Stand Up for Red Rock!

The iconic and sacred-to-many Bears Ears National Monument

I’d never heard of southeastern Utah’s Bears Ears until President Obama declared that enormous landscape a National Monument last December.

 

 

 

 

Let’s make the wise choice for Red Rock

 

 

As Jeff and I planned our spring break trip, the thought of this just-protected place intrigued me. For the last four years, we’d been getting to know the marvelous red rock country protected in the Beehive State.  Those wildlands are so different from our pine forests and emerald Gulf waters, and I find that a period of immersion in high desert country offers a geological perspective very different from our relatively young place on the planet.

Really ancient oyster shells in the Grand Staircase-Escalante NM

 

In Capitol Reef National Park, we checked out a formation labeled “oyster shell reef” on the interpretive map. Dang if we didn’t find oyster shells FROM THE CRETACEOUS!!!  I worked to wrap my mind around the fact that this high desert had been an estuary like our Apalachicola–only about 100 million years ago.

 

 

 

Rare desert water visited by many–see the tracks?

 

On a long cross country hike through neighboring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, we encountered only one repository of fresh water, which offered evidence of so many wild lives moving about that high desert. Can you see the stamping footprints of deer and other mammals in the sand, by the pothole?

 

 

Slipping and sliding in Bears Ears

West of Blanding, Utah we drove our all-wheel drive rental car very carefully up a mud-red road, hoping to approach one of the two buttes (or “bears ears”), that make the country’s newest National Monument famous. The air grew colder, and the road, more challenging. Puddles turned into patches of snow and ice on the unpaved track. The views were stunning, but we didn’t want to spend the night stuck deep in mud. So we turned around, knowing we had seen only the tiniest fraction of the place.

 

 

 

Edges of Cedars museum in Blanding, Utah

 

Earlier, in the Edges of the Cedars museum, a young Navajo interpreter had explained to us that that the Bears Ears harbors a wealth of irreplaceable cultural resources, along with wild landscapes that had caught our eye.

“The truth is, the establishment of Bears Ears National Monument was a healing moment of historic importance,” wrote Terry Tempest Williams in Sunday’s New York Times. “A unique agreement was reached between Indian tribes and the United States government for a collaborative approach to the management of Bears Ears. It was a clasp of hands across history. It was also about America looking into the deep future rather than into the narrow exhaust pipe of today. It was about drilling for hope and dignity, rather than fossil fuels.”

But as you’ve probably heard, our current President has ordered his Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, to review the size and scope of national monuments larger than 100,000 acres created since 1996 (which includes both Grand Staircase Escalante, and Bears Ears). Trump complained that these designations “unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control,” called them a “massive federal land grab” and directed Interior Secretary Zinke to review and reverse some of them.

Yesterday, Zinke visited the Bears Ears by Blackhawk; for the next 45 days, all of us have our chance to let him know what we want him to do.  May we on the side of the living planet prevail.

If you want to make a comment to Secretary Zinke, perhaps the most enlightened of Trump’s appointees, send him a handwritten letter, or submit your support of our National Monuments, and all our public lands, online after May 12 at http://www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the search bar and clicking “Search,” or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.

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Inaugural Bawl Address

On January 13, I offered these brief thoughts to the attendees of the Mickee Faust Inaugural Bawl. in Tallahassee  I hope you will find them of use.

Imagine yourself on a gorgeous, wild island, maybe the most beautiful in all the world:  St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge.

Imagine that from dawn until sunset, you have tramped the beaches and the forest and the marshes, searching out every kind of bird you could identify and count, from the largest eagle to the smallest nuthatch.

Imagine that it’s now the end of the day, and you are poking along a grassy path near Big Bayou, hoping to add a rare grebe or sparrow to your long list of species.

And just then, a sharp fierce rattle stops you in your tracks.

This happened to me and my companions on the Christmas Bird Count in late December. The source of the rattling lay at the edge of a stand of palmetto, a magnificent snake, as thick in the body as a cat.  In self defense, to warn us away, she had spread her bright diamond scales, coiled her body, and flattened her head.

She was serious about protecting her wild space on that wild island. Believe me, we backed up.

Here’s the question that the protective instincts of the rattlesnake poses to us now.

Exactly how will WE protect the defenseless of all species and genders and races, and the sacred and essential Earth?

Exactly how will WE exercise real political influence, now that the right controls every branch of our federal government?

I suggest we begin by reclaiming the rattlesnake.

You know that rattlesnakes were co-opted as a symbol by early colonists, and even today decorate the flags hoisted by right-wing tea partiers.

It’s time to restore the courage and gravitas of that animal to our movements on behalf of sanctuary, social justice and climate healing.

The belly of the rattlesnake never loses contact with the earth, even as she rises up to strike, if defend herself she must. The Earth is the source of our power, too.

It is time to restore in our bodies, and in our emerging movements, a powerful connection to the very local ground where we live.

Millions of us rose up and marched on behalf of all that threatens our children’s future last Saturday. That was a beginning. But as the prominent social activist Frances Fox Piven reminds us, if we are to create successful movements, we will need to go beyond display, far beyond marches and posters and social media.

She says that only when ordinary people cause trouble, can they affect real change.

So let us then make trouble.

Let us be as serious in our intent to protect life as the wild island rattlesnake.

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From Protest to Protect: Learning to Shift at Standing Rock (Part 1)

Dear Friends:  On Sunday, December 18, 2016, this report on my brief visit to Standing Rock will be featured in the Tallahassee Democrat.  I’ll be sharing Part 2 of what I learned at Standing Rock after the holidays. 

 

 

 

During the first week of December, I traveled with my niece Erin Canter to a snowy, stinging cold North Dakota prairie south of Bismarck, where encampments at Standing Rock have evolved into the longest running protest in modern history.

In a moving, historical first, representatives of every tribe on this continent gathered to support the Sioux nations in their struggle to protect the sacred waters of the Missouri River, drinking water source to 15 million people.

 

 

 

Oceti Sakowin camp, one of several sites where “water protectors” have taken a stand, vowing to protect the river they know to be sacred.

Oceti Sakowin and several satellite camps sit on Federal lands that legally belong to the Standing Rock Sioux under the terms of an 1851 treaty. On that site, thousands of Native Americans and their allies are seeking to halt completion of the 1172-mile Dakota Access pipeline, which is intended to transport fracked oil from the Bakkan shale oil fields of North Dakota, to southern Illinois.  The concern about an oil spill upriver from the tribe’s water source has resonated with groups across the country.

Like so many others, in the days after the devastating November election, I searched for a larger context of hope, and for personal direction. I asked Tallahassee-born Caitlin McMullin, who had just spent 7 days at Standing Rock with her 3-month old baby boy, Should I go, do you think I could be helpful? ABSOLUTELY! she messaged in return.

So, Erin and I bought plane tickets and flew to North Dakota. We went because what is happening on the banks of the Missouri River and all along the pipeline path is a one-sided war. We went to witness, to learn, and to work. With us we brought $4000 in cash contributions from big-hearted friends (our neighbors in Indianhead Acres, members of the Tallahassee Area Threshold Choir, and folks at Uptown Café were particularly generous). We also shipped out two enormous boxes of wool clothing.

It took several hours to drive the 50 miles from Bismarck to Standing Rock.  The road was marbled with gray ice and biting snow flurries.  We had filled our rented vehicle with drinking water; medical supplies; snow shovels, kitty litter and tow straps (should we get stuck); Visa cards; meat and fresh vegetables.  I felt scared: we’d been told that illegal road blockades manned by county and state police would turn back or heavily fine anyone delivering supplies to the camp.  We hid our contributions under our own luggage, hoping we wouldn’t be stopped.  We’d heard that tensions were escalating, since the Army Corps of Engineers had set a deadline of December 5 to close down the camps.  We’d also heard that several thousand veterans and nearly as many clergy were coming to Standing Rock on Sunday to stand by the people. That news gave us courage.

The violence was largely over by the time we arrived. Still, the presence of police across the river from the camp, along the pipeline route, was deeply disturbing.

We knew we’d reached Oceti Sakowin when we spotted floodlights tall as cell towers skewering the sky along the ridge where the pipeline is intended to cross the river. At the gate, a young man greeted us and told us where to deliver our donations.

I wandered around the camp, watching people build yurts and hammer together plywood bunkhouses. There were at least seven communal kitchens which offered volunteers everything from plain bologna sandwiches to stews and salads, and served as sleeping spaces beginning at 10 PM each night. I felt overwhelmed, picking my way along icy paths that threaded between of dozens of tents twisted and crushed by snowstorms and heavy wind. The camp felt so at risk and impermanent, and yet the people I met seemed cheerful and engaged.

Propane was in high demand at the camp, and firewood, because the local law enforcement had blocked the main access road to the camp. But all kinds of folks were hauling in whole trees to be cut up for wood fires, and a full-sized propane truck had managed to pick its way in from somewhere.

Why we didn’t camp.

People were heating their yurts and tepees and army tents and little plywood structures with wood stoves–you simply couldn’t camp without one, we were told. Erin and I had come equipped with subzero sleeping bags and a borrowed four-season tent, but our gear was no match for the bitter temperatures.  We were cautioned not to sleep in our car, either; we were lucky to crash with friends in the closest and only hotel, the filled-to-bursting Standing Rock Prairie Knights Casino.

That first morning I came upon Oceti Sakowin’s main sacred fire, which had been tended and kept burning since late summer. Under a small plywood shelter, a band of Lakota drummers and a kind-voiced elder kept a continuous thread of amplified verbal contact with the crowd.

“My relatives,” the elder began, and then he announced the needs of the moment: a ride to Bismarck for two young people; cooks for one or another of the kitchens; six tepee poles for some young women who’d arrived with canvas but no poles.  Amongst all the cold and the rugged conditions and an unknown future, the warm voice of the leader brought us into the needs of the present.

At one point, the elder’s voice deepened with emotion. “My relatives,” he said.  “We need to offer a special welcome to a young veteran who has just arrived here on foot from Oklahoma. He walked all the way here to help protect us!”  The man’s voice broke over the mike.

Chris Turley, Native veteran. Taken with his permission.

The young veteran stood before us, straight-backed and open-faced. I was standing close enough to see his lips tremble.  Any mother of any tribe or race would have recognized the courage of this son, this warrior, this father of daughters.

A tin can with a makeshift wire handle was procured, and before any more words were spoken, Chris Turley, a member of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma who had served in the U.S. Army for nine years, was ceremonially blessed with burning cedar chips and sage.

The Sioux elder passed the microphone to Chris.

“I’ve come here because of the vow I made when I entered the armed services, which was to protect our country from both foreign and domestic threat/terrorism,” he said.

None of us missed his emphasis on the word “domestic.” Especially because just at that moment, a yellow corporate helicopter from Energy Transfer Partners (the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline) buzzed directly over us.  Chris inclined his head skyward.  Every one of us recognized it for what it was: domestic terrorism.

Contemplating this young warrior’s courage, we cried. We hugged him, dozens of us. I believe he felt deeply welcomed.

Chris Turley’s arrival marked a surge of military veterans who came to give occupiers a respite and call attention to human rights violations committed by militarized law enforcement. For months, participants in nonviolent prayer marches and actions had been met with road blockades, illegal eviction notices, arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets, attack dogs and water cannons.

Some shelters worked better than others under blizzard conditions. I loved this tiny house equipped with solar panels.

Each day of our visit we attended orientation meetings. Many hundreds of young people, veterans, clergy and others crammed into long army tents and were reminded that we were there to pray, and in no way to bring violence to the pipeline protest.  We were asked to be mindful of our status as “allies,” that this was a Native struggle, and that their thinking needed to always be central.  We were reminded that, as white people, many of us don’t realize how often we place ourselves front and center (which perpetuates colonization).

At Standing Rock, I had a crash review of the true history of our country. “Your first task is to learn about Federal Indian policies,” a Navaho grandmother told us. Erin and I studied Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’ award-winning “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States,” a very readable book that will turn your head round right.

We were forced to confront (me at age 64! finally!) the truth that all of us whose ancestors came to this continent from Europe are “settler-colonialists.” That’s not what I was taught in public school, in the 50s and 60s.

All of my life I’ve worked on behalf of the natural world. Always, I’ve been drawn to this question:  Why is it so hard to protect non-human species and natural landscapes, when we love them so very much? From the moment our Europeans forebears set their sights on this continent, it was all about the theft of the land, the taking of resources, and the genocide of the indigenous nations. From the vantage of Standing Rock, I could see that the mindset we inherited and the policies that drive the destruction of Earth are visibly and unmistakably still at work.  But I also saw plain as day, how people can confront those ways of taking with love, prayer, and presence.

I was so lucky to share this experience with my niece, Erin Canter!

And, I was reminded that we have entered a time when we can no longer count on politicians or the government to protect our life-giving planet Earth. The new president and his Cabinet intend to sacrifice our climate, our public lands, women’s reproductive rights, civil rights, and affordable health care. Every single one of us needs to step up our game, our activism.  Like the tribes at Standing Rock, we can begin by viewing ourselves less as protestors and more as protectors.

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Help for Standing Rock

Dear Friends:  I write to share with you my request for personal protection during my trip to Standing Rock, tomorrow through Sunday, Dec. 5.   Perhaps that is the only way to have the people protecting the River, be protected themselves.
Why doesn’t our President Obama answer the cries of the people being so violated in North Dakota.
This is what I’ve written to Senator Bill Nelson, and Congresswoman Gwen Graham, both of whom I know and respect.  I hope you will make some calls on behalf of the people of Standing Rock.  Time is short….
 Dear Sen. Nelson and Rep. Graham:
I am writing to ask for your protection.  Tomorrow morning my 28-year old niece Erin Canter and I fly to North Dakota to support the Sioux Indians who are themselves, trying to protect the source of their drinking water, the Missouri River.
You know I have a track record of speaking for those without voices. 
It is an arduous journey, made all the more terrifying by the recent violence against the peaceable people on site.  And yet we feel we must add our voices, and our full commitment to this injustice. 
We hear that tensions are escalating, as the Army Corps of Engineers has set a deadline of Dec. 5 to close down the camps.  Several thousand veterans and a thousand clergy are coming to Standing Rock on Sunday to stand by the people.
We don’t understand why our President hasn’t moved on this issue.  Oh how we hope you will.
All best wishes and gratitude for all you do,
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Taking a Stand

Standing Rock, image from Huffington Post

Standing Rock, image from Huffington Post

Dear Friends and Family:

To support native rights, and on behalf of the rivers, I am going to Standing Rock, South Dakota for a week, with Erin Josephine Canter.

We will join with Deena Metzger and others. Deena writes: “in the past, when a people were gravely threatened, Chiefs, Medicine People, Healers, Shamans, and Elders, called Councils. …People gathered in times of crises; we are gathering now.”

We go because what is happening on the banks of the Missouri River and all along the pipeline path is a one-sided war. We go to witness. We go to protest. We go to work, however we are needed.

You can contribute, too. I am gathering several duffle bags of wool, or mohair, or alpaca sweaters to give to people there. Also, we can take gift cards from Lowes, or phone cards (Verizon, StraightTalk). Or check or cash.

Please check out protest actions happening tomorrow, all over the country, in solidarity with Stanisn Rock, at 350.org

thank you. Sue

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Mother of Exiles, Weeping

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Liberty Weeping, by Bob Richards

Today, every one of us is trying to figure out how to live with, or through, the results of last night’s election.

I am grateful for the wisdom and support of my family and my community in this dark time, as we grieve and regroup.

My parents raised me up with the greatest respect for our United States of America.  Above all I was taught that our land was a place of refuge for all in need of safety, mercy and protection.

The song that most moved me in our seventh grade chorus was excerpted from a poem by Emma Lazarus called “The New Colossus.”  The poem is below: you can find many sweet versions of the song on Youtube.

Closed golden door,  Atlantic City, 2013

Closed golden door, Atlantic City, 2013

I am so horrified that the mandate from this election is apparently a to close “the golden door,” on immigrants, the poor, disabled, the children, Native Americans, women, the Planet herself.

Our essential, impossible task is to remake America’s original vision. I believe our fatal mistake was the theft of this continent from the peoples who had lived here for thousands of years.  We must remake the vision of our country to make good on that terrible, and ongoing injustice.

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

 

 

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The Day of the Dead

imageOut on the beach, I found these two remembrances of lives gone by: a Gulf fritillary butterfly, short-stopped on its fall migration, and a fragment of very old pottery (most likely made of the red clay in my bioregion). Barnacles had built a home on what once had been an ancient pot.

I placed these beautiful remnants side by side, considering their messages of impermanence and beauty.

Today, in many spiritual traditions, we honor our ancestors, and perhaps we feel their presence more closely in our lives. I like to think of All Soul’s Day, or the Day of the Dead, as a time when our earnest prayers might be answered with an assisted lift from those who have gone before us.

This is also Samhain, a Celtic holiday that honors the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice, a day to mark the holiness of our turning seasons on this Earth, particularly as we move into the dark time of the year.

I’m praying today that we humans will find our way into harmonious relationship with all the beings of the planet, and within ourselves.  And especially, that we will find our way through the darkness in our politics.

Here’s an Emily Dickinson poem for you to consider.  Like the butterfly and the clay pottery, it speaks to me today, offering the comfort of the long view.

“Long Years apart — can make no
Breach a second cannot fill —
The absence of the Witch does not
Invalidate the spell —

The embers of a Thousand Years
Uncovered by the Hand
That fondled them when they were Fire
Will stir and understand —”

 

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Freeing Prisoners of the King (Tide)

King tide showed its muscle on the Hunter Moon.

King tide showed its muscle on the Hunter Moon.

Last weekend, a series of impressive king tides, swelled by the full moon, rose our Gulf waters a foot or more higher above normal. In south Florida, sea water ran deep in the streets.  But along our lightly populated coast, I noticed only submerged docks, from Lanark to Eastpoint.

On St. Vincent Island, the king tides carved two long swales and filled them with salt Gulf water.  The pool closer to the dunes was deeper, and had apparently entrapped an active school of splashing fish.  Or so I thought.

The king tide carved this swale in the sand, and then withdrew to normal levels.

The king tide carved this swale in the sand, and then withdrew to normal levels.

 

But five nights later, I walked along those same pools with my husband Jeff, and the evening angle of the sun revealed a dozen small stingrays thrashing in the upper pond.

Jeff pointed out the deep sculpting of the sand, how the unusually high waters had permanently stranded the pool and its inhabitants from the Gulf.

 

 

A sad cow-nosed ray

A sad ray

 

Each of these animals was about the diameter of a sun hat, and when we approached, they buried themselves in the sand.

Here’s a close up of one. You can see that if ever a sea creature felt worried and hopeless, this one certainly did.

 

 

Stingrays are so hard to see. Always shuffle your feet in shallow water!

Stingrays are so hard to see. Always shuffle your feet in shallow water!

 

And with good reason. The fate that awaited them in their dwindling pool was slow death by either starvation, heat stress, or desiccation. If you read my book Coming to Pass: Florida’s Coastal Islands in a Gulf of Change, then you might remember my fondness for stingrays (see page 67-68).

 

 

Jeff's two-netted rescue technique

 

We determined to rescue them the next morning.  Our friend Chris produced three long handled nets, and at daybreak we were off, skimming over the Pass in our powerboat to the front beach of the island.

 

 

 

Much as I love these rays, I didn't want to chance a barb in my fingers.

Much as I love these rays, I didn’t want to chance a barb in my fingers.

 

 

 

It isn’t often we are able to positively intervene in the fate of wild creatures, especially as more and more are affected by climate change and extreme weather events. What a privilege, then, to extend the lives of eleven beautiful animals!

 

 

Live long and prosper, little cow-nosed ray!

Live long and prosper, little ray!

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Shorebirds, and a Magical Mystery Tour

Our footpath, the birds’ flight path

I never expected to see a flock of shorebirds amongst the high peaks of Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness last week.

Golden eagles, yes. Elk and mule deer and marmots, yes. Single spotted sandpipers, sure.

But there they were, in a synchronous flock, spinning like snowflakes over glacial Dewey Lake, more than 9000 feet above sea level.

I don’t carry my excellent binoculars backpacking anymore. In my 60s, I aim to shoulder the lightest possible weight on our seven-day hikes (somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 pounds).

So I marked those creatures up to a mystery I wouldn’t solve, given the distance that separated us.

Here’s the best view we had (courtesy of Ian MacDonald)

 

The next day, as we descended more than 2000 feet and 8 miles along the staggeringly beautiful Twin Outlets, Duggan, Lake at Falls and Rainbow lakes, more flocks appeared.

Nine thousand feet, Rainbow Lake. Not the Gulf Coast staging areas I’m used to!

Red-necked phalarope in winter plumage, courtesy of tgreybirds.com

Red-necked phalarope in winter plumage, (courtesy of tgreybirds.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d never seen a phalarope before, let alone 100 at a time, but even from afar, I knew that’s what we were observing. Most likely, red-necked phalaropes.

The amazing global passage of red-necked phalaropes. Map courtesy of Natureserve.com

 

My shorebird references here at home tell me those flocks were migrating from Alaskan or Arctic breeding grounds to their wintering territories in South America.

As I watched the shorebirds spin and jab like small dervishes in the open waters of the mountain lakes, I was freshly astounded by the fact of long-distance migration. For tens of thousands of years, birds perfected routes and destinations to improve their options on planet Earth. But with human-induced climate change and development, many species are declining.

I probably won’t spot phalaropes on my coastal outings and counts here in North Florida in the months to come. But I hope the spectacle and the privilege of seeing those high-altitude shorebirds will fuel my activism.

Whether the migrants you see in your daily life are hummingbirds or swallow-tailed kites or phalaropes, now is a good time for you to strengthen your voice on behalf of these marvelous creatures. This week marks the hundred-year anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty signed between the United States and Great Britain on August 16, 1916. You can join the celebration of birds by participating in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s social media campaign https://www.fws.gov/birds/MBTreaty100/index.php

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Bears Win!

imageJune 23, 2016

Yesterday I spent 9 hours witnessing a public hearing held in Eastpoint, regarding a second hunt of Florida black bears.

While it was in many ways a very anxious day for me, I was absorbed and impressed with the speakers (I was Speaker # 66 and there were several dozen more behind me). I didn’t anticipate our collective courage and brilliance.

When I first made a pitch to this Commission, in 1984, regarding a nongame wildlife program for Florida, it was a very different place.  Almost everyone in the audience was a hunter; almost all were male.  If you were concerned about conservation of habitat, you largely avoided the FWC, and took your concerns instead to the DEP and the Department of Community Affairs (which was, you may remember, replaced by Governor Scott immediately after his first election, with the Department of Economic Opportunity).

So what a joy to wake up this morning and hear that the Commissioners had voted 4-3 in favor of postponing a hunt for 2016, AGAINST the recommendation of their own staff!

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Speakers of all ages addressed the FWC Commissioners.

Friends, don’t fail to advocate for what you think is important. We never know when our voice will help turn the tide.

What follows is the statement I delivered yesterday. I encourage you to look around the internet for others who spoke.  They were amazing.

 

 

 

June 22, 2016      Statement to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission

Good afternoon, Commissioners:

My name is Susan Cerulean. I live in Tallahassee and I am a conservation advocate and a writer. My first book was published when I was employed as a biologist with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission in 1994. That book, the Florida Wildlife Viewing Guide, sold more copies than any other state viewing guide. People in Florida love wildlife. The speakers you have heard today, even those who are pro-hunting bears, all express a love of seeing wildlife, and simply knowing it exists in our state, as well.  This we hold in common. I appreciated the inclusive prayer offered by Tom Champeau this morning. I speak to you now in that spirit.

Linda Hall, great community artist, bearing our pain.

Linda Hall helped create a ritual to bear our pain after the 2015 bear hunt. Bear Requiem held in Tallahassee.

Tom reminded us that all of our hearts are troubled by the senseless outbreaks of violence occurring in so many places in Florida, and all over our beautiful planet. In the same sense, I believe it is the violence and brutality of hunting bears that incites thegrief and fury of everyone who opposes it.  And it is unthinkable to those of us who are concerned about the immorality of sanctioned killing to realize that overwhelming public opposition and protest, along with science and data that refute the efficacy of recreational hunting in controlling human-bear conflict, was not enough to change the course of FWC’s 2015 hunt, and may well not stop a hunt in 2016 either.

I ask you to consider the question raised by your chief bear scientist Dr. Thomas Eason, in his presentation this morning:

How can we learn to live with bears, again?

I know Dr. Eason meant this in the longest possible timeframe.  He reminded us that prior to pre-Columbian invasion of this continent, every kind of native wildlife was abundant. Human pressures, both through habitat destruction and hunting nearly annihilated bears in Florida over the last few centuries.  Only recently have they rebounded.

I hope you will consider the largest possible perspective in your deliberations today, for that is your job as wildlife commissioners.

Mother and cub in coastal scrub. Photo by Jon Johnson

Mother and cub in coastal scrub. Photo by Jon Johnson

Bears and humans have lived together on this planet for hundreds of centuries. At times, humans have driven a great subspecies of bear to extinction.  Oftentimes, we have worshipped them.  Festivals and rituals honoring the bear have been widely distributed in virtually every country of Europe, Asia and the Americas.  “The flesh  and skin of the bear are not part of the ordinary needs of people,” wrote the cultural anthropologist Paul Shepard. “So the bear has been almost wholly symbolic in human ceremony and imagination…. When ritual evaporates or is forgotten, what remains appears to be brutish or savage.”

That is where we stand today, if you go forward with a second bear hunt.

Sanctioning the killing of black bears in Florida for sport and trophy is brutish and savage in the eyes and hearts of millions of Floridians.

Floridians believe not just sport hunting, but hunting as a response to concerns about bears becoming “nuisances” by foraging in open dumpsters and garbage cans, birdfeeders, and coolers, are cruel and brutal. The death of 325 bears and the agony of their cubs did not, in 2015, and is not, in the future, expected to reduce human-bear conflicts.

imageBy every measure—in public meetings, numbers of letters to the agency head and the governor, social media, and reliable public opinion polls—by newspaper editorials, by county resolution—in all the ways citizens speak to their government—they have made their wishes clear.

What your scientists are not—and perhaps cannot—address in their recommendations to you, besides that bears are a vital native species of great ecological concern, is that these magnificent creatures are sentient beings with a purpose for being here on Earth. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.

I ask you, Commissioners, to consider the language you are hearing today from people who have travelled from all over the state. From your scientists, and their colleague from Maine, and their blue ribbon panel, we hear words that distance and measure, such as:

Harvest. Sustainable populations. Bear management units. Maximum yield. Scientific necessity.

Hunt opponents choose different words:

Kindness. Suffering. Lactating mothers and their cubs. Compassion. Co-existence. Ethical relationships.

If you vote in favor of a 2016 hunt, all over the world, people once again—rightfully–view Florida politics and the bear management program in particular, as gravely off course. Not because of your science—but because of the inherently violent nature of hunting Florida black bears.

Photo by Jon Johnson

Photo by Jon Johnson

I ask you to choose Option 4: No more bear hunting ever again in Florida.

 

 

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