Posts Tagged ‘Columbia River’

The Right to Slaughter

May 13, 2015

Many people, I would guess most people, roll their eyes when they hear the term “animal rights.” People see rights as something arbitrary that are bestowed upon us by the government. You vote for your rights. Animals can’t vote, so it’s stupid to say they have any rights. This is an incredibly superficial view of existence, yet pervasive. But the truth is that rights are not arbitrary; they are inherent. In any intelligent, healthy system, it is not the government’s role to bestow rights, but to see that they are protected.

What rights do animals have? For starters, they have the right to live out the laws of their being. That should be plainly obvious. And we human beings have an obligation, a duty, to not get in the way of that. We must create our civilization in such a way that it makes it possible for the animals to do what they do. I’m sure some oaf will be thinking, “Well, we have the right to live out the laws of our being, too. If the animals get in our way, that’s their problem.” But we are a different kind of animal. We have the capacity for huge amounts of free will. We also have the capacity to destroy all life on this planet. That’s not living out the laws of our being. That’s just being greedy and blind. We don’t know anything about the laws of our being. We can’t when all we care about is money.

The preceding diatribe is inspired by the fact that the Army Corp of Engineers has just been given permission by both the Fish and Wildlife Service and a federal judge to begin the slaughter of tens of thousands of cormorants in a nesting colony on East Sand Island in the mouth of the Columbia River. I’ve been to East Sand Island and have seen that colony. Thousands of pelicans and terns congregate there as well. The slaughter has been approved supposedly to help keep the salmon from going extinct. But that’s bullshit. What they’re really doing is trying to protect the fishing industry. They want to kill the birds so that humans can eat the fish instead of the birds. We don’t actually need the fish, but the cormorants do. And they have the right to them. That’s how nature works. And if the salmon are endangered, it’s not because of cormorants. It’s because of us, through our dams and overfishing. The Army Corp of Engineers, which thought up the plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service, which approved it, the federal judge who approved it, and Wildlife Services, who are to carry it out, are all killers in the pay of Mammon. I don’t believe for an instant that there is any environmental concern here whatsoever. And even if there is, it’s incredibly hubristic to think that we know what to do. We’re terrible when it comes to helping nature. All we know is how to exploit it. I, for one, can never give whole-hearted allegiance to a system that does these things.

Take Me to the River

August 23, 2009
Judy on the jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River

Judy on the jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River

My wife Judy Irving recently received permission to film on East Sand Island, a mile long spit of old dredge spoils near the mouth of the Columbia River. There’s a large Caspian Tern breeding colony on the island, and in recent years it’s become a giant summertime roost for Brown Pelicans. Judy is working on a new documentary about the Brown Pelican, called Pelican Dreams. She needed my help—driving, hauling gear, and so on—and I was happy to have the opportunity to go. I grew up about 100 miles upstream from the island in the town of Vancouver, Washington, and while I’d seen many different sections of the river, I’d never been to the mouth. It’s enormous—nearly five miles across at one spot.

We were taken out on a flat-bottomed whaler, and to get to shore we had to wade in wearing hip boots. All her film gear had to be carried on our heads, and it was a major task. Because of her dissatisfaction with the quality of video cameras and images, she still hasn’t made the move to the world of lighter, less cumbersome digital equipment. When we arrived on the island there were around 14,000 pelicans lined up along the beach. It was a thrill to see such a massive grouping of that strange-looking bird. We camped on the island one night, and I spent a lot of the time just sitting and gazing at the river.

My family’s camping trips were the only part of my childhood that I enjoyed much. I remember most of the rest of it as being dreary and tedious. [When you leave the Astoria Bridge heading into Washington State, you’re given the choice of going left to Cape Disappointment or right to Dismal Nitch (sic), which is how I still tend to remember my old home.] I always appreciate having the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world. Living in a city it’s all too easy to forget that our technological creations are pitiful compared to Nature’s. I mean, who can get genuinely excited about 64 bit computer processing?