I’m an unapologetic Pee-wee Herman fan and especially enjoyed the comedic search for his beloved bike in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. In an exchange over the whether his bike was for sale, Pee-wee resorts to the juvenile phrase “I know you are, but what am I?” as a come-back line while trading insults with his nemesis Francis.
Sadly, it seems to me that our national political debate has degenerated to the level of Pee-wee’s argument with Francis. As a Democrat who most closely identifies with the Blue Dog Coalition and moderate Republicans (labeled RINOs by some in their own party), I am vexed by the hyper-partisan politics that dominate our country today. I strongly believe that the solution to any challenge is rarely (or never) found at either end of the political spectrum.
However, I have also fallen into a trap. Like the gradual, inexorable descent into an abyss, I have gravitated toward news outlets and political commentary that supported my world view and ignored or trivialized all others. Like millions of others (on both sides), I was caught off-guard by the results of our national election and left wondering how my country could have gone so far off the rails of common sense and decency. How could a man who, in my view, represents and caters to all the very worst traits of American culture rise to the most powerful office in land?
I’ve watched corporate media of all political bends as they spent hours and hours spinning the results this way and that, justifying their positions (and their very existence), and pointing accusing fingers in all directions. But these machinations are little more than junk food for political junkies – and I want more. I want to understand and challenge my own world views to better understand and appreciate the world views of those with whom I disagree. Without better understanding myself, I can I possibly understand them?
It was about three years ago when I was walking along this small lake in West Virginia, really no more than a pond fed from an old surface coal mine, that I decided to further my education and pursue a Master’s degree. Shear folly, of course, since I was well past the age that anyone should be entering graduate school, but still…..
After several weeks of web browsing and soul searching, I found a program in Environmental Policy and Management at American Public University and enrolled the same day. My first class started in June 2014 and, since then, I have read thousands of pages and written hundreds more on topics ranging from environmental law and ethics to restoration ecology and landscape planning. Nearly every weekend for the past 2 1/2 years has been consumed with reading government reports, scientific studies, and course textbooks while writing an 8 to 10 page paper on any number of topics.
Now I am nearing the end of my program. I have submitted my capstone thesis and, on Christmas day no less, I’ll receive my final grade. It’s been an amazing and thought-provoking experience that left me very little time to do other things, like writing this blog. Now that it’s over, I can’t wait to get back to exploring nature, bird watching, hiking and photography, and dropping by here from time to time to share my experiences.
One question I have been pondering is whether to stick with this old blog or construct a new one. For now, I think I’ll stay here. I have to prove to myself that I am willing to make the time to read and write. With so many false starts over the past couple years, it seems the prudent thing to do.
Oh yeah…the pond. It’s called Rockhouse Lake and has a Facebook page (where I found the photo). I sometimes go for walks there when I’m visiting my family.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Management – my next class starts tomorrow. Recent events in the local news involving an upright-walking bear have given me the opportunity to think about one of my most recent courses, environmental ethics, the learnings from which I attempt to apply to this topic.
Have you heard of the upright-walking bear in New Jersey? The bear has been dubbed “Pedals” by some local residents and sightings of the bear have resulted in the establishment of social media pages, YouTube videos, fundraisers and media coverage. From the information available through these sources, the bear has experienced injuries which resulted in the loss of one front paw and very limited use of the other front paw (accounts vary on the bear’s ability to use either front paw).
I became aware of this bear several week’s ago after receiving requests for information and assistance through a social media page I maintain (for a group of volunteer naturalists). Since then, I have learned that the bear has survived either two or three winters (again, accounts vary) in this condition and is being monitored by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
There are at least two Facebook groups which devote considerable time to discussing the bear – one which wants to “rescue” the bear and deliver it to a sanctuary in New York and another which wants the bear “left alone”. For me, this is the significant ethical issue associated with this animal – should the bear be rescued, placed (essentially) into protective custody, and tended to by wildlife rehabilitators or should it be left in the wild?
When faced with an injured wild animal, I think most reasonable people would agree that there are three courses of action available to wildlife managers (like the good folks at NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife) – no intervention, treatment, or euthanasia.
Thus far, the folks in Fish and Wildlife have opted for the “no intervention” approach. However, is that the proper choice? In their essay Ethics of Interventions for the Welfare of Free-Living Wild Animals, J.K. Kirkwood and A.W. Sainsbury (1996) of the Zoological Society of London provide one possible framework for considering this question. According to Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996), the three choices (taken from the text of their essay) could be defined as:
(a) No intervention: If the animal is likely to recover without treatment, and if treatment would be an unjustifiable added stress, then there is no case for intervention.
(b) Euthanasia: If the animal is unlikely to recover, is judged to be in pain or distress and cannot be treated, then euthanasia is justifiable on welfare grounds.
(c) Treatment: There are two situations where treatment is justifiable on welfare grounds. The first is if an animal is likely to recover without treatment but its welfare is better served by treating than by not treating (e.g., by reducing the time to recovery). The second is if the animal is unlikely to recover without treatment and treatment (and subsequent management and release) can be accomplished with relatively little stress.
So, it would appear, Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996) agree that there are situations where treatment of wild animals is justified on welfare grounds (emphasis added). The factors which could be used to justify treatment of a wild animal include 1) the extent to which humans are responsible for the injury, 2) the extent to which the animal is under management and control (e.g., living in a wildlife management area vs. living in an uncontrolled environment), 3) the degree of “perceived suffering”, and 4) other cultural and economic factors such as the animals conservation status (e.g., endangered vs. common) or popularity (e.g., baby seal vs. common rat) (Kirkwood & Sainsbury, 1996).
From the available public information, I have not been able to determine the cause of the bear’s injuries and, from all accounts, it is free ranging (moving from wooded areas to suburban areas at will). Is the animal suffering? While no one can say with certainty that the animal is (or is not) experiencing pain, it does appear to be flourishing – it has reportedly gained significant weight recently and has survived at least two severe winter seasons under its current condition. Finally, black bear are not considered an endangered species under either the U.S. or New Jersey laws.
So what does this leave us?
As Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996) observed, popularity is a completely illogical consideration when deciding how best to deal with an injured wild animal, but it is one of the most powerful factors in influencing public opinion. So what should be done? For myself, I am in the “leave the bear alone” camp and agree with the position of NJ Fish and Wildlife that the bear should not be removed from its wild environment as long as it continues to flourish (e.g., gains weight, remains mobile, exhibits no obvious signs of physical suffering).
There are a number of people who disagree with that position. However, I would challenge those folks to really think their reasoning behind wanting this bear removed from the wild. Would there the Facebook pages, media articles, fundraisers, and public debate if “Pedals” was a common Norway rat (like those found sewers and subway systems around the world)? What other animals should be singled out for special treatment? Why? And, perhaps most importantly, who gets to decide?
If you would like to read the Kirkwood and Sainsbury essay, you can find it by following this link or through this reference:
Kirkwood, J. & Sainsbury, A. (1996). Ethics of interventions for the welfare of free-living wild animals. Animal Welfare, 5, 235-243.
What do you think? Should “Pedals” be removed from the wild and placed in an animal sanctuary because of his injured front paws? Should the bear be left alone? These are difficult questions which everyone should decide for themselves.
One note of caution – the comments on social media about this situation have often resulted in name calling and flaming among the participants. While I encourage you to comment, please keep the posts civil and on topic. I reserve the right to delete any post which, in my opinion, does not adhere to my request (without regard to the position taken by the commenter).
Happy New Year’s Eve! It has been a few months since my last post and, yep, it has been busy. But I am missing my blog and that’s probably a good thing. As I make up the list of stuff I want to change for 2016, being here a bit more ranks very high.
Here’s a shot of one of my favorite lighthouses – Barnegat Light. I was there a few days ago with a group of friends, birding along the bay. The weather patterns of the past few weeks have been very unusual, unusually warm, and the “regular” winter birds were not there in the number or variety that we anticipated. Still, it was a very good day – a bad day of birding is better than a good day at work!
I will get deeper into the reasons for my absence in following posts. Until then – I hope you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."
(by Clement Clark Moore)
We looking down the barrel of another significant snow storm this weekend. Even though winter doesn’t arrive (officially) until next weekend, this is already shaping up to be a snowy season – at least compared to the past couple years. For those among us who dislike the thought of another cold winter season, I’ve included my cellphone photo of sunflowers growing in the warm summer sun!
If you don’t mind the cold so much, winter provides other opportunities for plant photography that are just as beautiful as summer’s sunflowers. I photographed this ice-encrusted plant at Whitesbog a couple winters ago. The day was so cold I could hardly remove my glove to press the shutter button before my fingers would start to feel numb. But it was still a great day to be outdoors.
For birders, winter can bring opportunities that don’t exist at other times of the year. This is a Red Crossbill I photographed a couple years ago at Seven Presidents Park in Monmouth County, New Jersey. These small finches spend their summers north of the Arctic Circle and, some years, make their way to the Shore for the winter.
And here’s a winter scene you may have never witnessed. My wife photographed this group of Amish men clearing snow from an eastern Pennsylvania road a few years ago. Low tech but effective!
Stay safe this weekend and, if you get the chance, go outside and enjoy the winter weather! You never know what might turn up!
How have you been? I’ve been busy – My New Jersey Big Year has been a great adventure and gave me a new appreciation for my adopted home state.
About this time last year, I put Greg’s World on snooze patrol to allow more time for blogging and writing Facebook posts about my big year. As My New Jersey Big Year wraps up, it is a good time for me to start thinking about next year and all my other interests and hobbies that have gone wanting for time or effort.
A lot of non-birding stuff happened since last December and I can’t wait to tell you about some of the other things I’ve been up to – the local tourist in me has been busy finding and exploring new places. My interests in botany and genealogy have been rekindled, too, and I’ve got some new stuff to share.
I’ve read lots of blogs over the last several months and want to share a few of those with you. South Africa is in the news today with the passing of a great, great man – Nelson Mandela. So I’ll start off with 2Summers, a blog about life in Johannesburg, South Africa written by American Heather Mason.
I took the photo at the top of this post on a very, very cold morning last January. Sunrise is a particularly favorite time of the day for me – whether I’m enjoying a cup of coffee in my warm kitchen or watching the day awaken in a frozen field.
Everything seems possible as the morning sun creeps above the horizon.
Until next time, I hope you enjoy Heather’s blog and I would love to hear your comments. It feels great to be back!