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To Preserve or Plunder?

I was watching the fascinating series by Ken Burns on PBS about the development of our US National Parks.  It is narrated by Peter Coyote and I could listen to him read the back of a cereal box and enjoy it. The documentary offers a lengthy discourse of how Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks were created and shows how John Muir became their staunch defender.

Teddy Roosevelt was also instrumental in the education and awaking to protect our natural resources. The big difference in the two men’s philosophy was that Muir wanted us to leave everything alone and Roosevelt took more of a management line. In my opinion, the management route is the better choice.

I found it sad and in other ways, totally amazing how ignorant the general population was a hundred years ago about preservation and in some ways how little we have learned. Some attitudes a century ago are still with us, albeit subtly different. Mr. Coyote explained how people would come to Yellowstone Park and using a tool, engrave their name in the stones of deposits and it was almost an obsession and difficult to stop.

There were no laws in place to restrict such destruction and finally the US Army was called in to try and police the parks. People just didn’t get it, leaving huge piles of debris wherever they camped and evidence of their passage. There were no Tread Lightly creeds in place and animal life was seen as something to use and destroy at will.

Everything was perceived as inexhaustible and for the pleasure of the individual at that moment. The idea of sustainability wasn’t even in the remotest corner of the average visitor’s mind.  Just to rehash, sustainability is the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance. The near extinction of the American wolf interrupted this natural balance to the point that Yellowstone National Park was dying. It wasn’t until biologists convinced the world that they were essential and after reintroduction, the Park began to grow again.

Who would have thought reducing one species would have this destructive power over an entire area?

Now.  What in the world does all of this have to do with us, right here in mega-Baytown? A whole lot. The reason I say a whole lot is because this same destructive behavior and short-sightedness persists right here in our voting population. Some of us are habitual trash throwers. Everywhere we go, we dump evidence of our passing. I pick up debris and litter like it is a full time job. In April alone, I attended 5 trash bash events including the Adopt a site on Blue Heron Parkway that the SETX Geocachers have adopted. 
With Total Petrochemicals, we picked up enough debris by the Lynchburg Ferry to fill an entire industrial scrap pan and this is done every year. Every year. There are enough alcohol bottles and cans on the side of roads to prove that for every person caught drinking and driving there are probably 25 times that number who are getting away with it. For obvious reasons, they throw it out the window of their vehicles for people like me to pick up. I wish I had a touch-DNA kit and I would turn the evidence over to the cops.

When the subject comes up about creating more sustainable parks and walkways, there are old-world thinkers who gripe and complain that we don’t need them and then turn right around and wonder why so many people are in poor health or overweight. They can’t see the forest because there are no trees in their life. They drive their cars and trucks to point A and back to B and then point out that if they want a nice place to go, they’ll simply drive out of town. This philosophy was presented to me this week.

In so many words it was explained that no matter what we do here, we will always just be a redneck oil town. My immediate thought was “Yup, as long as people like you are here, it surely will be.” We live the life of electricity and gasoline. Remove either and you are on foot. You suddenly get an up close and personal look at the Nature you have conveniently ignored. On top of that you get to meet the people who have resided next to you for the last 10 years.

I don’t want to live in a 1984-ish industrial complex, a slum, ghetto, or a place with cookie cutter tiny unimaginative parks. I also want the option to travel on foot and get a little shoe time instead of always thinking my vehicle is my only way to get around. Our waterways need the same consideration, where fish are edible, beach and coastline is recreational, and families can launch their canoes and kayaks on the creek or bayou and explore nature.
Ray Tallant fishing on the ship channel.
That old philosophy that every berry out there is to be eaten immediately needs to go with the wind. We as citizens have the responsibly to make life here better and we can’t do it without adjusting our way of seeing the possibilities.


Anonymous said…

Dear Bert,


Your article in today's Sun should be REQUIRED reading for all Baytownians! It's WONDERFUL, and thanks for the Adopt-A-Site plug!

Keep 'em comin'!

Anonymous said…
Very thoughtful Bert. We all need to care more for Mother nature....Debi
Patrick Newman said…
Well said, Bert!

Since I started diving a few years ago, I feel the same way about the reefs. It's astounding how little regard many divers have for such a precious system as the reef. We used to participate in Trash Fest each year, in which divers from all over would clean up the Comal River. The amount of trash we pulled out was horrifying.

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