Clark Hollow Ramblings: For the love of nature

The piping plover. | Rappahannock News
The piping plover.

The term “tree hugger” has taken on a negative aspect that I don’t entirely agree with. Anyone who knows me well is aware of my love of the mountains and streams and wild things. As for trees, themselves, I burn some firewood, but it has been a long time since I cut down a living tree. The firewood I use comes mostly from downed trees or, better yet, standing dead trees.

I don’t attempt to justify the fact that I hunt and fish to those who don’t agree with those activities. My belief puts man and the role he plays as a significant factor in the natural universe. Of course, there have to be some rules and regulations. All men are not the same.

If tree hugger has come to mean those on the extreme fringe of protecting every living thing, from elephants to fungi, I still have no problem with that. Their ideas and their zeal may well be needed to offset those on the other extreme fringe who would plunder the natural world for monetary or political gain. It takes all kinds.

Now, let us turn to my recent trip to the barrier islands of Assateague and Chincoteague, lying on that tiny piece of Virginia on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay. There is a long stretch of Assateague Island called the “over sand area.” If you have the right type of vehicle, and obey some fairly stringent rules, and buy a pass for about $100, they will let you drive your vehicle over this area. There are no amenities and no lifeguards. You are on your own. And, if you get stuck, it is probably going to cost you a hefty towing bill.

But, it is marvelous. It is not crowded. You are there with other intrepid explorers, and you just love it. Your kids can run and play, and you can fish and sun bathe (with your swimsuit on, please) and build sand castles and, within limits, of course, do just about what you please.

What does this have to do with tree huggers? The island is patrolled by national park rangers. But, it is under the domain of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and their biologists and federally employed protectors of everything natural.

A few days before we arrived for our surf fishing adventure, at the point where you enter the over sand area on Assateague Island, one piping plover had built a nest in the sand. The good folks from USFWS had put a fence around it. You couldn’t get to it if you wanted to. Let’s just say the over sand area is two miles long. I’m not sure exactly what the distance is, but it is significant. The authorities that control such things closed the entire length of the over sand area because of this one bird that decided to build his nest in the sand.

The town of Chincoteague takes in approximately $10 million each year from visitors to their little town. Motels, restaurants, seafood sellers, bike renters, pizza makers, fishing tackle and bait purveyors, and many other people make their living from those of us who visit to enjoy the natural world.

Chincoteague is not a multibillion dollar nuclear power plant, shut down because of one 2-inch stickle back minnow found in a muddy creek. It is a living, thriving town, with good, hardworking people who depend on the visitor’s dollar to keep food in the pot and gas in the pickup truck. And, yet, one piping plover puts all this at risk.

My mother used to say, “All things in moderation, son. Even too much of a good thing, is still too much.”

I love the natural world. The piping plover exists from the central Canadian provinces to the Great Lakes to Nova Scotia and up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States. Yes, their population is declining, but they are far from alone in that distinction when it comes to creatures of the natural world. There are thousands of them at the shore.

I am trying hard not to beat up on the good-intentioned biologists of USFWS. But all discussions and debates, worthy of the name, have two viewpoints. You and I can decide for ourselves what the correct answer is, if there is one. But the question soon becomes, when we go too far, even in the right direction, are we still lost?

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