A Different View of the 2nd Amendment.

Ask anyone who is engaged in making noise for Gun-nut Nation why they think the 2nd Amendment is so important and they’ll tell you that we ‘need’ the ‘2nd Amendment’ to keep us ‘free.’ Or they’ll mumble something about the God-given ‘right’ to self-defense. Or you’ll get some half-cocked lecture on the ‘tyranny’ of government or some other nonsense.

I prefer the argument about the importance of the 2nd Amendment made by one of America’s most fervent gun owners, who not only was a life-long devotee to hunting in all forms, but also just happened to be the 26th President of the United States. In 1887 Roosevelt formed the Boone and Crockett club whose mission, then and now, was to develop public policies that would create a balance between the desires of hunters to kill game and the necessity to preserve species. Ultimately, B&C’s membership included just about every major figure in the environmental movement (Grinnell, Pinchot, Leopold) because they all agreed with Thoreau who said, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.”

Teddy Roosevelt National Park – Thank you Sean Palfrey.

Here’s how Boone & Crockett defines the importance of the 2nd Amendment today:
“The Club is concerned with any restriction on the public’s legal right to own and use firearms for hunting that could weaken or undermine our unique and successful system of wildlife conservation.”

Hey! What happened to the God-given ‘right’ to self defense? Where’s all that talk about protecting us from the ‘tyranny’ of government? What about all those ‘patriots’ who demonstrate their love of country by walking into a Starbucks with an AR-15 slung over their backs?

I’ll tell you where it is. It’s a crock of sh*t. You want to believe that there is one, single community in the entire United States that is safer because everyone’s walking around with a gun? Tell that one to the residents of Sanford, FL whose armed, community-watch guy named George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012. Or try that argument out with the families and friends of the teachers and children slaughtered at Sandy Hook. After all, both Adam Lanza and his mother believed that having an assault rifle in their home represented their first line of defense.

I have spent the last seven years trying to convince gun owners that the armed, self-defense argument is nothing but a marketing scam. I have also spent the last seven years trying to make Gun-control Nation understand that ‘reasonable’ gun restrictions which preserve legal access to lethal products like assault rifles and hi-capacity, concealable handguns is also a marketing scam. Both arguments are nothing more than what pro-gun and anti-gun organizations believe their constituencies want to hear. To quote myself this time, both arguments are a crock of sh*t.

On the other hand, everyone likes the idea of wilderness. Nobody would dare argue with the concept of a tree. And this is why I think both sides in the gun debate need to spend some time thinking about the 2nd Amendment in terms of what the Boone & Crockett club has to say. Not only thinking about it, but thinking that perhaps here is the real common ground where both sides should meet.

Stay tuned and enjoy a lovely weekend.

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With Your Help A New Approach To Sustaining Animals Will Really Pay Off.

I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and lived right down the street from the National Zoo. So the zoo was kind of my backyard, so to speak, and I spent afternoons there looking at the various inhabitants, including the original Smokey the Bear, the bald eagles and many other animal species as well.  One of my favorites was a small group of North American bison who stood together seemingly without ever moving and attracted lots of flies.  I knew that if I wanted to see a buffalo in the wild, I would have to journey out west to the Great Plains.

cheetah           Which, in fact, I did in 1968 when I watched the buffalo roundup in Wind Cave National Park. The park, along with Custer State Park, lies just to the east of South Dakota’s Black Hills and the herd, which numbered about one thousand head, was a tiny remnant of the enormous buffalo herd which had survived the depredations of commercial hunting before and after the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869.  Buffalo meat can now be found on restaurant menus here, there and all over and today’s herd probably numbers around 200,000, enough to insure the survival of this breed. But when Europeans first came to America, buffalo could be found all over the continent and probably wandered freely through the area that is now the National Zoo.  By 1800, however, they had disappeared east of the Mississippi, having fallen prey not only to hunters, but to fences and land cleared and planted for farms.

The balance between human and natural habitats is precarious to say the least and always results in loss of the latter due to expansion of the former.  Our original conservation movement was founded by Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, who witnessed first-hand the disappearance of species as American settlers penetrated the frontier and moved across the West.  But regulating hunting seasons can only protect animals that are the targets of a hunt.  What about all the other wild creatures whose habitats are threatened by the ever-increasing encroachments of Man?

A genuinely different and effective response to this problem has now exists with the work of an organization, Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2), which unites the formidable talents and resources of such outstanding programs as the Smithsonian National Zoo, my old playground, the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Texas, Omaha’s Doorly Zoo  and several other major wildlife centers, to take advantage of decades of wildlife management experience and develop programs in biodiversity, population optimization and habitat management that can both expand existing species populations, as well as threatened species both within their natural environment as well as in man-made habitats such as nature reserves and zoos.

What I find most intriguing about the C2S2 effort is its emphasis on collaborations, consortium-types of planning and, most of all, public-private partnerships. I like this last approach because when it comes to conservation over the years the public and private sectors have often been at odds. Conservationists are often seen as anti-progress, private development is viewed as having little concern for the natural environment if it gets in the way of economic growth.  Does anyone need to be reminded of Sarah Palin leading the chant: Drill baby, drill?

The one question which remains to be answered is: why should we be concerned about the survival and sustenance of wild animals at all? I’ll tell you why. Because wild creatures teach us things about ourselves.  We have figured out how to go to the Moon, but we still haven’t figured out how to stop killing each other over the most unintended, little slight.  That makes us somehow a higher life form than a wild creature which never attacks its own species even in the search for food?

Take a look at the C2S2 website and remember that after tomorrow you’ll be done with Hillary’s campaign and you can donate some money to this wonderful group. It’s a good thing to do.

Maybe Wilderness Should Manage Wilderness Zones

Beginning this week I am going to publish some columns on wilderness. Hope you will find them interesting.

            At the same time the U.S. Census declared in 1890 that the continental United States no longer contained any wilderness, the first attempts were being taken to preserve it. Beginning in the 1870’s there had been discussions about protecting forests which culminated in the passage of the Forest Reserve Act in 1891.  This law embodied the notion of protecting forest ‘reserves’ and entrusted a federal agency, the U.S. Forest Service, with the task of monitoring the welfare of forest zones.

The whole point of the 1891 law was not so much to preserve woodland spaces, but to regulate their use and balance out the need for lumber and other woodland products with the necessity to allow woodlands to reproduce and, at the same time, sustain the animal and plant species which existed in forest zones.

         Montague Plain

Montague Plain

But management of open and untrammeled space is one thing, preservation is quite another. This difference was recognized in the watershed 1964 Wilderness Act, which created and protects more than 100 million acres throughout the 50 states administered by four federal agencies, chiefly the Park Service, Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the purpose being to protect space that will serve no ends other than recreation and natural habitat.

What chiefly makes the lands designated as ‘wilderness’ distinct from all other land owned or administered by government agencies is the concept of ‘permanence;’ or rather, the lack of any kind of permanent structures or facilities which would allow humans to exist within those spaces in any kind of permanent way.  The law says that in these spaces “man himself is a visitor,” whose presence is both temporary and transient so as to protect the ‘primeval character’ of wilderness zones.

Of the present 109 million acres of land designated as wilderness, 94% is located in 11 western states, of which Alaska alone contains 56 million acres, which is 52% of the total.  The only state east of the Mississippi containing more than 1 million acres is Florida, mostly within the Everglades National Park.  My state – Massachusetts – is third to last, containing only 3,244 acres which encloses a little piece of Cape Cod.  So if I want to see any real wilderness, I have to get in my car, figure to be away for a week or more, and drive.  Or do I?

Twenty minutes from where I live is a 1,200-acre area known as the Montague Plain.  It is a flat, wooded zone, now owned and managed by the State Department of Conservation and Recreation and considered a prime example of pine-scrub oak barren which is the natural habitat for certain rare animal species and plants.  Evidence indicates that fire was used to manage and drive game by native Americans from perhaps as early as 2,000 years before European settlers first appeared.  The current plan adopted for the Montague Plain involves conducting small, managed burns and cuttings in order to better understand ecological management of such sites.

Want to explore some wilderness?  Drive to the Montague Plain, park your car and walk a mile or so into this remarkably empty zone. The 1890 Census defined wilderness as any square-mile that did not offer permanent settlement to two persons or less and this is certainly the case on the Montague Plain.

But the fact that an environmental agency starts managing a wilderness area doesn’t mean that the strategy will necessarily correspond with what Nature has in store for any particular natural space.  The deer herd in Massachusetts, for example, has declined by at least half since forest lands were protected and allowed to revert to mature growth which prevents deer from foraging and reproducing in the undergrowth that was left after early farmers cleared much of the land. The prehistoric inhabitants who used fire to drive game animals were only copying what natural fires had been doing ln the Montague Plain from the beginning of time.  Who is to say which way works best?