by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
Trapping Conservation Argument Again Shown to Be a Myth
(Photograph by Eckart Dege)
The CBC’s flagship news program, “The National,” featured a story a week or two ago about Innu in Labrador voting on whether to accept a massive, multibillion-dollar engineering effort at a place called Muskrat Falls, Labrador. There was an Innu woman, posed against the magnificent but doomed scenery of her ancestral home, tearfully explaining how Muskrat Falls was so integral to her personal life and that of her people, part of the source of their survival through a long history of habitation.
“They’ll take the money and the heck with the environment,” I said to Emilio, who was sitting on my chest at the time. Emilio, I should explain, is a cockatiel I am fostering and the only witness to my prophecy.
Sure enough, a few days later the Innu agreed that the “New Dawn” agreement, as it is poetically named, will proceed. The falls will be submerged, the landscape drowned. Electricity will be generated. The Innu will have “priority for employment and business opportunities associated with the development,” according to the media. Oh, and I might mention that the pot was further sweetened by $2 million given annually “in compensation for flooding caused by the construction of the Churchill Falls hydroelectric dam 40 years ago,” again according to a media report.
Northern Quebec and Labrador are endowed with a breathtakingly beautiful landscape of primeval, weathered mountains, Precambrian outcrops of rock that were ancient long before dinosaurs lumbered onto the landscape, and wide, deep rivers flowing with fierce freedom through rugged boreal forests and roadless muskeg barrens. It is the land of the wolf, the bear, the caribou and the eagle. The Innu were here centuries before the Vikings arrived more than a thousand years ago, putting a tentative toehold on the North American continent, and then withdrawing, leaving the Basque fishermen the only Europeans aware of the continent until finally Columbus arrived near the end of the 15th century, instigating rapid and continuing change across the land, fuelled by seemingly endless raw resources and the wealth they could generate.
The fur industry, the hunting industry and many on the political far right claim that it is the monetary value of the animals that they kill that provides the incentive to protect habitat. Here in Canada, where there is much guilt over the ill treatment of native people, it is commonplace for the fur industry to try to paint the anti-fur, animal protection advocates as being indifferent to need of people “close to the land” to be able to materially benefit from such endeavours as trapping and hunting if the land, itself, is to be protected.
It doesn’t work. When the motive to protect something is solely monetary, it is trumped whenever there is more money to be made in its destruction. There will always be those of us who, like the lady who cried for the TV cameras as Muskrat Falls roared in its soon-to-be-obliterated magnificence behind her, value wilderness its own sake, but we rarely can compete with simple, basic greed, a universal trait exclusive to our species.
Make no mistake; the electricity generated will benefit many of us as we, too, take the less-expensive paths and moan about taxes and energy costs, but let’s not pretend that in some way trapping and hunting serve to hedge against our destruction of the natural world, or that in some fashion those who are “close to the land” have values mere urbanites can never share.