Years ago, loons were killed in Minnesota, because they had the gall to eat fish that fishermen wanted to catch.

Anybody who has traveled the boreal wilderness knows that without the sound of the loon, the scenery would still be there, but the experience would be lost.  I have awakened on hundreds of nights to hear the sound of loons calling.  They have four different calls, and I love each of them.  Those who have not heard a loon in the wild, and that would be most, have missed one of nature’s great sounds.  Gavia immer is a heavy bird, because its bones are solid, not porous, so it can dive and stay underwater for a significant time.  The bird needs a few hundred meters to get airborne, but flies at 60 knots.

The wonderful ability of the loon to do so much is not unique.  To me, animals are other nations, not something we should destroy.  Loons are superbly adapted to the boreal lakes.  What will happen to them as we continue to overpopulate the Earth and damage their habitat, may spell their doom.  It’s just a bird, some say.  Well, there are many Americans who dehumanize humans by calling them Kaffirs, ragheads, and words I will never dare say to myself, they are so ugly.  Femi-Nazis has been used by Rush Limbaugh, along with his other vile comments.  Dehumanizing your enemy is perhaps a great way to win arguments and wars; however, the cost is horrific, not just in war, but how it has polarized American society.  Another way, common in my experience, is to take their words out of context, and deliberately replace them with charged words.  A lawyer did that to me one time in court, and I called him out on it each time. He finally threw a book at me.  In court.  Literally.  But I have others who do the same, former colleagues, some of whom owe me a lot, for what I have done for them, and I call them out on their language, too.  Words are important.

Fortunately, in the case of the loon, a few wildlife biologists did some good science to show that fish eaten by loons really did not adversely affect overall fish population.  Nature regulates populations well, and nature will regulate us, too, should we fail to do so ourselves.  What did affect the fish population were those who caught and didn’t release large fish, the breeders, who kept the population alive.  I know some guides, if they have a client do this, quietly go to another area on a lake to ensure their client catches nothing more the rest of the day.

During the Great Leap Forward, the Chinese killed the sparrows, only to realize later that sparrows kept insects in check.  Before one disparages the Chinese, we kill coyotes, which keep rodents in check.  Most everything belongs, including wolves, since they are, after all part of the ecosystem.  What is remarkable is the number of people, who profess being religious and patriotic Americans, who believe removal of predators a good idea.  In Alaska, people killed the national bird, the Bald Eagle, which is remarkable for a group that prides itself on being “real Americans.”  How many of you have seen a Bald Eagle or a wolf in the wild?  Perhaps it doesn’t matter, any more than reading a great book or listening to great music.  But I am better for having seen eagles, reading books, and hearing music.  Seeing a wolf in the wild, both of us alone, 4 meters away, was one of the best experiences in my life.

We face tough choices.  We have too many invasive species, and we must decide how to handle them.  None of the answers is easy.  We can bring in species to kill species, but new species can become a problem.  We can poison lakes, kill the fish, and then restock, hoping to remove invasive species.  Tucson Arundo removal is trying to remove one invasive plant.  Alone, over 10 months I removed 20,000 buffelgrass plants, another invasive species, in 8 acres, battling snakes, and heaving heavy bags up a berm.  Buffelgrass was imported from the African savannah into Mexico for forage about 80 years ago.  It was a bad idea.

Three months after I finished my work, it was like I had never been there.  Nobody cared.

There are no easy answers.  Sadly, there are plenty of talk show radio hosts and others who act as if there were.  Most of their answers are less government, which frightens me, less taxes, and more freedom.  Having seen how people trash the wilderness, even when they know the rules, I am frightened when I think what would happen without regulation.  Without regulation, we would have lodges all over the Boundary Waters and have dammed Curtain Falls, ruining Crooked Lake.  How many of you have seen Curtain Falls?

We would have logged every bit of forest, and we would have cell towers everywhere in the wilderness.  As I write, PolyMet wants to put a molybdenum mine in the headwaters of much of the country I love.  The company lawyers and managers say it will be safe.  Everything is safe, until suddenly it isn’t.  There won’t be an accident with the pipeline from the Canada tar sands to Texas, either, until there is one, and the Ogallala Aquifer is destroyed.  The Alaska pipeline was safe, until 1989.  Three Mile Island was safe, until 1979.  Unregulated, we would trash the forests, pollute the wilderness lakes, cut down all the trees, mine, and get rid of every government regulation, because people will do the right thing.

Yeah.  Right.  Have somebody tell you what it is like on opening fishing day for salmon in Alaska.

Eventually, of course, like the forests world-wide, the salmon, and the cod, the biomass will disappear.  A few will become very rich, support those who lie their way into public office and keep the cycle going.

Glad I won’t be around when the bill comes due.  Also glad we don’t have children who would ask why I didn’t stop it.  “Because I couldn’t” seems pretty weak.



  1. Denise Helmkay Says:

    You are right on the case – only so many have done as much before now, and it still seems futile at times. Is it like screaming into the wind? I think so, but a positive outlook and persistent insight such as yours, can’t do any harm. One voice in the dark might be heard; and then another inspired by that singularity.

  2. silky Says:

    sadly we see this ,all around the world, and people never think about that!!!

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