I posted to my blog in January a piece by my friend, Sammy C. Lyon, about the pending death sentence for Sammy and his family and friends. See the post here:
The post was prior to the unfortunate accidental killing of several sea lions, including some endangered Stellars Sea Lions, in floating cages at Bonneville Dam. This incident included a circus act of first blaming "someone" for shooting the sea lions, and only later concluding that the animals died of heat exhaustion from being trapped out of water.
I don't advocate animal rights over human rights; in fact, there is an interesting philosophical debate about what is "natural" and what is "human-made." Humans are part of nature. Everything we do is a result of our genetics and our evolutionary history. We marvel at plant species that have evolved chemicals that are toxic to animals that eat them, yet human-made toxic chemicals are not natural. (Again, I'm not advocating that human-made toxic chemicals are natural and therefore somehow "good.") The point is that we, as a society/culture. tend to think that we can manipulate nature, and get away with it. Sea lions are really not the reason that salmon populations have declined and are in danger - they have been eating salmon for millennia. Humans built the Free Lunch Counter at Bonneville Dam, and are responsible for a multitude of adverse impacts to salmon and all other species on the planet - and yet nobody advocates shooting humans who pollute the river or destroy habitat, etc.
Nor do we hear sea lion advocates mounting a serious campaign against the Free Lunch Counter by formally advocating for the removal of Bonneville or The Dalles Dam. Instead, so the argument goes, Bonneville Dam and fishing are the main current threats to endangered species despite scientific evidence demonstrating that approximately 4000 spring salmon and 607 sturgeon were taken within sight of the dam. This does not address salmon and sturgeon taken at the other 141.5 miles from the river mouth. Seems like "wide stance" hypocrisy to me.
Based on over 15 years experience removing English Ivy and other invasive species from our native forests, I would like to offer some thoughts.
First, is there a major distinction between killing animals versus plants in order to protect the environment. Many of us have devoted huge amounts of time to removing invasive plants like ivy and blackberry so that our native species could survive, but virtually no one questions our motives -- let alone gets upset about "killing" ivy. In this case, people easily recognize that there is damage to the native ecosystem that humans caused by introducing invasive species, and they accept the idea of doing what we can to restore the original ecosystem by undoing the damage we have caused.
Second, phrasing your question in terms of killing one species to save another doesn't address the larger issues of how the original "balance" in a system was disrupted and what the consequences of that disruption might be. Once again, invasive species are a good example. No one seems to have any objection to killing zebra mussels because they are an invasive species that can threaten an entire ecosystem once they become established. So, we don't talk about killing zebra mussels in order to save native mussels; instead, we worry about the consequences of letting human-introduced zebra mussels wipe out a whole series of natives species by disrupting the food chain in their ecosystem.
The same goes for the spotted the owl -- which everyone seems to forget was chosen as an "indicator species" for the health of old growth forests as whole. Seen in that light, I think it is one thing if the barred owl is simply expanding its range as part of an ongoing process, and quite another if its expansion is due to human interventions, such as clear-cutting old growth forests and replacing them with "mono-crops" of douglas fir plantations. In other words, it makes a difference if "we" have caused the problem.
The basic point is that we need to accept responsibility for repairing the ecological disruption that humans have caused -- which is is certainly the case when we are the source of invasive species, whether they are plants or animals.
When is it alright to kill one animal to save another? Let's leave aside the reality that as a species we kill creatures on land and at sea to live and hence, save ourselves (and no, I'm not a vegetarian).
To be clear on where I'm going, let me ask it again: "when is it alright to kill one animal to save another?" When it is ok to kill a baby to save a mother (from real or perceived threats), and when it is ok to do so over a million times a year.
In other words the answer to your proposed conundrum is simple: when it suits our interests.
I do wish you had chosen another title, I might have been able to stay out of this. I would submit that using a topic of "playing God" over a lesser symptom of a greater ethical and moral problem (social/societal selfishness) invites an appropriately scoped answer.
"And why are we -- humans -- in the position of being the arbiters?"
I suggest that a large part of the problem comes from the Abraham religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) orders from "God" to dominate the earth and to be fruitful and multiply.
So the title for today is ironically perfect.
Last Sundays Oregonian had a very good article on the Opinion page, "Treading On A Taboo" by Jack Hart, about the problems caused by uncontrolled human population growth and virtually ignored.
In my opinion, the constant demand for economic growth is really the equivalent of cheering on an out of control malignant cancer growing in a human body; both will kill their host.
"... explore, broadly, how our thinking has evolved in the legal, ethical and practical realms of animal management."
I suggest reframing the question to "How will we manage the human animals that are the root cause of the problems" to more properly address the subject. In engineering they teach that when you define the problem you define the solution, so defining the problem is really the hard part.
So many angles on this question. Why do sea lions rise to a higher order than salmon? Why does the Humane Society of the United States spend its resources on protecting unwanted sea lions when it literally kills millions of unwanted dogs at its shelters throughout the United States every year. . . and it is not doing so to protect either animals or people. It's doing so primarily because the animals are "inconvenient."
The theory of evolution seems to be the mainstream thinking in public schools, and yet no one practices it. How did Humans get put outside this theory? How is it that so many educated people get so fired up at creationists and then make policies based completely on biblical ideas of stewardship. How is man's activity outside of evolution? If we kill Seals to protect Salmon, it's because we value Salmon more...I mean really who eats seals.
Who eats seals? Inuits.
I?ve come to think that one useful way of looking at it is to view the earth as a science laboratory that is billions of years old and has done billions of experiments to find out what works with what and very importantly, what did not work out.
Before humans do something to modify the dynamically stable balance of nature we ought to just sit back and take a long studious look at what nature has worked out before we came along and see if we can learn to get along with nature instead of trying to dominate it into something that in the longer run will kill us all.
Nature ought to be seen as a vast scientific library to be learned from, intead of as an earth to be beaten into submission and dominated.
Like somebody said ?Remember, nature bats last!?
The one species that is invading this region, and is killing off all the others, is us. Is it all right to kill a species to save another? Then we are in great danger. Because WE are killing off the salmon, not the sea lions. WE are killing off everything.
All living beings value their own lives. All of us want to live. The sea lions are not different than we are in that respect, and it is very sad that most people cannot see this. It's one of the things that makes us so dangerous in the world: Our complete lack of empathy for those whom we perceive as different from ourselves. This is the heart of racism, and the heart of speciesism.
By the way, sea lions are not being killed to "save" salmon. They are being killed because fishermen want to kill the salmon.
Sea lions have been coming into the Columbia river for ten thousand years. They have lived with the salmon all that time. Now, suddenly, we are trying to get all the last salmon. Ridiculous.
Human beings eat salmon and have done so on the Columbia for at least 10,000 years. Tribal members say that they also killed sea lions for their meat and coat as well as to control predation prior to construction of the dams. Salmon are one of the healthiest, most nutritious food fishes known to humans. Other animals eat spawned out salmon in the tributaries and their excrement then fertilizes the plants of the forest. Sea lions are taking more than their share and thereby limiting spawning. Hazing is ineffective. Lethal take eliminates the animals that are known to take salmon, sturgeon and steelhead and may provide a scent that repels them from the area of the dam where much of the predation takes place.
The constant demand for economic growth built the dams that killed off the 300 million fish Columbia River salmon runs, which led to the problems of seals competing with the commercial and sport fishermen for the few fish left in the river.
The constant demand for economic growth led to the clearcutting of the old growth forests that led to the problems with the spotted owls and the consequent barred owl problems.
The constant demand for economic growth led to the massive burning of fossil fuels in the form of Oil and Coal which led to the global warming crisis.
The constant demand for economic growth led to (fill in your own favorite animal extinction problem here and there are myriad to chose from).
The absolute hubris of humans "managing" wildlife is hard to even put into words. What makes this man on your show think, for one second, that he knows better than nature what is best for the natural world? Wildlife "management" has absolutely never, ever, not once, ever been anything but a disaster. Every single time they have tried it, they wound up messing up the ecosystem worse than could have been imagined. Every time. From "predator control" that removed top predators and left ecosystems rotting on the vine, to "nuisance control" schemes that wiped out an important, keystone species, to every other effort, this NEVER works.
Stop playing God, and start being humble and respectful of the awesome power of nature.
I think it is awful that we play God especially when it ultimately benefits us such as the salmon and its commercial value. It is not the fault of the sea lions that the salmon population has dwindled. They are just doing what they need to do to survive. I think we as humans should be ashamed of ourselves that we ravage the land and the animals all for our own purpose. We are single-handedly destroying the environment and the living creatures who inhabit it.
We humans started playing God when we first created God in our image. We are the referent.
I no longer see China Phesants in Portland. They were common in St Johns in the early 50's.... Cats ? whatever they are now gone.... James Parsons
Management should begin at the domestic level. Domestic pet populations that are left unchecked greatly affect our native wildlife. I have to remind people at parks I visit (local and national) that it is not helpful or healthy to feed the local wildlife. If your pet must roam, please outfit it with a bell. Picking up our trash, keeping clean yards and neighborhoods will limit unwanted human/wildlife confrontations. I work with a desert species that is constantly threatened by birds and wild dogs that are often attected to its habitat because of human trash and dumping. Pick up your trash, spay and neuter your pets, keep your pets in your yard, do not feed wildlife (if you feed birds, only bird food please), do not dump your unwanted pets back "into the wild"--they may upset the local populations and carry disease that may kill local species.
I would suggest that any time that wildlife needs to be killed that it should be done by professional wildlife managers NOT HUNTERS. By allowing hunters to do the dirty work of killing wild animals we only encourage bloodsports and the disrespect of nature.
Without the hunters, there would be no wildlife managers. Hunters recognized the need for conservation earlier than anyone else, agitated to be charged fees, pay for almost all wildlife research and management in the country--and have done so for generations.
I don't hunt, but support those who hunt responsibly: the vast majority of hunters.
While I am not sure what I personally think about this actual case---I can't understand what the importance of the issue is. We are constantly killing animals to eat them and to make products out of them. Don't most other animals kill other animals! I find it incredibly awkward that the acceptability of death is acquainted to whether you eat the animal or not. If you can make hamburgers it is okay, but to kill animals for a particular purpose it is considered a waste even if it is done responsibly. I would personally prefer animals are killed because the death perhaps helps something else or there is a practical purpose, rather then to feed our stomachs.
Sea lions are not hurting the salmon on the Columbia. They are eating them, that's true. Just as they have eaten salmon for thousands of years. They used to come all the way to Celilo to do this, at the bottleneck below the falls. The dirty secret is, it's OVER-FISHING, and of course the dams, that are killing the salmon. Fishermen kill many times more salmon than do sea lions. If we were to stop all fishing on the Columbia, we would be saving far more salmon than if we killed sea lions.
It is a conflict of interests to have wildlife managers who get their funding from hunters and fishermen. This is no way to "manage" wildlife.
Factual inaccuracies are causing much of the public confusion on this topic.
please stop trafficking in such innaccuracies. Fishing for spring chinook, the species exploited by sea lions at Bonneville Dam, is typically managed in a 9-11% harvest rate. A NOAA official last week speculated that sea lions may have taken as much as 40% of this years Columbia River run.
If dams or fish is the question; Windmills are the answer!
Remove the dams and restore the fish runs by building clean windpower.
Having testified at the "God Squad" I remember this salient quote from it:
"That species that DEPENDS upon the extinction of another, foretells its own."
The narrow focus of industry is oblivious to this.
Man, a word that comes from manus, meaning "hand" often places himself on the gameboard of life as a pawn. "Dear God, I am a strand in your paint brush."
God comments.... pretty selfish brush I have here, kind of painting with worms.
The bible begins with the garden. What gardens do you know that exist without gardeners. In the high mountains, the gardener is the elements. Down in the fertile Willamtte valley, a gardener is required. That is us, my fellow human armed with an opposable thumb.
We must act like a gardener. The Forest Service. The US Fish and Wildlife, The Bureau of Land Management.
Folks, here's an interesting blog post by our final guest, the bio-ethicist Bill Lynn, about many of these issues:
In particular I'm hoping to bring this passage into the conversation:
"There is sometimes a strange moral argument made by the opposition as well. It runs something like this. Extinction for natural reasons has always occurred throughout history. Humanity is simply another force of local or complete extinction. If wolves cannot survive in human-dominated landscapes by adapting their way of life to ours, then extinction is the natural result. We are under no moral obligation to help wolves, and further, it might even be immoral to help an evolutionarily ?unfit? species continue to survive."
The looming problems I see coming are how humans address the human population growth problems; through constant wars, through birth control, through famines, etc?
I think Malthus was right but technology has just delayed the crisis and in fact enabled humans to way overdraw our resource accounts.
"Humanity is simply another force of local or complete extinction."
Indeed. Everywhere we go, we bring about extinctions. Why blame other animals for that? Why pretend it will help spotted owls to kill barred owls, when it is our destruction of every last forest that has doomed them both? Why pretend it will help salmon to kill sea lions, when it is our avaricious exploitation of the rivers, our gluttonous killing of all the last salmon, that has put both species in peril?
One of your guests mentioned killing starlings to save kestrils. It might interest him to know about a Cornell University study, the only one done to date, to test the much-bandied theory that starlings displace native birds. Their conclusion? They found that this myth is a lie. Starlings do not, in fact, harm native species. Tell that to the Audobon society. They would rather "manage" starlings than listen to facts.
Ah, who is "we" white man. Catherine you could be a latina, but the logic would still hold. Not all humans seem to breed extinction, otherwise The Great Northwest which was inhabited for 35,000 years according to legend would not have come to be.
A rude fact is that desertification follows the sons of Abraham. That is what I mean by "white". Those three religions that come out of the Abrahamic sky god tradition (Jewish, Christian, Islam).
You look at Buddhist and some other religions and you do not see the trail of desertification. True, Indian legacies are mixed here in North and Central
America. But the cultures of the Northwest which arose out of bounty and potlatch Built fecundity.
It is less than amusing to see the co-evolution of Christian and corporate culture. Could the Corporation find root without the assumed alienation of Christianity?
"A rude fact is that desertification follows the sons of Abraham. That is what I mean by "white". Those three religions that come out of the Abrahamic sky god tradition (Jewish, Christian, Islam)."
The promise of an after-life in some heaven seems to let them treat this world as something to just use up and trash instead of valuing as a world to be preserved for their and our children.
And here's a different view of Buddhism that might change your ideas of it:
Friendly Feudalism: the Tibet Myth
Thank you Tom for the interesting history of Tibetan Buddhism complete with 68 footnotes. Just as current Christianity is a far cry from the actions of the "Prince of Peace" so too elements of Buddhist religion winding its way through the millennia. It reminds me of the ecumenical philosophers query: "Why must the church, necessarily, pervert its roots?" A totally non-denominational question.
But off the point. The original point was that certain religions leave behind a scar of desert, and others have some compassion for other species, relations, or sentient beings, as they thrash the living snot out of their fellow human beings, and do not create lifeless wastelands (with deepest apologies to desert lovers).
In short: Human beings do not all lead a path to extinction. Just certain threads of us.
The question worth pursuing might be: "What is it that leads certain groups of civilized peoples not to ruin their lands, as opposed to other groups that do?"
"The question worth pursuing might be: "What is it that leads certain groups of civilized peoples not to ruin their lands, as opposed to other groups that do?"
Yes, a well framed question.
And another version that changes "What" to Who" as the first word of the question.
And what is it that trains people into allowing someone to lead them into doing what they do? I suggest that religion is the basic boot camp for propaganda and the idea of ?God? is the first great lie. Consider how religion is installed into children absolutely without any evidence for the proposition, and then consider how that training is reinforced and continued into ?adulthood?.
I suggest that religion is the problem at the root cause of your question and also my version of it.
Unfortunately we are in the mess because we have alway put human need above the needs of other species. Out attitude has distroyed much of the ecosystem, and put the rest of it out of balance. The answers are not easy, but I suspect less management is better. I don't think we know enough to ease the damage. The system will right itself, but not in our lifetime. It may be better by the time my grandchildren are in their 60's if we leave it alone. We would do better to find new ways to manage our own lives, ie with less oil, less electricity use, less water use. We need to pollute less, make out tools out of materials that will decay and return to the soil etc. Until we see outselves as part of the system rather then Lords of it we will always be in trouble.
I generally advocate for the environment and all things green. But I have no idea why?? It seems hard to make a philosophical case that saving the planet is a good idea in general. Aren't there many species that indeed went extinct without the help of humans? Is there much of a practical purpose in saving a species from extinction? Or is it essentially sentimental. If the planet goes out, well---perhaps it should. Is human life so precious? Or life in general? Where exactly has it gotten us? At then end of the day, when my light goes out---the world dies, as it will for everyone else.
The American Fisheries Society (AFS) has voted that for salmon to return in fishable sized runs the Snake River Dams must be breached. Those dams provide
between 4 and 6% of regional power. We spend a billion dollars a year as a consequence of fighting forest fires in the sick forest that result in their long term fertilizer supply being cut off.
Some species feed many species. Salmon is one of these. (One study shows 137 species that depend on the salmon)
Species can go wrong in a couple of ways.
Bad acting individuals: People who are shocked at the killing of a marauding sea lion still want protection from similar acting humans.
A species number attack:
Those people might also use some means of killing the dandelions in their lawn. A species attack composed of a mass of numbers.
When in the Puget Sound there is a herd of sea lions that have grown so large that it can wipe out a run of salmon. In indigenous Salish Indians used those
sea lions for shoes and clothing, mukluks. They balanced their need with that of nature and natures balance so that after thousands of years they called this region The Great Northwest.
To lose that perspective... Man as gardener..... Man as member of nature, spicing and cultivating the community of life, as opposed to some overthinking
either super arrogant, or super humble being attributing 'moral reasoning" to animals, or ignoring wholly any compassion at all and industrially slaughtering them.
The Indians, in my opinion had it right.
Their view is summed up in their greeting:
"All my relations".
Well, that was an interesting show.
I keep thinking that when the white settlers first came across the eastern Oregon high desert it was grasslands from the now Bend area to the Oregon border with very little sagebrush and juniper. Those grasslands were settled, over grazed and turned into the now sagebrush covered lands. That is a huge area that humans changed but where is the historical memory? Who teaches the people of what happened in the past so that people can learn and do something different in the future?
If the victors write the history don't they also write the deaths of their children by leaving out the lessons possible? ( that last sentence is not quite right but there is something in there that needs thinking about)
We as humans are out of balance with wildness. We have lost our interconnectedness with nature and have divested from a vision and a practice of whole life, to an economy of abstraction, intellectualism, and most obviously illness. Global socialized murder and exploitation are the norm. The topic seems small in scope, when we don't look at our "nature". It's obvious humans have lost the connection and honor for our wild contemporaries. All life forms are the culmination of hundreds of millions of years of biological evolution, and if observed carefully, will always inform and guide us on how to live more complete and honest lives. Because we have created language, self-differentiated and alienated ourselves into culture, some in righteous culture, we have lost what counts-meaning and integrity. Beauty, responsibility, communion and death are our truths. Greed, want, distraction and fear are our current states. No lifeform is sacred in the current state, much less an abstract life like the planet. We have large brains but don't know how to use them in concert with our hearts and souls.
A response to Catherine22 and general comments:
Catherine22 calls wildlife management hubris, yet what state would the natural world be in right now were there not agencies, laws and standards for the conservation and preservation of biodiversity? Numerous species would have gone extinct, watersheds would be in ruins, and the quality of life for many animal species (and humans) would be poor due to ecological degredation. Regulation is necessary because of societal impact, this is true, but you seem to want your cake and eat it too. We cannot idealize the conception of natural any more than we can snap our fingers and let "nature take its course." It doesn't work that way because the system is too far gone in most places and will not return without help. Passively allowing some species to capitalize on our drastic impact to the environment also is management, albeit an implicit one. Such apathy makes all those who share such passive views responsible for what you called "messing up the ecosystem worse than could have been imagined."
What managers can do is use appropriate science,observation and experimentation to mimic the natural systems we have left or attempt to restore them as best we can. The central problem here is that the common view of nature, including wildlife, is a social construction perpetuated by greeting cards, the nice calendar you have up in your den or the TV shows you watch about Alaska.
No one wildlife manager thinks they can "play god;" the former was a poor choice for a show title and reflects sensationalism. Nor do managers profess to "know better than nature what is best for the natural world." They are subject to the whims of political forces, the American public, and rigorous methods of scientific inquiry. They are driven to do some good, and most of them that I know should be thanked for their efforts.
In response to the last speaker on the show, I would offer this reply:
The speaker's idealized conceptions of Native American relationships with the land need more context. Native Americans did seem to maintain stable feedback loops with their local environment (including wildlife). However, our limited knowledge of their historic practices indicate that they, too, managed the land. Most notably to me, Native Americans used fire extensively to create habitat for certain plant and game species, effectively excluding some species over others. Are they then not guilty of "playing God?"
There's an error on the URL for Bill Lynn's website, Practical Ethics. It should be http://practicalethics.net/, not www.practicalethics.net/l.
Comments are now closed.