A bear-ish look at global action
Lots of anguish in the paper over the decision to kill the mother bear in west Vail who’s entering homes and pretending to charge people. I feel this too, but understand the impossibility of letting an aggressive bear continue to wander around an urban area.Killing the bear is a tragedy, but killing the bear after it’s mauled or killed someone is a bigger one. Bears are amazing animals, cute, photogenic, symbolic, etc. But they’re also large predators easily capable of killing a person.I’m annoyed, but at us and not the Division of Wildlife who have to do the dirty job of killing the bear. It’s not hard to control our garbage. The technology is pretty simple – a latch on your bin and the will-power to keep your garbage inside until the morning of collection day. Removing bird feeders helps too, and that’s it; no more problem bears that have to be killed.We should be upset at the death of this bear because we did it, either by not bothering to care ourselves or by turning a blind eye to those who don’t. There’s a suspicion that we like seeing bears because they’re cool, and the easiest way to see one is in the garbage. So we let them snack just a little – what harm can it do? Well, now we know.These are all selfish reasons where we benefit a little and the bear dies. If you don’t bear-proof your garbage and you’ve read this far, then please start. The next step is to try educating your neighbors. Tell someone (the DOW or the police) when you see trash left out – or worse, scattered around after being pulled out of a bin. Fines have a way of focusing the mind, especially for those who care only about their pocket book.If you like bears, you’d be happy never to see one, at least around town, and enjoy the knowledge that they’re out in the woods safely away from us. Without the calorific lottery winnings of dumpster-diving, their natural instinct is one of avoidance.With lots of environmental causes, the problem appears too large and distant for any personal action to have an effect. While I think this point of view is merely an excuse, an easy cop-out to avoid putting oneself out, it doesn’t apply to local bears. A few simple local actions would solve this problem, and we still can’t be bothered to do it. We have no excuse – except we don’t care. Our bear problem illustrates how hard protecting the environment is. It only takes a small minority to destroy all the caring work of the rest of the community. That minority also puts the rest of the community at risk. One sloppy dumpster is enough to teach a bear habits that may get it killed no matter how meticulous everyone else is. That bear will also be a threat to everyone – not just the person who leaves his trash lying around. A global parallel to this is the Bush Administration’s attitude to climate change. We refuse to consider controlling how much garbage we dump into the air, undermining the rest of the world’s attempts to start doing the right thing. We’re the sloppy neighbors everyone mutters about.Industry uses similar tactics. “We’ll do the right thing if you show us proof it’s warranted,” while doing very little to look for any proof and often obstructing those who are.Local gas drilling in Wyoming and Rifle is a case in point. Extracting gas can release a lot of salty water. Salt in irrigation waters is a recipe over time for unproductive soil, but there’s no proof as yet. There will be when it’s too late I suppose. In Rifle, gas is trapped in tight-grained stone. To get it out, the rock is fractured by blasting with high-pressure fluids. Exactly what fluids are used is a trade secret, but it’s a good bet that they’re toxic. Diesel fuel used to be a common ingredient.It’s common to hear stories of ranches whose well water starts to smell of methane, often fizzing in the tub, and becomes murky and foul tasting. This is usually dismissed by the drilling companies as a coincidence and nothing to do with the fracturing process, as there’s no evidence to link the two. This probably is a true statement, as industry doesn’t look too hard and the agencies that are supposed to are being muzzled by their political masters.It’d be nice if we did the right thing as a precautionary measure without insisting on financial proof that it’s needed. Taking care of our trash may save a bear, but even if it doesn’t, the street looks better and the flies and raccoons are less of a nuisance. Water is more precious than anything in the arid west and injecting poisons underground without knowing what they’ll do regarding our wells and ground water could be idiotic. Why not openly commit to absolutely safe fracturing fluids now?Then you have global warming. In 100, years wouldn’t you rather be saying: “Oh well, I guess our air and water are too clean now” rather than “Oops, there goes the planet. Sorry.”Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado
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