|Tony Angell working on model of "Redhawk"*|
A song echoes in my mind these days as I read the news about the condition of our natural environments here in the Pacific Northwest. Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi includes the refrain, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? Pave paradise, put up a parking lot."
We continuously read about the dire conditions of our regional fisheries and the resulting effects on populations of marine life, from orcas to marine birds, which depend upon them as a source of sustenance. The pace of timber cutting is far faster than the efforts to restore and sustain our forests. With the loss of our woodlands, specific species face extinction and the biological diversity within them is compromised. The services these natural systems give us, such as providing sustained food sources, reducing our carbon burden, retaining and purifying our water supplies or moderating our weather conditions, are also lost.
My long-standing concerns for our environment here in the Pacific Northwest span more than half a century. Much of what is being said today by way of concern has been said years ago. It's clear to me we continue to expect a lot from the Puget Sound and Salish Sea but give relatively little back. It is arrogant greed when we take for granted that this region is ours to use and consume without investment, reservation and stewardship. It is ignorance when we do not inform ourselves of the consequences of unbridled consumption, disposal of wastes and land use policies that remove and jeopardize the integrity of ecosystems.
I recognize and applaud the outstanding environmental organizations that are seeking to do habitat preservation and education, but the pace of their actions seems insufficient to win the race to recover and sustain our region. But organizations can't do the job that individuals must apply themselves to.
It is a subject unto itself that our reliance on technology is detaching us from our natural environments. In part we are allowing ourselves to be enveloped by iPads, computers and games that cut us off from genuinely embracing nature where we can apply the full range of our senses and learn lessons essential for a healthy future. And it is not enough to simply walk through nature. We need to touch, smell, see, hear, taste and move with nature to begin to understand and appreciate our place in it. A machine will not be the salvation of the Salish Sea and Puget Sound. The job will be done by willing minds and hands working in company armed with knowledge and wisdom gained from experience with the earth and waters of our region.
In the early l980s, when Ken Balcomb and I wrote our book, Marine Birds and Mammals of Puget Sound, we took the pulse of the region and noted the conditions and populations of the species that provide the character of where we live. With few exceptions those populations of birds and mammals, along with their habitats, have dramatically diminished. Yes, with legal protections, eagles, snow geese and harbor seals have done well as measured by their increased numbers. Hundreds of other species have not and given the tide of toxins we know resides within the populations of marine birds and mammals, some of these will decline as well.
In cherishing this place we call home, take a minute to consider what you might do to preserve it. If we remain on the sidelines and don't collectively do something, then the meaning of Mitchell's song will sadly be realized. Next time you look around from some familiar spot, it will be true that "you don't know what you've got till it's gone."
* Tony Angell working on model of "Redhawk," for Seattle University. Titled "Aspirations," the piece was cast in bronze and will be installed and dedicated this spring. (Photo courtesy Tony Angell)
Artist, author and environmental educator Tony Angell lives and works in Seattle and on Lopez Island.