'E' is for Extinction

"Can you live without a willow tree? Well, no, you can't. The willow tree is you."

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

by Robert Nanninga
distinctly remember my first encounter with the concept of Extinction. It came in the form of a Slurpee cup. I was 10 years old, and to commemorate the passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 7-Eleven issued a series of collector cups featuring animals threatened with extinction. I had stacks of those plastic cups in my bedroom closet. No one was allowed to drink from them. I wanted them to last forever, because, according to the cups, the animals they represented would not.
I am sad to say, those early reminders of mans assault on the natural world have long since found their way to a landfill, and it seems the legislation that inspired them may soon join them. Currently, there is a group of men and women in the halls of Congress dedicated to the idea that we can live without willows, spotted owls and California grey whales. These folks see no reason to protect the environment. One member of the Anti-Environment movement is Sonny Bono - need I say more? Here is a man who made a living trashing his wife and now, thanks to voters in the Palm Springs area, he is free to trash the Endangered Species Act.
The Act was designed to protect and preserve species at the edge of extinction and those plants and animals not faring well under the onslaught of human greed and indifference. The legislation was meant to restrain mankind's wholesale pillaging of the natural world by curbing his destructive tendencies. It seems we've missed the mark. Consider it a line drawn in the sand. But, like any line drawn near the tide of something as relentless as corporate America, it is easily washed away.
The Ark analogy is often used when discussing the Endangered Species Act. This "Ark" however, like any other government endeavor, cares more about protocol than its' intended mission. With a waiting list a mile long, and bureaucratic red tape just as daunting, most of these animals will never make it on board. While those of us who see the need for a whole fleet of Arks are working to hold back the flood waters, there are those who see the one we already have as too large to co-exist with their pleasure craft, trying to sink it at every turn, and, in the process, dismantling it piece by piece.
In the Pacific Northwest, the logging industry has set its sights on the spotted owl and various species of salmon. By removing these animals from the endangered species list, if not the planet, they believe they will once again have carte blanche in America's forests. These people can't see anything but short-term profit. Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) has said that she can't take the plight of salmon seriously as long as she can still buy canned salmon from a supermarket shelf.
In the Midwest, an on-going catch-22 of profitability is claiming an increasing amount of wetlands for the production of government-subsidized surplus crops. As these wetlands disappear, so do the migratory birds who have stopped at these watering holes for millennia. Without the Endangered Species Act, the majestic Sand Hill crane would have perished a decade ago. Other threatened species are the once populous prairie dog, wolves and bison. If development of the prairies continue apace, the only place you will be able to find wild turkey will be your corner liquor store.
The East Coast was once home to the 5 billion passenger pigeons. It was said to take ten to twelve hours for a flock of the birds to pass overhead, literally blocking out the sun. Due to habitat destruction, poisoning and hunting, the last of this species left this planet in 1914. The North Carolina parakeet is gone; so, too, the sea mink and the Atlantic grey whale. The Florida Everglades is an ecosystem endangered in its entirety. Threatened by agricultural run-off, over-development and the introduction of nonnative species, this unique habitat and the creatures that call it home may be lost forever. Because of the Endangered Species Act, the American alligator - nearly hunted into extinction - is now being removed from the list in some areas. In the not-so-lucky department, the 12 remaining Florida panthers are not expected to see the next century. This big cat has been left with no choice, no voice, and no place to run.
Here in Southern California, habitat destruction has created a whole list of poster children. The California gnatcatcher, the least tern and the snowy plover are all victims of the development industry. These birds have been deemed expendable in the race to pave the "Golden State." For those of you who haven't noticed, manifest destiny now means panning for strip malls and subdivisions, not gold. Although California condor numbers are improving, they are far from robust. Let's remember: they were down to one wild breeding pair. If it wasn't for the Endangered Species Act and the wonderful people at the San Diego and Los Angeles Zoos, they would be history.
The only subspecies we should let become extinct are those close-minded, short-sighted politicians who feel the next election is all that matters. It is time that we stop electing corporate puppets and start empowering stewards committed to a healthy and diverse planet. Compassion, tolerance and knowledge should get your vote, not empty promises of financial gain. Greed has gotten us into this mess, and only self sacrifice will get us out.
Here's to the day when we don't need to market environmental awareness on a t-shirt or a Slurpee cup. But until that day comes, my cup will carry the image of the most endangered species of all ... HOMO SAPIENS.

Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer, actor, vegan and active member of the Green and environmental community.