I wish my family was getting ready to go elk hunting. I wish we were shopping for supplies, setting up our camp along the Coweeman River, and maybe even doing some scouting on the weekends.
Instead, my dad, my uncle, my brother and the rest of our hunting party are boycotting our Department of Fish and Wildlife and Weyerhaeuser for the fourth consecutive year.
It all began when a pitifully unsuccessful black powder rifle season prompted my family to start attending meetings and asking tough questions about why there were so few healthy elk. What we learned about elk hoof disease was sad, but what we’ve learned about the collusion between certain government agencies and the timber and chemical industries has been truly disturbing.
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This past April marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Rachel Carson. And while I certainly bemoan her absence and miss her Silent Spring voice, I mourn more for the fact that her life’s work and sacrifice on our behalf has apparently taught many of us little or nothing. Exhibit “A” in this thesis is the list of herbicides contained in a 2012 private forestry spraying application for a 3,416 acre unit near the Willapa Headwaters in southwestern Washington (thank you, Jon Gosch).
Rachel’s story is a powerful one and too often repeated. Here’s how it goes: A systems thinker (in her case a marine biologist) noticing trends and problems in the natural world compiles evidence that establishes correlative links between a chemical or chemicals and a natural or human health issue and then brings it to the public’s attention. These are not “proofs” in the traditional scientific sense but rather concrete rationales for further investigation—in short these are the building blocks of testable hypotheses.
But once these building blocks form and become known, a storm of industry-led criticism always follows. We know the pattern: Credentials and motivations are questioned; industry scientists rush in to defend the safety of products; new brochures addressing criticisms are prepared; and those offering the hypotheses are quickly and roughly kicked to curb for being un-American, job-killers, communists or worse. In all of this we have to really wonder where the sin lies in raising legitimate and justifiable concerns. And when exactly did poisoning our wildlife and future generations become an American value?
My family has hunted the forests of southwest Washington for more than sixty years and never before have they observed such a scarcity of wildlife. Twenty years ago my dad and uncle remember seeing two or three big elk herds a day. Now we’re lucky to see two or three individuals a day. Depressingly, this past fall marked the first time in three decades that our entire hunting party failed to harvest a single elk from the Coweeman unit. I later learned that the Coweeman elk population has dropped by seventy percent in recent years.
Something is afoot in our local forests, and I’m convinced that the epidemic of hoof disease currently ravaging the elk population surrounding Mount St. Helens is only the alarm. Everyone in my hunting party now believes that the herbicides Weyerhaeuser and other private timber companies are spraying on new growth habitats is one of the chief causes of our wildlife shortage which includes deer, grouse and just about every other animal out there. After several years of diminishing returns, I (like many others) have been on a path of inquiry to understand just what is happening in our forests, and so far the insights have been disturbing.