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OUTDOORS COLUMN: Some folks just don’t get it

Herald Outdoors Columnist

Herald Outdoors Columnist

In the North Georgia mountains, near Helen, there’s a popular public campground on Low Gap Creek. I passed through there one day and encountered a conservation officer who asked to see my fishing license and the contents of my creel. The warden was a friendly sort and we made cordial conversation.

As we parted company, the officer met another man, a camper, who opened another, not-so-friendly line of communication. The man was incensed. I eavesdropped.

“When are y’all gonna do somethin’ about these !@#%! bears?” the man indignantly asked. “They bothered us all last night and the night before. One demolished my ice chest and scared my wife half to death. The fella in the campsite next to mine woke up and found his garbage scattered all over. I swear it’s got to where you can’t even come up here without a bear ruining your trip. If y’all don’t do somethin’, folks are gonna quit comin’.”

The DNR officer held his tongue until the rant ended. His eventual reply was matter of fact.

“Friend,” he said, “the bears live here. You’re a visitor. Could it be you’re blaming them for a situation you’ve created? You, sir, can read the regulations concerning proper food and garbage storage in bear country. Did someone neglect to tell you the bears can’t?”

You go, Mr. Warden! If he hadn’t been on duty, I’d have bought him a drink.

Sometimes we just don’t get it, do we? It’s all about us.

Homo sapiens is a strange and vexing creature. Why, I wonder, does it seldom occur to us that the earth is not our personal playground, and the flora and fauna with which we share it are not mere nuisances? Why are wildlife and wild places things to be enjoyed only on our own terms without regard for anything’s welfare save our own? Be it a black bear in North Georgia or maybe a gray squirrel in our own backyard, it seems we grant it the right to exist only when its existence does not interfere with our own agenda. Perhaps we’ve lost our understanding of the Biblical, “…..and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

“Dominion.” There’s the kicker. How easy and convenient to take it literally.

Religious adherence to the King James Version notwithstanding, dominion is stewardship, folks, not wholesale domination. Far too many of us prefer our own modern translation of, “Love it, respect it, and wisely manage it until it has the audacity to get in the way.”

Sadly, it’s not just the average Joes who misunderstand. The same attitude permeates the minds of the “brightest and best.” I’m reminded of an incident several years ago involving then-Vice President Dick Cheney and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. It made reasonably big news at the time.

Cheney and Scalia took a highly publicized trip to Louisiana for some R&R and a little duck hunting. Okay, fine. Sporting buddies do that. It’s a good thing. The outing, of course, spawned liberal outcry and controversy, including conflict-of-interest accusations and cries of political impropriety. That’s fine, too. Political sniping and in-fighting causes me little concern. I could not then nor do I now care less what nasty names Democrats and Republicans call each other.

I did care, though (and the memory still festers) that Scalia said the only problem with the trip was, “The duck hunting was lousy. Our host said that in 35 years of duck hunting on this lease, he had never seen so few ducks.”

My, oh my. I wonder if he recalled at the time the 2001 Supreme Court decision declaring that Clean Water Act protections do not extend to so-called isolated wetlands solely for the purpose of protecting migratory birds, such as ducks. Scalia was in the 5-4 majority. On the heels of that, the Bush administration quickly sought to relax Clean Water Act safeguards to benefit developers, the oil industry, and other polluters.

Old history? Sure, but that’s the point. The ecological travesties continue and they ruffle nairy a feather. Except those of the ducks, who have the unmitigated gall to decline in number and make the hunting “lousy.”

Years later, folks still just don’t get it. Even the “smart” ones.