Our Wild Places Have Inherent Value

Nov 29, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Public Lands

The Wild Has Inherent Value

“I used to believe that the forty percent of public lands in the West was more than sufficient to provide a generous safety net for all of the vulnerable, threatened and endangered species in the West, including wolves, grizzlies, wolverines, sage grouse, amphibians, native fishes, songbirds, and so on. I used to believe that federal agency land managers could overcome political and bureaucratic interference and do what was right for nature. I used to believe that a new administration would not always cave in to vested interests and political exigencies, including today’s ‘drill, baby, drill’ imperative.”

So writes the Father of Conservation Biology, Dr. Michael Soulé, a Paonia resident and Professor Emeritus, UC Santa Cruz, in a yet-to-be-published essay. A pioneer in the field of Conservation Biology, Michael was elected one of the “100 Champions of Conservation of the 20th Century” by Audubon Magazine in 2000, and has won accolades and awards for forty years for his work on behalf of The Wild. Most recently he received the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Award.

This man has spent his entire career working tirelessly to share his conviction that wild nature has inherent value and deserves to be given due consideration, in any fair scenario, by bureaucrats when making policy decisions.

Michael has offered me a sneak preview of his essay in response to my question about the inherent value of The Wild. We are discussing, of course, the renewed threat to our home land from BLM drilling leases.

“The North Fork Valley is singular in its beauty, hunting and fishing opportunities, and extraordinary wildlife,” he says. “As a naturalist and hunter, I keep my eyes wide open for badgers, beaver, elk, deer, pronghorns, mink, grouse, toads and turtles, even snakes, because I’m thrilled to see them.

“But,” he goes on, “during the 17 years I’ve lived here, most of these creatures have suffered declines due to traffic. Lately, commercial traffic has already skyrocketed from drilling, oil and gas exploration, and pipeline construction in the region. I don’t want to see the special wildlife virtues of this region destroyed by the development of more gas, when there’s already such a huge surplus. There is no local or national need for more gas. This frenzy is rooted in greed, not need.”

Michael is emphatic. And, he’s been researching the Seven Deadly Sins for nearly a decade, so he knows about Greed.

“It’s a gap in our responses to this oil and gas leasing, this lack of any significant input about wildlife,” he says. I know that whether or not he’s articulated it yet, Michael means that it is a lack globally, not just locally or nationally, in our responses to extractive industry in general. But back to our valley’s struggle with this current threat.

Wildlife has at least two significant values to the people of this valley: Economic and Inherent. Hunting is a seasonal economic foundation of many diverse local businesses, and a sport and livelihood for many residents as well. Beyond that, many of us have chosen to live here because we hold that The Wild has inherent value in and of itself.

The North Fork Valley offers unparalleled access to The Wild, from the backyards of most residents, whether rural or town dwellers, in many cases through the BLM lands that ring the valley and provide critical connectivity between the West Elk Wilderness, the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, Gunnison National Forest complex, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, Crawford and Paonia State Parks, and the McCluskey and Roeber State Wildlife Areas.  In between, more BLM public lands are nestled among and around our homes, ranches, businesses, towns, watersheds and viewsheds bringing strands of the wild to our doorsteps.

People here show not only a remarkable tolerance for bears in their backyards, elk in their gardens, and coyotes eating their house-cats, but evince downright respect and love for lions in their canyons, frogs in their ponds, and eagles in their trees. As stewards of the land, we believe we have an obligation to protect wildlife and wild land.

Over the past twenty years, I have invested my life and livelihood in 155 acres of old-growth piñon-juniper forest bounded by pasture, with a wild canyon through the middle, all of which I have put into conservation easement to protect its wildlife and open space benefits for our region in perpetuity. I did this to protect the mountain lions, bobcats, bear, deer, elk, juncos, titmice and other full-time residents, the occasional lynx, the canyon wrens that migrate through, the redtail hawks and golden eagles who nest in this canyon.

I did this because I believe, because I have known in my bones and my heart since I knew anything at all, that nature is sacred, that God is Life, that the lives of all creatures matter. I just love nature. I always have. As a child I wept inconsolably at my first sight of a roadkill squirrel. I don’t really need Michael Soulé to tell me about the inherent value of The Wild. I just want him to help me find the words to write about it.

“But that’s the point,” he says. “It’s beyond language.”

I’ve chosen to ask Michael for inspiration in this quest because I have known him a long time. I know that he loves The Wild at least as much as I do, very likely more, and that he is a deeply spiritual person. If anyone knows the meaning of inherent value it will be Michael.

He continues, “A person either knows intuitively that something is of value, or a person doesn’t know it. But people differ, too, in what they see has inherent value. What most people see has the most inherent value is people, human beings. A small number of people are biocentric; they believe that nature as a whole has inherent value. And some people even think that nature itself, or The Wild, may even have more inherent value than humans; but, as I said, it’s a very small minority who think that way.”

I press Michael for more, in my quest to articulate my own belief in the inherent value of wilderness, untampered by man; of wild life, red-in-tooth-and-claw Nature, savage and beautiful; of all things tender and wild.

“To be honest, that’s an unanswerable question,” he answers wistfully. “If somebody says something has inherent value, it implies the value doesn’t have a utilitarian purpose; it’s valuable not because it’s useful, but because you know intuitively, automatically, that a thing, or a creature, is valuable; that other species, other living things are valuable and they have a right to continue on their evolutionary path, as distinct from being of value only because they’re a resource for human beings.”

I’m still seeking the words to articulate my belief. I guess this is the work of a lifetime. I just know that I am not alone in my reverence for The Wild: I know, from the photos that flowed in for this scrapbook, from conversations with neighbors about a nearby lion kill or an unusual bird at the feeder, from numerous hunters who have confessed to me that they “just couldn’t shoot” a particularly gorgeous buck or bull elk, from the delight and awe expressed by visitors who spot a fox or a fawn or who climb an ancient juniper, that there are many thousands of people who believe as I do: that wildlife and wilderness on the public lands in this valley have inherent value, and must be protected and preserved for their own sakes as well as for ours.

Maybe a poem can say it better:

I am the hoof of the doe

stepping into the stream;

moments ripple around me.

In the time of long light

I see God in green shadows,

and the wheatgrass whispers yes.

But maybe pictures say it best…

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