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Live Encounters Magazine July 2023
Our Shared Earth by Suzanne Asha Stone.
Not only human parents love their children. Many animals also share deep bonds with their young. Among the most extraordinary is the protective bond of wolf moms and dads to their pups. Wolf parents will risk their own lives to protect their young from harm. Their young are only born in the springtime, just as bison and elk are birthing their calves and deer their fawns.
It is the way of Nature that the youngsters are born when they have time to mature over the summer, so they are large and strong enough to survive the following winter. It is also the way of Nature that the wild herds produce more young than the land can sustain making it easier for wolves to care for their young when food is abundant. As the strongest and fittest survive, they pass on their genes and strengthen the overall long-term health of the herds. And it is the wolf’s role to cull the weak, diseased, injured, and some of the young from the herds. This complex ancient ritual of Spring is deeply woven into the instincts of the wild ones.
Today, our planet is undergoing a dramatic loss of wild flora and fauna. We are losing species at a faster rate than any other time since humans have walked the earth. And as we study the impacts of losing biodiversity, we are beginning to understand the critical value of wolves, bears, pumas, and other predators.
As many indigenous people have known all along, the wolves’ instinctual culling of their prey helps keep both their prey and the habitat around them healthy. Specifically, as wolves test their herds looking for the most vulnerable, they are also moving elk, deer, and bison across their habitat, which prevents them from overgrazing and destroying essential grasses, bushes, and trees. In turn, the plants provide essential habitat for beavers, songbirds, native fish and even help protect the rivers from erosion. It is a check and balance system that has helped sustain these ecosystems over millennia.
Every species has a unique role in Nature to fill that we may not yet even begin to understand. For example, there is still a deep misunderstanding of wolves. To some, they only see a dead elk or deer as fewer to hunt and eat themselves; a lost sheep or cow as something stolen from them personally. They believe that Nature must be managed by humans, or she will “run wild,” which to them is unfathomable. In their world, the wolf is seen as a threat that must be controlled or destroyed. To do otherwise, would be to embrace a position lower on the hierarchical ladder challenging their core beliefs of the authority of Man over Nature.
Simply put, wolves are a threat to their right to control Nature. And this belief that controlling Nature gives them control of the world around them helps them maintain a façade that (hu)mans are the center of the universe. It allows them to justify killing wolf pups in dens before their eyes have even opened. To those who love wolves, these trappers and hunters are the actions of monsters. Akin to the monster who throws a box of kittens in a dumpster or starves their horse behind a barbed wire fence while the barn is full of hay.
Confronting the Monster. Not that one. The One in the Mirror
Let us take an introspective journey. While the wolf pup, kittens, horse, and other animals are victims of appalling individual abuse that prompts us to donate to NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) to restore animal protection and to speak on their behalf, it is time for us to admit that this action is not enough. Proactive steps must be taken by all of us. Collectively, through complacency and passive behaviors, we as humans are abusing our earth in ways that has the same monstrous result – harm, pain, suffering, and death – for those vulnerable beings that share our planet.
And we are all complicit. In truth, we too are monsters.
Today, more than one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction—the highest number ever in human history. In just the last few hundred years, as our population has grown to 8 billion people, we have collectively remade the planet in our own image. 96% of the mammalian biomass on earth is made up of humans and our domestic livestock (food). Only 4% of this biomass remaining is comprised of wild mammals, and we are losing more every day to habitat destruction and climate alteration, overhunting and poaching, and toxins in the soil, water, and air.
Worldwide, insect populations are rapidly declining by 1 – 2% per year due to harmful agricultural practices, climate change, light pollution, deforestation, use of pesticides, pollution, and invasive species. These alarming losses need urgent solutions as insects are essential to life on earth including human and wildlife food supplies. (Image)
In North America alone, we have lost 3 billion birds from our wildlife populations since the 1970s. Many for the same reasons that insects are in such sharp decline. Globally, we have lost two thirds of our wildlife in the last 50 years. And while humans represent only .01 of all species on earth, we are responsible for the loss of more than 83% of all wild mammals on earth.
Gaining the World’s Attention
A growing number of scientists, community leaders, and activists now understand that the biodiversity and climate crisis is one major event, threatening all life on earth, and they are desperately trying to gain our attention. It is like all being on a train together and with a few alert passengers who can see there is a bridge out ahead but cannot find a way to break through the cell phones, headphones, political tug of wars, privileged apathy, poverty, viral social media, and other hurdles to get the world’s attention before it’s too late and we all fall into that abyss together. And they are not the first to see this coming. Indigenous people have been warning us all along about the consequences of choosing not to live in right relations with the Earth.
While less than 5% of the world’s population, indigenous people protect 80% of global biodiversity and many are risking and some losing their own lives to stand against destruction of rainforests, butterfly habitat, protection of rivers, and more.
Why are we not listening?
Collectively, we can change tracks. And it is our only logical choice: a healthy planet provides sustainable food, shelter, clothing, and temperatures that support all life. But our old broken systems will not solve these problems. They are the reason that the bridge failed in the first place. We need new sustainable systems not only for humanity’s way of life but also for protecting our planet’s precious biodiversity.
These systems must be nature-based solutions that allow humanity to work with Nature instead of working against her. And, as communities embrace the concepts of re-wilding and restoring native ecosystems, learning how to coexist with nature will be the key to avoiding the mistakes of our past and healing our future. In working with Nature instead of against her, we benefit in so many ways from clean water and safe food supplies to resilient ecosystems that support both local wildlife and local communities. It is a win for biodiversity and for generations to come.
The 16 students who are fighting the State of Montana in court over climate impacts are symbolic of the youth around the world raising awareness and demanding change. They are not telling us how to fix the problems, that is our responsibility, but they are rightfully demanding that those of us from prior generations help them before they inherit a mess so broken that it cannot be fixed. They can see that the bridge is out and their shared fate of enduring avoidable suffering, epic droughts and flooding, and loss of food and shelter for billions is on their direct path. As adults, we need to support and empower them and elevate their voices.
What can we all do? Some suggestions from people around the world:
Grow a pollinator plant or a whole garden
– Avoid driving in wildlife habitat at night when possible – Slow down when driving in wildlife habitat – Ride a bike for local travel – Adopt or have fewer or no kids – Reduce or avoid using chemicals like pesticides and toxic fertilizers – Buy organic produce or grow your own – Help build or care for a community garden – Purchase clothing and items made of natural and sustainable materials and avoid microplastics
– Turn off or reduce use of outdoor lights at night – Eat less or no red meat, especially sourced from suppliers who buy their meat from producers who kill wolves, bears, coyotes on public lands instead of protecting livestock using nonlethal coexistence methods – Replace your grass lawn with micro clover or other pollinator friendly ground cover – Reduce, reuse, recycle, and restore – Avoid supporting harmful industries in your investments – Spend time in Nature, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day looking at the sky – and more. Add your suggestions to the comments.
You can also Take the Citizen of the Earth Pledge or write your own!
Like the wolf that is so deeply committed to protecting its young, we are the guardians of all youth in our respective communities. The choices we make today will not impact us as deeply as they affect the youth who follow us. We owe it to them to help them build a better world than the one we have made. This is our opportunity to restore our right relations with the Earth and create a richly and sustainably abundant new world. Why would we accept anything less?
“The eyes of the future are looking back at us, and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.”
― Terry Tempest Williams
© Suzanne Asha Stone
Suzanne Asha Stone, Executive Director The International Wildlife Coexistence Network
The International Wildlife Coexistence Network is an inclusive organization of experts in methods and strategies to transform conflicts between people and wildlife into long-term solutions. We mobilize interdisciplinary teams through crowdsourcing to create innovative solutions to chronic or “wicked” problems between people and wildlife. And we work with the community to ensure that these solutions create lasting benefits to both the natural world and the people who live with wildlife. We share our resources and provide widespread support for all who seek to peacefully resolve conflicts with wildlife. Our interdisciplinary teams include scientists, agricultural managers, researchers, ethicists, economists, government specialists, educators, indigenous leaders, technical engineers and more who are helping to create new and sustainable ways to live with wildlife. When possible, we connect our experts with communities that need help transforming wildlife conflicts into non-violent sustainable solutions.