We learn as children with board games, some of us practise the concept in business: sometimes we win; other times we lose. We can pick up another game, start on a new venture, and still come out ahead.
Losing a species isn’t the same gamble. As Aldo Leopold, esteemed conservationist, penned in 1947, long after the last passenger pigeon was lost, we are left with just “effigies and images, dead to all hardships and to all delights.”
As the United States Congress learned in 1978 during the case of the northern spotted owl, backlash against flexibility in an endangered species act renders the decision to knowingly accept losers the same as calling on a “god squad.”
In Canada, we’ve had a Species at Risk Act since 2003, 10 years late, after the world agreed in Rio de Janeiro not to play for losses.
Another full four years later, SARA was the initiative for Ontario finally to replace an outdated Endangered Species Act. And we have yet to learn how serious the rules are.
The winner last month, with much fanfare: the bison. Parks Canada staff in Banff “walking around with big smiles,” says the Toronto Star report. First to be born to a reintroduced population, “staff are monitoring the calves and ensuring predators stay away,” says the same report.
Same agency, different province, new game, no fanfare, no reason to smile. Ontarians showing false humility have literally bombarded Pukaskwa National Park staff since 2010 with reasons not to assist woodland caribou reintroduction, nor protect a struggling population on the Lake Superior coast against predators.
“Let nature take her course,” many say, including the privileged few who still work for protecting nature in the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. They watch, “waiting to see if the adults will breed, how the caribou will fare, . . . (they) jump right in with the latest satellite tracking technology,” as one observer from Cable, Wis. writes.
Emily Stone lives 3 1/2 hours from Babcock, Wis., where the last passenger pigeon was shot dead, where the last living Wisconsin caribou occurred in the 1840s, where its image now adorns a popular coffee franchise.
She writes, we watch, the dice are rolled, they lose. Caribou are losing due to climate change, a legacy of overhunting, a fragmented habitat. We created the new rules for their game.
“On a monument to the pigeon” (Leopold’s essay), literally, in Wyalusing State Park, Wis., here are the right words: “extinct through the avarice and thoughtlessness of man.” But in the world of satellite tracking, we have more we can do, as Banff shows us. Why we don’t act is another matter.
That in a generation our game might relegate southern herds of caribou to memories stirred when flipping a quarter demands an explanation.
Here is one, also from an esteemed scholar, this time of human nature: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure . . . playing small does not serve the world.”
Nelson Mandela knew not the situation that presents us in the boreal forest, that wildlife management including relocation of predators is an option in our rulebook, but he knew something about our false humility, about what thoughtlessness really entails.
Take action, friends, because you already have, in setting the new rules for the survival of species at risk; urge your government to do more than to watch woodland caribou lose our game, to celebrate an occasional winner in another province.
That is not recovery; it is inaction that is accepting loss when recovery becomes impossible.
Faculty of Natural Resources Management