Endangered species: it’s us they need protection from

The feds are afraid. They are afraid of offending the provinces. They are afraid of stepping on the toes of municipalities.

As a result the endangered species bill known as Bill C-5, is a gutless wonder.

Experts agree that the single greatest threat to the survival of wild species is habitat loss.

And yet is precisely the preservation of habitat that the Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien will not adequately protect through law. The government remains uncommitted to critical habitat protection and instead appears to be paving the way for its continued degradation through fragmentation.

So it is that we human beings continue to dominate our planet with arrogance. Since the first native peoples cleared a patch of Eastern Woodland forest to plant corn, we human beings have altered our environment for our very survival. And since European settlement, we’ve increased our impact upon the land. We clear forests, dam rivers, shoot and trap wildlife, drain wetlands, dig landfills, pave grasslands with cities: in short, the world is our oyster.

It’s no wonder that there is no pristine wilderness left.

Here in the Pontiac, how many woodlots do you know that are being selectively cut? How many woodlots do you know of that have been clearcut and the residue scraped off the surface of the land, to be left in long windrows of tangled roots, waiting to be burned? How many Pontiac marshes have been drained for grazing, for housing development, or for crops?

Frankly, I don’t know the answer. But as I travel around the backroads of our county, which spans two MRCs, I see increasing habitat loss. And, I receive your calls and e-mails, asking what we can do about the clearcutting, pollution of creeks with pesticides and herbicides, and other environmental degradation.

I don’t have an answer for you, other than to support your favourite environmental group. Other than to write to our MP, our MNA, to Prime Minister Jean Chretien and to our Environment Minister David Anderson. If you object to what you see, make your voice known. Write letters to your local papers. Express your disapproval of the loss of diverse habitats.

If we don’t urge our leaders to preserve habitat, I ask you: what is the future for the Pontiac countryside we claim to love?

I’ll tell you: the wolves, bear, wild leek, loons and other wilderness species that we equate with Canada and our natural heritage will slowly vanish. They will cease to exist, not with a bang, but with a whimper, to paraphrase poet T.S. Elliot. We will suddenly awake to find them not as frequently observed. And then, we will recall them in memory only.

Inconceivable, you think? I wish.

We do this little by little and really, most of us usually don’t do it with cruel intent in our hearts. Just as when I moved here and drained the southwest corner of my front field, which was wet. It was so boggy that the farmer who plants and cuts my crop couldn’t get onto that part of my land. So I drained it, without thinking about it very much, frankly. Insodoing, I destroyed the habitat of the bittern. It’s gurgling call has gone from my front meadow: I’ve not heard it for years and likely never will.

I am just like you.

We human beings are an arrogant species. Many of us passionately cry that we love nature and the outdoors. But we want it to be our playground. We have termed the wild places and habitats “natural resources.” The ITP Nelson Canadian Dictionary’s definition of “resource” is instructive: “An available supply that can be drawn on when needed.”

If we define wilderness as a “resource” then it’s no wonder that habitats are in danger of economic exploitation.

And let’s make no mistake about this: it is not enough to preserve little patches of parkland, scattered hither and thither about the province, the country, the continent…or the world. Animals and plants, birds and reptiles don’t recognize borders. And it’s not just the migratory pathways the songbirds or monarch butterflies use twice annually that I’m talking about.

The wolf in Gatineau Park can be shot when it ventures out of the Park boundary onto Pontiac landowner’s property. The heron or osprey can be shot when it fishes a Pontiac trout pond. That patch of woods that granddaddy selectively logged with his horse can be chopped down, sold off and ploughed up for crops and cattle.

And so it goes: We make changes to our landscape. Irrevocably, more habitat is forever changed so it cannot support the species that called it home. More species must travel further afield and compete with resident denizens of other similar habitats for a home.

If we do this to human beings, it is called war or genocide. If we do it to animals and plants, who cares? So, who, I ask you, speaks for the wild?

Obviously not the Liberal Government. A government ought to lead, but can we really blame them for taking the low road here? I believe that what they are doing is refusing to take the high, leadership position. They are afraid to insist that landowners must be responsible for biodiversity. But you know what? I think they know that you and I don’t really want habitat protection. No! I think most landowners think that the government meddles too much in their affairs.

Don’t you?

This, I believe, is why the government will not create a strong, enforceable Endangered Species Bill. It’s because we are all dyed-in-the-wool NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard). We human beings like to point fingers at others and wag our tongues, gossiping that so-and-so ought not have to done this or that. What a comfortable pew we sit upon!

But when it comes to looking closer to home, to deciding against draining that corner of the field, for instance, well, we hedge. Don’t we? We have our personal plans for the development of our land in our way. We like our recreational toys, such as our sea-dos, our ATVs, our hiking and biking trails. Yes, we all enjoy altering the outdoors to suit our whim, whether it be to build our farm outbuildings, homes, cottages, croplands or whatever. You name it, if our local by-laws allow us to do it, we get on with it with gusto.

It’s no wonder that the federal government wants to pass an Endangered Species Bill with no teeth.

David Anderson has said he doesn’t want to argue with the provinces about protecting wild species on provincial lands. “They run the hunting regulations, the fishing regulations. If we don’t have their co-operation, it will have been a mistake to have ever embarked on endangered species legislation.” (Ottawa Citizen, Feb 13, p. F11)

Actually, what the feds are really afraid of is you and me. After all, we vote them in and out. And we’re the ones, not our leaders, who create habitat loss, right here in the comfort of our own homes.

So, what are we willing to do, to protect the wild and their homes?

**** Obituary: Dr. Nicole Bruinsma

I want to acknowledge the passing of a courageous woman on Wednesday February 27, who proved that personal action can make a difference to our environment. Last week, Dr. Nicole Bruinsma died after a battle with breast cancer. After being diagnosed in 1997 she started investigating links between cancer and the environment. Her research prompted her to help found Action Chelsea for the Respect of the Environment and, one year later, the municipality of Chelsea passed a by-law restricting the use of pesticides in residential areas. This year, the City of Ottawa is considering such a restriction. One woman’s courage helped raise the consciousness of a village, a municipality, and perhaps our capital. Who says we are helpless to act? Dr. Bruinsma teaches otherwise. Condolences to her family who survive her.

Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from Quyon, Québec.