in New Mexico, where oil and gas have been drilled continuously since around 1920. Now oil was first tapped in Pennsylvania even earlier, yet not on the scale we have in New Mexico. My effort to elucidate that audience was met largely with silence, confusion and some concern. The mother of the Exxon President kept saying, “I wish my son was here, he would explain this to you, and he is nice and smart.”
At times it seemed that for this group of warm and punctilious family, the anger in my voice and frustration with Big Oil was something new. I mean the commercials make clear that the oil industry cares about safety, jobs and community-right!
When you push people or force sussing, you cannot expect their change of heart to happen at once. As I sat at the table, jug wine in hand, with a light snow falling through the blinds, my father buried only hours before, I began to sense relief and an understanding of the work ahead. In the West, we have seen the destruction of big oil, right in our back yard; we have seen the impacts to wildlife, our lands and especially our water.
In the east, the focus tends to be more about people and framing the debate of drilling and fracking will require also showing people the devastation it has caused our families who fight asthma, cancer, and so many health issues that are directly related to our nation’s addiction to oil.
It will also require people to stop accepting oil industry propaganda in return for what they only hope is lower prices at the pump. That too was in evidence at our table, the desire, the faith that if we drill more, prices will suddenly drop to levels seen in the 70’s. The fantasy lives on, as does the sense that without oil, we are doomed.
Joe is now moving, though for a time with a walker. His spirits are good. He told me I should have stopped to take a picture of the billboards, he was right.
The death of my father opened in my mind the question of how you live your life. The art of life is simply to keep giving of oneself, to work for the betterment of our planet and to help our children inherit a better world. My father could not understand this and therefore was a bitter man.
I am home now, my lettuce is growing, my computer is humming and a fire is burning not just in my wood stove, but in building an organization that takes on those who would live life void of purpose, or even worse driven by the greed of oil and the ignorance of complacency.
With his ashes in the ground, I hope my father finds peace. In a few months, Joe will hopefully be running. In the meantime, we are back. Our path ahead is full and our work just beginning.
“Let life truly be an art!” S. Capra
Humpback Tales Vol. 1 No. 23
Sunday Sermon Vol. 1 No. 20
Hunger and Conservation
How they speak to our future
As November moves towards the Thanksgiving, we are a nation that continues to diversify and evolve, yet at its core, it sometimes feels that America remains controlled by men in pickup trucks, guns and beer mentality. Nowhere does this translate more readily than in the new passion directed at killing wolves. We have written many times before about this and throughout this month, it will be repeated.
Why, after so many years of fighting to get them back into the wild, and after extensive research in Yellowstone has shown their importance to a healthy environment, why are Game and Fish Departments only too willing to support outright carnage? Why are men in pickup trucks who drink beer and love guns only too happy to kill an animal of beauty and wildness? Sure, it’s a stereotype, but be it rural areas, or just city boys looking for weekend fun, this madness must be stopped.
The answer in my mind relates to the cultural divide that is America today. Wolves, through no fault of their own have become the drug of choice for this group of people that want to hate government, want to hate the new America that is diverse and not always straight. In the wolf and in such killing, they feel a sense of power, a sense of control.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with the group that calls itself ranchers. For the ranching community, much like the South, discrimination is part of their cultural identity. The men and women that graze cattle and sheep on our public lands generally hate the federal government that supports them, hate the agencies that monitor public lands, but survive on rangeland welfare that the government is only too happy to supply. They aren’t stewards of the land, but instead are destroyers of wildlife, rapists of the very lands they fill with their stock, and the rivers that slake their livestock’s thirst, all for a tidy profit.
However, their work is far more insidious. It comes in the form of controlling Game and Fish Departments across the West, and frankly nationally. It comes in the form of gaining control of local governments and in educating their children to hate all predators, much like their parents and grandparents did. Naturally, there are exceptions and those ranchers that have grown to coexist with nature deserve praise. Nevertheless, they are a minority, they are outcasts, or generally wealthy from other interests.
Within the confines of these rural communists and in their churches, there is a creed that somehow they are the backbone of our nation, that they are a rare working class of people, a group known for the tip of the hat and the power of a handshake. This is all part of the mythology of the cowboy and it’s well past time for people to have a reality check.
For this group of so-called ‘real’ Americans, welfare is not a word, but their way of life. The diversity of America only works if they can have a cheap Mexican hand to do the grunt work needed on their ranch. Wolves, well they are a threat, not only because they might in rare cases take a cow or a calf, but because their presence on their allotments requires more scrutiny by federal land managers. That means lands that are degraded are more likely to be noticed by scientists and wolf watchers who will search out packs and their areas. Politically controlled Game and Fish Departments will not seek out facts, but present the public with a ginned-up version of pseudoscience that unsurprisingly leads to more wolf killing, trapping and destruction.
Helping ranchers in this effort remain the weak politicians of our time. At the top of this list is Jon Tester, Democratic Senator of Montana. It was Tester and his obsession with being reelected that led to Senator Harry Reid and President Obama allowing the removal of endangered species status for the northern Gray wolf--not because of science, but because of the zealous nature of political ambition. That removal, tied to a appropriations bill, will forever undercut the power of the Endangered Species protection in America, all so a weak political leader (who remains in bed with ranchers) could be reelected.
Many groups continue to push ideas about protecting wolves in the wild. Many of these ideas revolve around getting political leaders to act. While that’s possible with enough pressure, it will require a new approach to organizing people and creating that political pressure. The zenith of this pressure must be directed at three states: Montana, Idaho and Wyoming; these states have gone from reintroduction sites to killing fields.
Well, Republicans are relived and happy; they just made sure that people on food stamps will now get less money. For a family of four, that will be $36 dollars per month. Never mind that nutrition is at the heart of a better education, better job performance, less stress and better family relations. No this is yet another Tea Party inspired shot at the poor and less fortunate in our society. I listened last night to a woman being interview who was on food stamps; she will lose $10 per month. Her response was, “it may not seem like much, but that’s ten packs of Ramin noodles that many stretch to keep full.” 47.5 million Americans rely on food stamps and these cuts that impact them will also hurt the economy, where for every dollar spent by food stamps, retailers see about 1.47 dollars. So, while many in Congress who own farms and ranches will still get large government (welfare) checks, the poor will lose.
Why you may ask is this relevant? Much like our natural environment, there lays connectedness in our human world. So here is the point. If Congress is willing to allow people in the wealthiest country in the world to starve, what will they do to help wolves; to force real efforts on climate change; or greatly expand our wilderness system nationally? The answer is clearly very little.
Forty people control our country’s largest hedge funds; they made collectively more than 16 billion in salary last year. While Congress is aggressively trying to destroy health care, slash food stamps, destroy the environment, they are allowing individuals and mostly corporations to avoid paying taxes by setting up off-shore accounts in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Those taxes if collected would leave our country with a surplus.
So yes, there remain some good honest elected officials, however, they are overwhelmed by the stupidity that the Tea party and many in the Republican Party have brought to national policy. That in itself does not bode well for conservation. So the question remains-what do we do?
One thing is clear, policy at a national level seems for the time being dangerously slow and the fact that the media rarely challenges or questions insane reasoning on climate change or continues covering the wolf issue as though it was a boxing match, we remain stuck in the rote of media in 2013.
To fight back will require strong and collective voices. It some cases the states must lead, rather than follow the Federal Government. In a state like California, there remain enough Democrats and progressives to perhaps put down a marker on wolf protections. We must stop asking, begging for support, we must fine-tune and organize our vast majority. Equally important is using the model of incorporation of ideals, meaning that conservation is a life force that remains connected too many things.
The case of food stamps is an important aspect of this. So too will be issues that deal with human rights, health care and poverty.
For far too long we have allowed those truck-driving, beer-drinking, gun toting, morally inept small town boys to have a voice, we have tried to work with and appease and it has not worked. We have been made fools of, not them. Ranchers hold far more sway over public lands they rent for practically nothing, than the people who pay serious money to recreate, people that drive tangible revenue to these state’s tourism industry.
We have developed a ten-point plan to ending this current state of wolf genocide. (see this on our website) But there is more to be done.
• Jon Tester and other elected officials must be reminded that grazing is a privilege, not a right. If ranchers are going to be subsidized, than they must be forced to share their land with predators and prairie dogs.
• Game and Fish Departments must hear, in a loud and vocal way, that all trapping must be eliminated.
• Write us, and ask for one of our wolf or coyote stickers, and put them on your vehicle.
• People should carefully consider where they take their next vacation and call ahead to ask if the community supports wolf killing; if so, find another place for your vacation and let them know of your decision.
• County commissions should be put on the spot to support wolves in their counties and to work to make them –Wolf-Friendly Zones . We can help with this process.
• Show some emotion! Be vocal and proud of your support for wolves.
• If you are in a small community, do not be afraid to speak out for wolves.
• If you are in a city, help us to organize support for wolves!
• Demand more of Game and Fish, and challenge them to stop trapping and wolf killing.
New Mexico is watching the slaughter in the north with clear trepidation. In our state the Game and Fish Director Jim Lane is likely salivating at the chance to trap a Mexican wolf, and the ranching community observing what is occurring in the north is cleaning their guns, and in some cases illegally killing Mexican wolves. We must change the course of action, or we will be repeating the same folly. We will build a wolf population only to a point where we begin to destroy it.
Wolves are the magic of wilderness; they are the spirit of the wild. I cannot understand the rage, but I also refuse to allow stupidity and fear to rein supreme over healthier lands and vital wildlife. It is time to stop the charade of trying to work with ranchers on nonexistent common ground. This is a fight, for not just wolves, but for how America moves forward protecting wild nature and the integrity of our landscapes.
Wolves represent the future of protected lands and wildlife. If we allow this rampage of killing to continue, we open the door to losing so much more.
When as a society, we begin to show compassion and humanity, we tend to open ourselves to more complex issues of nature, wilderness and wildlife. In 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, in 1965 the Voting Rights Act. He fought a war on poverty and also signed the Wilderness Act. In 1968, he signed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, during his tenure, with Interior Secretary Udall at the helm, National Parks were created for oceans, lakes and great expansions occurred. While our country was moving into a generation of free love and voicing concerns not just about the environment, but challenging a war, President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act, created the Environmental Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Clean Air Act, Marine Mammal Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In those days it took cities burning and violence to enact change. That should not be the case today. However, it will require more than a few thousand letters to a Senator or a Congressman. It will require the heart and soul of a nation to rise up and demand more from all of us. We must change conventional wisdom that wildlife and animals have no emotion or real value other than fur. We must fight for a quality of life that allows personal freedoms, health care and food for those less fortunate.
By fighting and connecting issues that truly stand for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we open the door to compassion, to understanding. In such an environment, change becomes possible.
Wolves must be free, trapping ended, our wilderness system must grow and aggressively, but with compassion removed, and greed on the rise, our goals become more distant. The ability to hear our voice gets lost in the rush to cut, cut, and cut.
Let us become a voice not just for wildness, but a voice for sanity.
“You cannot lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.” --Dr. Cornel West
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Think for a moment about your experience in nature. The hikes you have taken, the wildlife encounters, the times that hiking gave you a sense of renewal, or that sunset that was truly a religious experience. Nature for you is that sense of heaven on earth, a place to allow your spirit to once again shine.
Sometimes it’s the land itself that speaks to you. Anyone that visits Yellowstone cannot come away without rekindling that part of their childhood wonder, the same with the vista of the Grand Canyon. For me part of the connection to wildness also comes from the physical side of getting outdoors. The long hike, the pain that allows gain from a strenuous backpack, the campsite that comes with a view, it is all part of the experience of nature and it comes with only footprints and joy.
Now imagine what nature is like when you experience it from the perspective of death and torture. For this is the world of the trapper. You connection to wildness comes from stealing it, it comes from control. Your hike into the forest is one of anticipation, the thrill, if there is such a thing in this perverse world is to come upon your crude and painful instruments of death and see a wolf caught and in pain. For those who fail at life, this is the moment they dream of. They do not see beauty and heartbreak, they see fur and money. They see themselves as the sheriff of this wildness and their goal is death. They may watch for a while or even gloat on film. For this is their moment to tell the world, I have won! I know nature and I have learned to control it. Then it is time to club or shoot this beautiful part of wildness, this spiritual part of our connection not only to nature, but to apart of our being.
Nature is often itself a cruel god. Yet it is designed for the strong and to maintain balance and health it removes its weakest link. Yet in society, the men and woman who call themselves trappers are truly the weakest of our society. They are gutless and demented and devoid of the very spirit they seek to kill.
They may say it’s their custom and culture or their connection to the forest. Yet, it seems more likely that their experience in nature is one of fear and loathing. It is something they seek but fear. In life there remains so many uncertainties, the one we are sure of is our own demise. For the trapper, controlling their piece of the forest, the desert or the high alpine meadow gives them some certainty. They do not want wildness, only order; they do not seek wisdom in nature, simply a control based in the fear of their own mortality.
I have heard the stories, about how this connects them to the land. That it’s something they want their children to learn and about how it makes them independent. This is simply the rhetoric of ignorance. Though I cannot accept it, there may have been a time when people trapped to survive. Those days have long receded into memory. Today there is no justification for such barbarism. Trapping will finally be banned when enough of us demand justice for the wolf, the lynx and the coyote. It will also end when people become far more educated.
These are the moments when the future truly looks bright. For as science continues to learn and people, (societies as a whole), move away from rhino horns and other such notions of sexual amore we will stop the slaughter of innocence. The question that still remains, will the wolf still be here, will the rhino still be in the wild, or powder on the shelf.
We now know that dogs can experience something close to love, scientists are saying with more proof, that crustations can feel real pain. No one needs to convince me of the pain a wolf feels when they are caught in a trap. The pain tells only part of the story. What must happen to the spirit of such an animal as time slowly goes by, their spirit literally being drained as they are stuck. Their life is about movement, it is about connection to the pack. Now stuck, a trap bounding their leg, they await certain death at the hands of a bastard.
It is their spirit they we at Bold Visions fights for, it is in the memory of our kindred brothers and sisters in the wild that we will demand justice!
2015 is not that far off. That will be the time to push our representatives to stop looking backward, and look to a future fee of pain and suffering, to walk in the wilderness and open themselves to its wonders, not fear that which we cannot control. That is our goal in New Mexico, but our goal is to end this suffering not just here, but nationally!
Somewhere today in the wilds of the Bob Marshall wilderness, a pack of wolves plays and hunts. There’s is a life of bonded love, an intimate connection to the land, a powerful and raw part of our world. Seeing them in the wild is not just heart-stopping, but it is a primordial experience. They are beautiful, strong and make our connection to wildness real.
Yet, somewhere in those woods, a man has laid steel and bait. Our job is to remove these objects of pain, these splinters of hate. In our future, the wolf will be free of such pain and concern, so too will our other brethren of the wild.
Trapping must be banned-period.
Trapping must be banned-period.
Let our legacy be that we ended this cruel and unnatural practice that we as a society gave wildlife the right to true life, for as Thoreau said it so well “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”
Anger eats the soul – Wisdom enlightens.
This week's Sunday Sermon Vol. 1 No. 19
Experiencing Nature through the Prism of Death