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Should we be shooting the deer at Blue Hills Reservation or not? I find myself of two minds — I stopped eating red meat some years ago after I read a piece by E.O. Wilson arguing that the great tragedy of the earth was to be dominated by a species that eats so high off the food chain. So I’m not super turned-on by consuming other mammals.
But I still grill hormone-inflated breasts of beakless chickens, and claim no moral high ground over hunters. In fact, there’s arguably more integrity to tracking and killing what you eat than to distancing yourself — as I do — with Styrofoam and plastic wrap.
Of course, there’s more to the issue than hunting or not. Bluntly put, the not-so-subliminal question is whether or not deer have become pests. That they eat our gardens and carry Lyme disease seems to tip the balance toward yes.
When deer are cheeky enough to proliferate ... we’re ready to grab our guns, or, more genteelly, dial 'pest control' and pay them to grab theirs.
In truth, for most of us, the distance between a pest and a beloved endangered species is narrower than a rat’s tail. When we pay guides to lead us to remote places and a glimpse of the few tigers that have survived us (to date), we ooh and ah. When deer are cheeky enough to proliferate, or geese poop all over our windshields, or porcupines use their sharp teeth to gird our expensive fruit trees, we’re ready to grab our guns, or, more genteelly, dial “pest control” and pay them to grab theirs.
I have no illusions about my ability to get along in situations where wild creatures abound, much less where they hold the upper hand. Faced with life in the howling wilds of colonial America, forget wolves, the mosquitoes alone would have driven me stark raving mad. And let’s just say I have preferred not to know what happened to the family of red squirrels who spent several winters gnawing through all the wiring in the walls of our Maine island home. But I think it might have to do with certain conversations I had.
Nor, from what I can tell, am I alone. Other species are attractive to most of us only when they do not get in our way. Oh yes, we’ll go gaga over them when they’re young, cute, non-threatening or house broken. And we’re indifferent as long as they’re clever enough to lie low.
But the bottom line is we have a long-established, unattractive habit of seeing all the rest of nature either as commodities in the making, or as possessing a right to live only at our sufferance.
The more I reflect on the deer argument the more I realize that we are still somewhere back before the Magna Carta in working out animal rights. We have a lot of thinking to do, and we need to get on it. I know from my research on the Gulf of Maine fisheries that we declare our finned friends ready to “harvest” as soon as they are out of the most immediate danger — even though their numbers may not be 5 percent of what they were when the first Europeans baited their hooks.
If we were where we need to get, we would have a well-thought-out, clear system of ethics about living with our fellow creatures...
It’s past time to raise these bars, so that species can flourish on their own terms apart from our impulses. Less suburban sprawl, more dense cities and protected wild places seems like a no-brainer. (If we only lived in a society where there was any such thing as a no-brainer.) And we have to learn to share. More than that, we (that would be me) have to face that a healthy world will at times be an inconvenient one for us.
You might say that the important lesson of the Blue Hills conflict is that it should never have occurred. If we were where we need to get, we would have a well-thought-out, clear system of ethics about living with our fellow creatures, one that would guide us in our decision making in more enlightened, fairer ways. In such a framework, we might not “cull” herds, but we might occasionally feed them birth control. Or they might have standing to suggest the same to us.
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