Thursday, February 5, 2015

The good, the bad, or the ugly -- the choice is ours

I saw an eagle today as I was returning from a morning meeting in St. Paul. It was soaring in circles just a mile or so south of the Highway 97 exit off of I-35. I was pleased to see it but not terribly excited. After I returned home, I started to wonder what's wrong with me. About the time I moved to Minnesota, bald eagles were endangered and facing extirpation from much of their range. They've been off the endangered species list for a little less than eight years. So now, while they're not as common as robins or chickadees, I can take them for granted? I should say not, even though there are a handful of places in my weekly travels where the odds are better than even I'll get a glimpse of one.

perched bald eagle
Photo by J. Harrington

I've been spoiled by living in Minnesota. Maybe we all have. We now have many eagles and there are nesting pairs in the heart of the Twin Cities. Our wolf population continues to grow. Trumpeter swans Winter over in some spots along the St. Croix. In my own back yard there are deer, turkeys, coyotes, song birds, crows, and, on a rare occasion a pheasant will wander through. This morning I saw four hen turkeys near the intersection of Larpenteur and Payne Avenues in St. Paul. With wildlife such a frequent part of our daily lives, it's terribly easy to take for granted what we have. It's too easy to forget how close we came to losing eagles and wolves and trumpeter swans. I fear that too many of us living today don't remember when we had rivers to the east of us that were catching fire, when the Mississippi downstream of St. Paul served nicely as an open sewer.

waterfront development
Photo by J. Harrington
As a country, we taxed ourselves and invested in pollution treatment plants to restore water quality even in our big cities. To a great degree, we've been successful. We learned the a clean and attractive environment supported better development. We also decided to protect from development the habitat eagles need to thrive. We have succeeded to the tune of having more than three dozen eagle nests along the Mississippi as it passes through Minneapolis and St. Paul. Now instead of resolving that we continue to want our children to have better lives than we had, we're spending time and energy arguing at each other about whether clean up is needed and who should pay for it. A good part of our ability to argue is based on our past successes. Without today's clean air, clean water, and being able to enjoy nature and wild creatures as we go about our day to day business would we want to live here? We can decide that our quality of life is no longer important to us. We can put it at risk and let our waters and air become polluted again and our wildlife populations be diminished again and call it progress. We'd be wrong to do that, wrong in a lot of different ways, but we could try to win a race to the bottom. Is that what we choose for our families and our future? Or, do we try even harder to have it all?

Endangered Species

By Phillip Carroll Morgan 

herds of buffalo
gone now
                       you search the undulating
         sea of grass
near campo and wildhorse
                       for the great hairy horned whales
but none surface

instead
if you look carefully

                        you see the shallow swimming
          hahe issi
the pronghorn
antelope
                     you identify with
          this striped sailfish
skimming the surface
                       a harpoon’s throw away
        from hungry nesters

diving
                     for the cereal great plains
         plankton seed
visible
but fast


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