Collateral Damage

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

A hunter shoots a deer, guts it and takes the useful parts. The rest remains.

A farmer shoots a coyote that is decimating his flock of sheep. The carcass stays where it goes down.

A hunter wounds a rabbit, who dashes under a tangle of bushes and succumbs. His body lies undetected by the hunter.

Whether they are aware or not, the farmer and the hunters have left food behind for wildlife, notably raptors, which are birds such as hawks, falcons, eagles, condors and vultures. These ‘birds of prey,’ aside from being hunters in their own right, also feed on the flesh of the dead animals.

Also, possibly unbeknownst to the farmer and the hunters, if lead-based bullets are used, the leavings potentially could cause harm to the birds, could actually kill them if lead bullets, shot or fragments are ingested with the carrion.

It’s not uncommon for this unintentional damage to raptors to occur. A couple of stats: The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota reported that in the last twenty-four years over 500 eagles that had been admitted to their clinic either died or had to be euthanized due to lead poisoning. The Center for Biodiversity has reported 90% of the condors of California have suffered lead poisoning at least once and that 85% of the 120 injured eagles taken in by the Minnesota Raptor Center in 2011 had elevated blood lead levels.

It’s not uncommon, either, for intense efforts at rehabilitation to result in the healed birds being returned to the wild.

Why the heroic measures to save these animals? It’s not only that raptors are startlingly beautiful and powerful, that the speed and agility with which they soar and dart and dive fill you with awe.  It’s not only that these birds have evoked religious inspiration, and have been the subject of legends and myths.

It’s because, as predators, raptors play a major role in helping maintain the balance among all the members of a habitat. As part of the top of the food chain, they help keep the population of smaller, more prolific reproducers, like mice, from overrunning their neighborhood and outcompeting other species for limited food supplies.

So, why has there been no law to protect raptors by banning the use of lead bullets? After all, the danger of lead exposure has been known for some time. Lead has been removed from paint and from gasoline. But establishing laws regarding lead use in bullets for hunting has not been so straightforward. It has been an ongoing process for over twenty years and is fraught with controversy.

Where? Under what conditions? Which targets? These are all questions that have been bandied about in regards to passing legislation on the use of lead bullets.

Perhaps the increasing awareness of the unhealthy situation of the endangered raptors will energize the move to outlawing lead bullets for big and small game once and for all. Although just recently this administration has reversed a ban on lead ammunition in U.S. wildlife reserves.

Oh, well.

Hawk Species at Hawk Mountain | Hawk Mountain Sanctuary: Raptor Conservation, Education, Observation & Research














My Idea, Mr. Muir: Part 3


Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

Part 3: If one pine were placed in a town square, what admiration it would excite! Yet who is conscious of the pine-tree multitudes in the free woods, though open to everybody.  (John Muir. John of the Mountains, the Unpublished Journals of John Muir, p. 220)

John Muir was facing a challenge – in fact several challenges – in 1875 when he wrote those words.

He had been living in Oakland and was gaining respect as a naturalist and scientist through his many published articles about Nature. But it was early in his development as the conservation activist he would become, the one who would found the Sierra Club and serve as its president for twenty years. The one who would lobby successfully for the establishment of Yosemite as a national park and influence the direction of conservation and preservation legislation for years to come.

During that early period, despite his successes, Muir had been languishing in the city in what he described in a letter to Mrs. Ezra Carr as that strange Oakland epoch.

When I first came down to the city from my mountain home, he wrote in his journal, I began to wither, and wish instinctively for the vital woods and high sky. Yet I lingered month after month, plodding at duty. (John of the Mountains: the Unpublished Journals of John Muir, p. 192).

A major challenge for Muir was how to make a living and not lose himself. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get into the mountains to learn the news.

Besides magazine writing, Muir held many odd jobs that helped get him through this early period. The solution to his financial woes came after his marriage in 1880 when he went into partnership with his father-in-law and spent ten years managing their large and profitable fruit ranch.

A second dilemma for Muir was how to hold on to himself as a writer. As Michael P. Cohen pointed out, …working in and through a medium, with its own conventions, has a way of shaping the mind of the creator…..By falling into the occupation of a popular writer, [Muir] could endanger the very message he had a sacred mission to convey (The Pathless Way: Muir and American Wilderness, p. 132).

In other words, Muir was challenged, perhaps to rein in his effusiveness, to temper his tendency to anthropomorphize nature or to refer to trees and rocks, and all of nature as communicators with God, lest he offend, or simply turn off, his readers. In the end, Cohen writes, Muir wished to be as wild and immoderate as Nature. In practice, he had to compromise.

In an ironic turn of events, Muir would be faced with another challenge, the job of confronting what always had been a source of pleasure for him; efficient machinery. Muir was an inventor. He was ingenious at devising time-saving machines. This was the age of industrialization and urbanization, which championed efficiency and ingenuity, but which also brought with it pollution and weariness and social ills.

I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found. If the death exhalations that brood the broad towns in which we so fondly compact ourselves were made visible, we should flee as from a plague. All are more or less sick; there is not a perfectly sane man in San Francisco. (John of the Mountains, p. 191).

Muir understood the connection between health and wellbeing and experiences in Nature, and he  could be very clever about tying this relationship to the need for preservation and conservation.

As he does in this quote from Our National Parks, Chapter 1 (1901)…

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity and that mountains, parks, and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains for life.





My Idea, Mr. Muir: Part 2

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

The year is 1861.

John Muir is 23 years old. He is attending the University of Wisconsin, where he will develop an interest in botany.

In California, photographer Carleton Watkins, a contemporary of Muir, straps his 40-pound camera and accompanying paraphernalia to his mules and ventures into Yosemite Valley.

At some point Muir and Watkins will meet and become friends, connected by their love of Yosemite, their avid environmentalism, and photography.

Why Yosemite? Watkins will publish a book of his Yosemite photos that will prompt President Abraham Lincoln to pass a law designating Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove as a California state park.

Muir, as his career develops, will direct much of his advocacy towards establishing Yosemite as a national park.

Why photography? Watkins will create a portrait of Muir. Muir will walk the photographic route of Watkins book.

           Portrait of John Muir (c. 1875) by Carleton Watkins

Which brings me to part 2 Muir’s quote.

Part 2: Who reports and works the ways of the clouds, those wondrous creations coming into being every day like freshly upheaved mountains? And what record is kept of Nature’s colors – – the clothes she wears – of her birds, her beasts, her live-stock? (John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, pp. 220-221).

By asking these questions, was Muir commenting on the state of wilderness photography in 1875?

While Watkins was able to record great detail in his landscape photographs, clouds, and any sky detail, are conspicuously missing from his work.

This seems typical of photographs of this era, which hints at a limitation in the capabilities of the cameras at that time.

Example:  Photo taken by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904)

And then there is Muir’s question about Nature’s colors.

Color photography was in an experimental phase in 1875 when Muir wrote those words. Techniques had not yet evolved that could reliably capture and preserve color in a photograph.

For Muir, nature’s colors, all the tones nameless and numberless, as he once described them when writing about the Grand Canyon, (John of the Mountains, p. 363) were essential to the authentic wilderness experience. (I wonder how he would respond to the photos of Ansel Adams.)

And then there was Muir the inventor. In addition to his gift as chronicler of nature, Muir was endowed with mechanical prowess and imagination. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that he would lament the lack of technological advancements in photography that could have opened up the possibilities for recording clouds and displaying Nature’s colors.

When I think of Muir’s desire for technological advancement, however, I think of the expression, be careful what you wish for.

Now that we have the technical skill to capture images of nature in a way that Muir might possibly never have imagined, there is the danger of the virtual experience replacing the natural, ironically, deepening our disconnection from nature.  But that would be the subject of a future blog.

In the meantime, watch this film of starling murmuration (thank you Joe Frank) and ask yourself, does this make you want to experience this live, or is this enough.  How do you think Muir would respond to this?  (Here’s some information about murmuration.)