This week I was asked to write about an international animal law issue and wanted to focus on biodiversity, conservation law and health so I went for a walk to organize my thoughts and saw neighbor Travis under the bridge…
“It all turns on affection…” ~ Wendell Berry
In 2012 Wendell Berry gave the Jefferson Lecture to the National Endowment of the Humanities, and shared (in part) the following:
“I will say, from my own belief and experience, that imagination thrives on contact, on tangible connection. For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place.”
In my own ethos, conservation is a commitment and appreciation for the opportunity and responsibility of being connected to place. Defined, it’s a human-centric concept, requiring consideration of the spectrum of the human journey, access (as the foundation of equity and equality), and a true functional literacy that binds the connection.
Walking along Lake Creek
Behind my home is a spring-fed creek that is really no more than a “trickling ditch” that gets much of its water from runoff from homes in the neighborhood. The creek was “improved” by the Corps of Engineers years ago, meaning it was scraped to bare limestone and walls were added, with only a small, carved path for water to flow. Over time, for reasons both natural and due to effluent and intentional discarding of “things” (living and non-living), life has found its way into that creek, there are small soil and wetland-ish areas here and there, and the county liked it enough to add a hike-and-bike trail called Lake Creek Trail that my family and I walk daily. The trail has become a great mobility-friendly spot for birding, but I’ve wondered how fish found their way back there after the “improvements” years ago.
Texas is having a brutal, hot, and dry summer, and the question of the fish and their health has become more pronounced this summer as I’ve seen some who live in the evolved wetland areas become trapped in pools that shrunk to puddles before drying up completely.
One of the courses I designed and/or teach at Concordia University Texas is the Environmental Health course in the Masters of Public Health program (note: I actually co-teach this one with Dr. Sam Whitehead). The MPH program is designed through the lens of One Health, which is “an approach that recognizes that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment.”
In other words, with people on the move, changing land-use and energy consumption (including caloric) patterns, and climate, diseases affecting humans have the potential to spread quickly. If we approach things from a molecular, zoonotic lens, we are better prepared to guard against risks associated with vector-borne illnesses, contaminated drinking water, rabies, and diseased animals that might wind up on the butcher’s block in our local grocery store (amongst others).
As with most of the courses I design, there is a heavy emphasis on developing a sense of place. Instead of a final, these graduate students create a project that addresses a problem in their own neighborhood through the One Health lens. That baseline health measurement of a place they “know” and for which have a sense of affection provides a point of reference and anchor, making it easier to scale larger/global issues considered throughout the course.
About a mile into the walk, I realized One Health was driving my want to write about international animal law through the lens of conservation law and health this week. I finally had a plan, then I remembered Travis…
Nextdoor Neighbors: Travis’ affection
I signed up for a weekly email update from the nextdoor app (note: daily is “TMI”) to keep up with any major news in the neighborhood, and saw a post from “Travis” earlier this week:
Travis actually lives two doors down from me (he’s a mechanic) and when I was out for my daily 5-mile walk yesterday, I saw Travis in the creek with two buckets full of aquatic animals (not just fish) he was moving to one of the deeper spots in the creek immediately under the bridge as I was crossing over the top — he was relocating these animals to protect them from being stranded in a dried up pool along the creek. I also saw two snakes scatter as he approached — they were congregating at the place that had become a bountiful place for hunting because of Travis’ affection.
Travis told me of some of the Texas-native fish he’s collected and relocated, but the list of non-native aquatic animals he had relocated was astounding. Over time, folks have dumped/discarded these animals into the creeks, creating sustained populations in some cases (note: Travis’ post on Nextdoor was actually to chew folks out for the practice.) Collectively, in what is somewhat of a closed system of marginal wilderness, there’s an ecosystem competing for resources for their own survival and success. To succeed, a couple of individuals in the species will find a way outcompete or adapt, the classic ecological struggle.
If I take myself out of the story, I’m not sure if it’s more like Travis is King Moonracer on the Island of Misfit Toys or if my backyard is the next version of the Galapagos Islands. Travis seems like a good “dude,” but my own human-ness wants to believe the latter — I mean, those iguanas only swim because they (probably) floated out to the islands in a storm and didn’t have anything else to eat once they got there. Something has to jump the wall, right?
System Thinking: International Law, Conservation Law and Health
As I walked and reflected further on international law, I realized the gaps in the law were partly because we do not focus on a systems-based approach to conservation as a foundation for human health and it led me back to one of the questions at the heart of Wild in a Minute: do humans have capacity for affection and literacy that translates into the ability to develop a network of laws that holistically value wildness and biodiversity as foundations of conservation law and health?
I don’t know the answer.
Conservation law and health comparison: Lake Creek vs. Galapagos
To finish the exercise, I pulled some photos from animals I have seen during my walks on Lake Creek Trail and some of what might be considered “cousin” species that I took while in Galapagos last fall. The photos on the top row are of Lake Creek Trail wildness, and the photos on the bottom are of species somewhat closely related to those directly above them taken in Galapagos.
Which photos look wilder?
Which system looks healthier?
What actually belongs where?
I have affection for both places, and outside of this really rough summer, both systems seem healthy, competitive, and able to adapt to survive and succeed. And, I’m not sure if anything actually looks out of place — other than perhaps me.
Have a great week.