Monday, August 29, 2005

Instead of “Re-Wilding North America”, just de-humanize it

“A lot of farmland would have to be purchased,” says Josh Donlan, an ecologist from Cornell University, who released a plan that envisions the Great Plains as a place where Africa's wildlife could thrive and escape extinction. The plan is called “Re-wilding North America." You may be thinking “these people are nuts and they can’t do that,” but I believe the plan was underway with the first acre of land purchased by Ted Turner.

There are so many directions to go with this topic that I am not even sure where to start. I would like to discuss the fundamental lack of understanding that we have as a society that truly does not understand the predator concept. This not a golf game where we will give the lions a handicap. “Here cute little cheetah. You no longer need to swim the Atlantic Ocean to eat my kid. Just travel across the Great Plains and wait for a vulnerable moment.”

I recently spent time with the one person that truly understands the Animal Rights movement even better than I do. Wes Jamison is a professor at Dordt College in Sioux Center, IA. He has been studying the Animal Rights movement since 1990. Wes summed it up best when he stated this is no longer a movement but it is a societal shift in our thinking. He used stuffed animal as an example.

Who, as a parent, hasn’t given their kid a cute, cuddly stuffed bear. Think about all the animals we give them. They play with them, sleep with them and one child expert was even quoted this week as saying if your kindergarten kid has the jitters on the first day of school send a comfort critter with them such as their favorite stuffed animal. This change in attitude is probably why a plan that would have been laughed at a generation ago now has parents across the country telling their kids how wonderful it sounds. “Johnny, soon we will be able to take you to Kansas to see the African animals.”

A shift in mindset may explain how it could be accepted but the bigger question is “Why is it needed?” The creators of this plan suggest that these animals are losing habitat. Of course the real scapegoat in habitat loss is none other than agriculture. A rapidly growing African population and little or no environmental protection has tainted the very resources needed to support the people of the country. The Water and Irrigation minister Martha Karua was quoted as saying "The rapid population growth has led to unsustainable exploitation of resources such as fisheries and chemical poisoning through agriculture activities and industrial effluent."

At one point, United States agriculture did not understand how to produce food without harming the ecosystem and today that is not the case. Today, 25% of our crop production is no-till application, which increases organic matter and prevents soil erosion. Today we graze for the benefit of the vegetative species and preserving water quality. As proof, we now have the same number of beef cows grazing as we did fifty years ago but they yield twice the amount of food to feed the world. Sound science has been applied and we are setting the standards of environmental stewardship for the world.

If I am to interpret this correctly, because we have the best ecosystem on the globe, some in the scientific community believe America is now the ideal location to preserve everything. Are we headed for a new national motto? Come to the United States of America, the world’s largest and most diverse theme park. I can’t help but be reminded about a book manuscript that was presented to me at one of the animal rights conventions in Chicago. The book takes place in 2047, forty years after the killing of animals was banned in the United States. The mission of the book was to develop teaching strategies for lions and other predatory animals in Africa. The goal was to teach them they no longer needed to kill other animals to survive.

When you stop laughing, take an hour or so to catch the latest Disney movie kids are watching, while holding a stuffed lion, about verbally negotiating a peaceful future for the world. Remind me again how many humans are in those movies? Instead of taking away their animals, maybe we need to spend Ted’s money teaching these people how to manage the natural resources they have been given and provide food their families.

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