Dear ERTHAWARE Family and Co-Adventurers in caring for and celebrating the wonder of Life on our tiny home-planet,
We send to you our deepest thoughts of love and hope for this Holy-Day Season and the New Year!
It brings us great joy to think of many of you around our world (and in many cultures) exploring the rich dimensions of Life ecologically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. You encourage us to press on in our senior years to offer what art skills and knowledge we have to inspire new audiences to see with opened eyes the gifts of Life by which we are surrounded and that bids our discovery and care. The heart of our mission can be summed up in Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s famous phrase, “Reverence for Life.”
Certainly there are many reasons to lament and be discouraged with the human-caused rapid and tragic decline of global species through ignorance, careless abuse, and warped economic values that have been canonized and indoctrinated into our thinking and unexamined behavior. But we want to offer at this joyous season a message of hard fought HOPE with the story of Brown Pelican recovery.
(These are bird pictures I have taken very recently as I attended conferences in southern California.)
The funny looking Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) – the Jimmy Durante of birds – is the smaller of Pelican species in North America, yet still a large bird. The wingspan for adults ranges from 6 to 8 feet. Its bill is 11 to 13 inches long with the bottom expanding to a pouch that can hold 3 gallons of water as it scoops up prey and then drains the pouch before the bird lifts its head and gulps down the fresh meal. But contrary to the larger White Pelicans who gracefully sweep the water for meals with their bills, the Brown Pelicans spy out the feed, fold back their wings and dramatically dive bill first at a school of fish, stunning them, and then enclosing them in their extended pouch.
Historically, for the United States, Brown Pelicans have been common in the Caribbean and along the Baja/California coastline, with some extension north and south of those areas. But their survival has been in continual jeopardy for the last century and a half because of human ignorance and greed.
1. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century the feathers of Pelicans, Egrets, Herons, and Spoonbills were harvested indiscriminately for women’s fashions in America and Europe. Hundreds of thousands of birds were killed. The weight of bird feathers became more valuable than the comparable weight of gold. Fashion, vanity and profit ruled until the First World War. The population of these birds was near extinction. However, a few local bird lovers and Frank Chapman of the American Museum of Natural History fought to preserve the last remaining rookery in Florida. Finally, in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, by executive decree bypassing Congress, established a controversial small refuge on Pelican Island to be guarded by rangers. Later, two rangers were murdered for standing in the way of profiteers. But this bold Act was the beginning of the great National Wildlife Refuge System. However, the burning question still remains – why should some dumb birds or other creatures take precedence over human enterprise, profit and jobs?
2. With protection, the Brown Pelicans made a come back. However, between the World Wars, the commercial fishing industry blamed the Pelicans for reducing their take, and wanted the government to put a severe limit on their numbers by regular kill-offs. The pressure on the government was unrelenting. In a drastic act, 900 young Pelicans were slaughtered in a day by a crowd of angry workers. Not until marine biologists proved that the take of specific fish by Pelicans had no bearing on fishing, but rather mismanagement and over-fishing was the cause of declining harvests that the furor began to quiet down.
3. Following World War II there was a “Green Revolution.” Great gains were made in agriculture through the growing chemical industry producing highly effective insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers. The results for agribusinesses were stunning. Yet few of these products had been thoroughly tested as to their effect on other forms of life and human health. However, biologists began finding that the liberal use of these products was having a profound effect on the health and reproductive viability of many creatures, particularly those at the top of the food chain. Of course this included the Pelicans and raptors like the American Bald Eagle. They were rapidly on their way to extinction once again. While academics, scientists, politicians and industry debated behind the scenes, a brave woman scientist, Dr. Rachel Carson, placed the evidence in a popular book called Silent Spring, that made the debate a public war. (see the period article below).
Of course the reaction of vested interests against Ms. Carson was vicious. She’s a woman. Not a hard-nosed male scientist. Women are prone to hysteria and sentimentality, weeping over sparrows and robins – not rigor and business sense. They said her science was not absolutely proven and biased. Do we want to put the wonderful food industry and jobs in jeopardy over a few birds? But the issue was much deeper. She challenged the unquestioned right of powerful owners and the megalithic constructs of industry and technology to irresponsibly impose upon the essential systems of life their products and myths of “progress” without critical scientific and social analysis. Yet Carson was clear in saying she was not anti-business or anti-pesticide. She was pro-health. Even so, huge money was invested to defame her and to lobby the Congress against possible regulation and enforcement.
When her evidence was backed up by co-scientists, some special interests attacked her personally. She’s liberal (and in the Cold War era), leaning towards Communism, out to destroy Capitalism and the American Way of Life. When that didn’t work, they attacked her gender orientation, suggesting she was a closet lesbian. (These tactics are classic propaganda techniques – if you can’t destroy the message, destroy the messenger).
Meanwhile the pelicans suffered tremendous losses because certain families of insecticides compromised the calcium strength of their eggs which were crushed during incubation from the weight of the parents on the eggs. But the tipping point came when the American Bald Eagle, that proud patriotic symbol of freedom, strength and superiority was also on the verge of extinction for the same scientific reasons. To humiliate America’s Bald Eagle would be like desecrating “Old Glory!” Laws were passed in 1972 to ban a family of chemicals. And, thankfully, some of the creatures on the “Endangered Species List” have been rebounding, including the Brown Pelican.
A few weeks ago I took this photo of a flock of Brown Pelicans preening themselves in Monterey Bay. It is estimated that the Brown Pelicans nationwide have now gone from near extinction to half a million.
At the Salton Sea of California’s Imperial Valley we watched at sunset line after line of Brown Pelicans, their wings either flapping or gliding motionless in perfect synchronicity a foot above the still waters. Such glorious scenes of recovered life could have been lost forever but for the vision and courage of a few standing against great odds.
But the continuing question still haunts us – will the Brown Pelican survive? Since 2012 there has been a rapid decline in viable nests and hatched eggs. Scientists have noticed a crash in the schools of fish that are basic to Pelican survival. Why? The answers may be controversial again. Is there Hope?
As the very young quarterback Russell Wilson of the champion Seahawks wisely comments: realized Hope is not wishful dreaming expecting a miracle from out-there or from somebody else. It requires full dedication, and a work ethic of an engage mind and disciplined body with an honest awareness to practice and improve upon one’s weaknesses. The struggle for the flourishing of Life on this tiny home-planet will require such committed and courageous agents of Hope. Or will we despair and retreat and hide?
On the journey,
Hugs from Lynn and me.
Life Education And Research Network (L.E.A.R.N.) non-profit
2204 Chestnut St
Port Townsend, WA. 98368 USA
with deep thanks to donors who support this educational mission on behalf of Life