Defenders of Wildlife

Where does value lie?

Where does value lie?
Where does value lie?

I have a strong passion for wildness. It has played a significant role in my life, spiritual, recreational, inspirational. But the value of wildlife is so much more than what it can offer to people.

How do I capture in a couple of paragraphs the reasons WHY my passion for wildlife and the environment is so strong? What is it about Nature that makes me love it so that it hurts deep in my chest, that it catches in my throat when I try to express it, that it brings me to tears when a part of it is lost forever, and tears of joy when once again we win a victory for future generations?

Is it an individual animal? The sea otter is graceful and playful and can entertain watchers for hours with its antics. Grizzly bears are fierce enough to make the hair stand up on your neck when you find a fresh track or see one in the distance, but gentle with their young and often comical in their lumbering clumsiness. California condors amaze with their enormous wingspan and inspire with the story of their comeback, hard won, and with an uphill battle still ahead. The spotted owl has been the butt of jokes, and is looked down upon by many for costing people jobs in the lumber industry, but it represents the remnants of the once expansive forests of the pacific northwest. Of course it isn't just the vertebrates. Insects and arachnids, fish and plants are less likely to be put on a poster, but their existence is in just as much jeopardy as the more showy members of the endangered species list, like the humpback whale. Each of these species is worth saving, but it is not the thought of an animal that makes me rise at dawn to be the first one out of the tent.

Is it a place? The southwest desert is a part of my soul. Red silty rivers run through my veins, and I can feel the gritty heat of sandstone under my fingers even as I sit here at my desk. The smell of rain hitting thirsty soil brings a cascade of memories flooding to the front of my mind; the great distance spreading out before me across valleys and vistas and plateaus to the jagged, far-off peaks makes my spirit soar. Other places are nearly as dear to me; I grew up at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, hiking the trails beneath quaking aspen, through fields of spring flowers and colorful autumn leaves, fished in and sat beside the tumbling, cold rivers that roar in the spring and trickle in the fall. There are other places that I have never been that I feel equally passionate about--the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the giant redwoods of northern California, the Everglades. All of these places are special, vital to the animals and plants they support, and truly irreplaceable. But it is no one place that causes me to fight, to write letters, to tell everyone I know, to call my representatives, to continually work against a society and government that doesn't see the value in Nature for us and for the future, although I will do each of those things for all of these places and many more that I didn't mention here.

To me, wildness is worth saving for its own sake, not for what it offers to humanity that we can put a price tag on, but simply for the sake of saving something that was here for millennia before humans began to dominate the face of the world and change it to meet the needs of growing civilizations. It should be saved because it has intrinsic value, even if people never see it. Yes, I want to keep the Earth wild for my children and my grandchildren and for future generations, so that they can feel the same rush that I do when I watch the sun set in a spectacular blaze of color while the dome of the sky darkens, the stars appear and night closes around me like a cloak. But to suppose that it is for our own enjoyment is supreme vanity, and posits that humans are the ultimate life form, here to dominate the rest of the planet. Aldo Leopold was the first to introduce the concept of a "land ethic" that placed intrinsic value in Nature for what it is, not for what it offers to us.

Wildlife means more to me than I can express. It buoys my spirit and gives me joy, it adds meaning and richness to my life. But the reasons for saving it are so much bigger than me or you, bigger than people, period. We have to learn to live sustainably with the world, or we too will go the way of the passenger pigeon. And that means taking a stand for wildlife, each and every time it is threatened. We are using resources faster than they are replenished, which means at some point we will have to make changes in our way of life as a country, and as humans in the world. We are heading down a road, and at the end of the road is an apocalyptic world with nothing natural remaining. At some point we have to turn off that road. Do we do it now, while there are still places and animals and wildness worth saving? Or do we stay on the road, belligerent, refusing to change our ways? If so, when we come to the end, we will wish we could turn back time.


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