Thursday, September 13, 2007

Did I Miss a Timewarp to 1904?

The "humans vs. the rest of life" war had another skirmish in Logan County, Kansas, recently.

Logan County officials apparently used a 1904 state law to justify coming onto a rancher's land, over his protests, and using an extremely toxic gas to poison prairie dogs and all the other animals that live in their burrows. To add insult to injury, the law allows them to make the landowner pay for this assault against him and his property.

This is wrong on so many levels that I don't know where to begin.

Science has learned a little since 1904. We know now that prairie dogs are actually healthy for a prairie, a "keystone species" in fact. Their burrows not only aerate the soil and increase water penetration during rains, they provide habitat for countless other prairie animals whose numbers have declined precipitously since wholesale destruction of prairie dog colonies began. Ironically, some of those burrow co-inhabitants are also the predators that work to keep the prairie dog populations stable and under control.

Since 1904, we've learned that "playing God" and deciding to take out entire sections of the ecosystem often backfires on us and leaves us with a less stable, less productive, poorer piece of land on which to live and try to eke out a living. Ironically, since 1904, we've also become much better at destructively playing God. We can do a lot more damage in a much shorter period of time than we ever imagined back in 1904. Those of us who realize that it's not 1904 anymore are trying to be more careful in utilizing our destructive power.

Slowly we are learning that poisoning other living things poisons us too. If it's a "-cide" (pesticide, herbicide, insecticide, etc.), that means it's a life killer. That's what "-cide" means. Last time I checked, humans were alive...and we generally prefer to stay that way. When we use "-cide"s against other life forms, we are slowly killing ourselves too.

We like to think that we are smarter - and therefore better - than the rest of the animals. And I think that we can be...I just don't think that we act that way very often. We actually only transcend being animals when we use our brains to act smarter than a typical animal would act. If we've learned through scientific research that, longterm, prairie dogs are important to the health of our land and the animal community that lives on it (which we have), then we are acting like animals, not humans, when we ignore what we've learned and poison off prairie dogs for perceived short-term gain.

As humans, we have the capacity to look at longterm consequences and big pictures. To act like humans, we need to take those longterm consequences and big picture realizations into account in our actions. If , on a wholesale scale, we kill off the rest of life that is competing with us for food or water, we have learned that we will, sooner or later, kill off ourselves. A little killing is often necessary and a part of life; wholesale killing is stupid and short-sighted. Balance, as always, is the key.

It's time to realize that if we think of the natural world as the enemy to be vanquished, we will kill ourselves off too. The war isn't "humans vs. the rest of life." The war is "humans vs. human greed."

For our own sake, it's time to learn how to live in balance with the rest of nature.

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