GUEST POST BY PEGGY BERRYHILL, THERESA HARLAN, and PETER BYRNE. 

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The following responses to George Wuerthner’s October 12th piece “A Response to Treur’s Atlantic Magazine National Parks and Tribes,” and November 2nd’s “Indian Burning – The False Solution to Large Blazes” are guest posts from Peggy Berryhill, Theresa Harlan, and Peter Byrne. I am grateful for their time, energy, and eloquence in raising these issues.   – Greta Anderson

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Introducing Two Replies to Wuerthner

By Peggy Berryhill

When do you retire tropes? Apparently, when it comes to Native Americans, the answer from The Wildlife News is not yet. The late Oneida comedian Charlie Hill used to joke that White people think of us as frozen in time, “singing and dancing.” Are we to believe that The Wildlife News would accept an article about women who enjoy the outdoors described in the 1900’s as virgins or whores, the new old maids, masculinized or asexual? It doesn’t take any imagination to cite tropes about African Americans from the 1800s. So why is okay to print articles written by George Wuerthner that characterize Native Americans as living in the past? When Wuerthner writes about Indigenous peoples, there is no recognition of the Sovereign status of Tribes, Native Americans as informed voters, astronauts, scientists, attorneys and environmental activists changing extractive policies that benefit all citizens.

As a journalist, I’ve lived to witness Indians being included at the table in discussions on Indigenous science relating to fishing, agriculture, water use and distribution. We’re also seeing changes in the arena of economics, and the acceptance of Indigenous science relating to climate change. Were any of these promising developments referenced in Wuerthner’s article criticizing David Treuer? No.

Worldwide, Indigenous-led organizations, such as the Global Forest Coalition, are leading the way to combat climate change with traditional ecological knowledge and not the smoke and mirrors proposed by industrial corporations and the International Monetary Fund.

Reading Wuerther’s many mentions of Indigenous peoples in The Wildlife News is like stepping back in time, listening to the siren call of the 1900’s to keep Indians where they belong while the rest of the America’s open lands are meant to be safe for “Manifest Destiny”.

In the following rebuttals to Wuerthner’s article two important voices explain further why we must leave these tropes from the 18th and 19th century behind if we are to work together to battle climate change. Award winning Journalist Peter Byrne and Indigenous scholar Theresa Harlan call out and refute the dangerous tropes raised from the past by George Wuerthner in The Wildlife News.

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Peggy Berryhill is a member of the Muscogee Nation, and with 50 years in the radio business is known as “The First Lady of Native Radio”. Berryhill began her career at KPFA in Berkeley and is the only Native person to work at National Public Radio. Berryhill has consulted with two Smithsonian Institution projects. She currently owns and operates radio and online station KGUA in Gualala, California.

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An Indigenous Response to Wuerthner

By Theresa Harlan

Last September The Wildlife News published “Of Indigenous Peoples, Environmentalism, and Atonement”. Authors Molvar and Small began with “As America struggles with its history of systemic racism, the environmental movement faces questions of its own over the extent to which policies that were racist, genocidal or entailed ethnic cleansing played a role in early American conservation.” Refreshingly, the authors directed their focus on the future, a future for all people, by highlighting the need for Native and non-Natives to work together on environmental issues and the recognition of Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) that established native ecosystems and biodiversity “. . . far more diverse and abundant than anything we have seen…”

Strangely and disappointing The Wildlife News’ October issue was a clear contradiction of Molvar’s and Small’s essay with the release of George Wuerthner’s “A Response to Treuer’s Atlantic Magazine National Parks and Tribes”.  Wuerthner attempts to reveal what he calls the “fallacies” behind David Treuer’s The Atlantic story “Return the National Parks to the Tribes”.

Treuer’s essay begins with a reveal of the hidden truths behind the creation of national parks as stolen Indigenous lands, points us to consider the aged condition of national parks due to “overcrowding, habitat loss and a ‘science deficit’”. He concludes that it’s time for national parks, (i.e., Indigenous homelands) to be returned to federally recognized tribes.

Ironically, Wuerthner’s piece is littered with inaccuracies and weakened by his presumptive authority as a “student of Native American history since a child”.  Wuerthner’s response reads “protectionist” against returning park lands to its original peoples. This protectionism must be the driver to lead  him to write an extremely long argument to diminish the knowledge of Indigenous peoples as scientific and to portray them as equally exploitative as the white settlers. His position reads straight out of the 19th century letters of American politicians and conservationists—save “untouched” lands and and run out the Indians.

Wuerthner’s superficial treatment of history is irritating, however not as irritating as his assertion that “tribal” people are defeated. The United States (i.e., military and government agencies and private citizens) did attempt to defeat Native peoples with an immense effort —genocide, disease transmission, rape, imprisonment, eradication of food sources, introduction of alcohol and ultimately ripping children from their families to be imprisoned and murdered in compulsory boarding schools. Our ancestors fought and held on through resiliency and strategy so that generations later, Native peoples could continue to know themselves as Indigenous peoples, fight to protect ancestral homelands (e.g., Standing Rock, Stop Line 3, Keystone XL, Bears Ears, Mount Taylor) and even become the Secretary of the Interior and possibly the next director of the National Park Service.

Wuerthner argues that there is no correlation between the creation of national parks and Native land dispossession. This is simply false.  Anyone who invests the time to read Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks by Mark David Spence will learn of the interdependency of Indigenous land dispossession and the creation of Yellowstone, Glacier and Yosemite National Parks. Unlike Wuerthner, Spence did the work of a historian—research and documentation—to tell the story of the creation of these national parks, the full ugly truth.

There are so many more false assertions in Wuerthner’s article that it could be an assignment for a lower division Native American Studies class to fact check it. For instance, he incorrectly names the Chumash people as the original people of San Francisco when it is the Ramaytush Ohlone.  Anyone can find the Indigenous people of US cities and towns by visiting https://native-land.ca/.  In Wuerthner’s Yosemite discussion he falsely asserts “. . .Yosemite was not established as a national park until 1890, long after every Indian in California, including the Miwok, had been placed on reservations.”

I take issue with “every Indian in California”.  California Indigenous leaders negotiated 18 treaties with the United States in 1851-52. California’s senators didn’t want the treaties and shelved them. They are the infamous 18 unratified treaties.  By the time the Yosemite Park Act was signed by President Lincoln in 1864 many California Native peoples were experiencing disease, starvation, and indentured servitude (read slavery) with temporary reserves and farms established and closed with changing superintendents and even the abolishment of the California Superintendency of Indian Affairs in 1860 due to corruption and then reinstated in 1864. In 1869 only three three reservations remained; Tule River, Round Valley and Hoopa Valley.  More of California’s genocidal history against California Indigenous peoples is making its way to national readership with the New York Times’ article on the massacre at Round Valley Reservation in 1860.  Perhaps Wuerthner is betting that The Wildlife News readership doesn’t include Indigenous people or those who read history or the NYT.

As Wuerthner scoffs at Indigenous TEK, calling it an “illusion”, there is a growing global movement of Indigenous communities working to affirm TEK and to stop the degradation of land and water and demanding climate justice. Indigenous Environmental Network, NDN Collective, Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, Pueblo Action Alliance, and Movement Rights are just a few of the national Indigenous movement organizations making change and building global alliances, including participating in COP26. Indigenous peoples fight to protect their homelands because the land, water and the people are the same, meaning the earth is our mother, provider of life.

As a descendant of a Coast Miwok family, whose ancestral home is still standing at Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS), I have first hand experience of National Park Service aggrandizement of Euro-American ranching history while burying my mother’s ancestral Coast Miwok history on the land now called PRNS. I know what it feels like to be separated from my grandmother’s home and to share it as “public land”. No matter how many times I drive the 36 miles and walk the one mile road down to my family’s house to pray, when I leave I wonder if our home will be subjected to more vandalism.

I appreciate the support of Indigenous leaders and environmental advocates, including Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Resource Renewal and the consortium of Restore Point Reyes National Seashore. We, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, must work together to  address colonial settler attitudes that linger to keep us divided. This burden must be shared and not assigned to the Native person in the room.

What message does The Wildlife News want to send their readership with Wuerthner’s October response to The Atlantic and subsequent posts by him? “Don’t worry, we still stand strong for white conservationists?” For Indigenous people, like myself, the message reads “We really didn’t mean what we said in the September issue, there’s no room for you.” Where is The Wildlife News editorial oversight?  Wuerthner is a known conservation advocate. He is not a historian. Why does The Wildlife News choose to publish Wuerthner’s white privileged opinion pieces week after week?

All this does is deepen the divide and place a burden on Indigenous people and create a set back for white environmental advocates who want to work with Natives and people of color. For some Native people, they will not bother to direct their time or attention to refuting Wuerthner or others like him.  I decided to let silence not be a confirmation of “tribal” defeat. I see this rebuttal as part of my work to protect my family’s home at a national park and to support the idea of giving national parks back to Indigenous peoples.

This brings me back to Molvar’s and Small’s essay “We’d like to be on our best behavior, to not only atone for the racism that came before, but to find cohesive and correlative remedies, a horizon of equity.”  The question I have for The Wildlife News editorial staff is “Which side of the horizon are you on—setting or rising?”

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Theresa Harlan is Kewa Pueblo/Jemez Pueblo and adopted daughter of Elizabeth Campigli Harlan (Coast Miwok) and John Harlan. She is advocating for the restoration of her grandmother’s Coast Miwok home at Point Reyes National Seashore. She has a long history working in the Native American community as an art writer/curator and consultant.

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Response to George Wuerthner’s Critique of David Treuer

By Peter Byrne

The cover story in the May 2021 issue of The Atlantic was headlined, “Return the National Parks to the Tribes – The jewels of America’s landscape should belong to America’s original peoples.” The beautifully told story summed up a reasonable plan to initiate the healing of our ecologically ailing, automobile-polluted, tourist-centric national park system.

Sadly, the National Park Service is easily cast as a politicized bureaucracy largely run in the interests of vendor and hotelier-capitalists, and, in California and Ohio, cattle ranchers, all of whom view our 85 million acre national park system as a profit center for businesses.

The Atlantic argues that due to decades of federal mismanagement, it makes ecological sense to transfer leadership of the national parks to a consortium of tribal organizations composed of peoples of Indigenous heritage to be operated according to millennially-vetted Earth-preserving principles that are antithetical to the capitalist-colonial politics running the agency.

The  Atlantic piece was written by David Treuer, who is a doctor of anthropology, a professor of English at University of Southern California, a bestselling novelist, and a scholar of Indigenous history. Mr. Treuer was raised as an Ojibwe Indian at the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. He knows his roots. His solution-based article was not only timely, it has invigorated activists and the public with hope. If we can use the traditional ecological knowledge of Indigenous peoples to creatively restore and manage our national parks, we may be able to apply these eons-tested methods to reducing, perhaps reversing, the species-exterminating impacts of global heating. Indigenous knowledge is science.

In her magisterial work, Tending the Wild, Kat Anderson remarks, “The foundation of native people’s management of plants and animals was a collective storehouse of knowledge about the natural world, acquired over hundreds of years through direct experience and contact with the environment. The rich knowledge of how nature works and how to judiciously harvest and steward its plants and animals without destroying them was hard-earned; it was the product of keen observation, patience, experimentation, and long-term relationships with plants and animals. …. The traditional ecological knowledge of California Indians and the techniques they used to manage nature are still retrievable. …. There are compelling reasons to protect, restore, and manage some ‘wild’ lands by following a model other than hands-off wilderness approach.”[1]

Indigenous cultures, worldwide, are taking the lead in acting upon scientific solutions to our social and climate emergencies. And they are being heard!

In September, Western Watersheds Project Executive Director Erik Molvar and Marsha Small of the Tsistsistah people published a powerful article in The Wildlife News, “Of Indigenous Peoples, Environmentalism, and Atonement.” The essay examines a culture of white supremacy pervading sectors of the American conservationist movement, historically and into the present day. The authors anatomize the persistence of such white privilege in the context of Manifest Destiny and the genocide of First Peoples by generations of Euro-American settlers who participated or looked away.

The essayists do not call for conservationists to bond with nor defer to Indigenous leadership and traditional ecological knowledge; rather, they suggest a conditional alliance: “It makes sense for us to reach out to potential allies among Indigenous communities, to advance our common interests when our goals align with each other.” I will leave the reader to unpack the meaning of that potentially divisive statement. But it turns out that The Wildlife News has an endemic, cultural problem of the very sort identified by Molvar and Small.

The online pages of The Wildlife News are dominated by its most prolific writer, George Wuerthner, an ecologist who is a “hands-off wilderness” advocate. Wuerthner is a public figure and an influential force in the conservation movement, nationwide. He has published 38 books and scores of articles on ecology and public land management. He served, until recently, on the board of directors of Western Watersheds Project.

On October 12, The Wildlife News posted an article by Mr. Wuerthner titled, “A Response To Treuer’s Atlantic Magazine National Parks and Tribes.”  In this and several other articles in The Wildlife News, Wuerthner has staked out a stance that is crudely dismissive of both Indigenous science and the herstory of Indigenous people.

And that is why the three of us—Theresa Harlin, Native advocate for re-matriating ancestral lands held as public lands,Peggy Berryhill, radio personality and member of the Muscogee Nation, and Peter Byrne, a  science journalist of Irish heritage—joined forces to critique Wuerthner’s stance, which in our opinion is dangerously ill-informed, remarkably ahistorical, and, sadly, burdened by the sociological and cultural baggage which Molvar and Small called out as unacceptable. We opine that Wuerthner is not competent to judge Treuer’s thesis on a factual, historical or cultural basis. Our three essays are not intended to inform Mr. Wuerthner, nor to change his point of view—although either outcome would be salutary, indeed. Rather, we are targeting those of his readers who may have fallen prey to what we assess as the non-factual assertions and Indian-baiting tropes that pervade his writing.

Wuerthner begins his critique of The Atlantic feature story with a bold untruth: “Rather than celebrate parks as one of the best ideas in America, Treuer denigrates them.” The refutation of that claim is up front in Treuer’s article: “The national parks are the closest thing America has to sacred lands, and like the frontier of old, they can help forge our democracy anew. More than just America’s ‘best idea,’ the parks are the best of America, the jewels of its landscape. It’s time they were returned to America’s original peoples.”

Wuerthner then observes, “Many in the WOKE social justice movement advocate the transfer of national parks to tribal entities.” As proof, he links to a Mother Jones article that notes (ominously to Wuerthner, one presumes), “Native peoples around the world are already beginning to see the fruits of some of their efforts to reclaim their ancestral lands. Earlier this month, Australia returned nearly 400,00 acres including the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, to Indigenous peoples.” By the way, Merriam Webster defines “woke” as “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” Wuerthner may not consider himself woke enough to care about racial and social injustice, so it is not surprising that he pushes back against the historical fact that white society set out to exterminate the Indigenous peoples of North America.

He writes, “There is no doubt that tribal people like all defeated humans throughout history were mistreated, misunderstood, and demonized. As a student of Native American history and culture, I am probably more aware than most people of the shortcomings and brutal treatment that many Indians experienced. There were many injustices perpetrated upon the first human colonists of North America, but the creation of national parks is not one of them. … There is no connection between the removal of Indians to reservations and the creation of national parks.”

Aside from the fact that, despite the best efforts of colonialism, Indigenous people were not “defeated” and their ten million descendants make up three percent of the population of the United States, it is illuminating to learn that Wuerthner considers himself to be a student of Native American history and culture. As we shall see, he habitually declines to reference historical or scientific sources to credibly back up many of the supposedly factual and descriptive statements he makes, including his labeling of Native Americans as the original “colonists of North America.”

Yes, he said that.

Here is a commonly accepted definition of colonist: “A colonist is a member of a government-backed group that settles in a new country or region … despite the presence of native people.”

Do Indians really fit the definition of colonialists, George? Of course not, so why did you say that about the First Peoples to live on this continent?

Wuerthner goes on to vaguely claim that Treuer’s historical account of genocide is “mainly relying on other earlier inaccurate accounts” and “misinformation,” but Wuerthner does not bother to identify those sources. Treuer’s magazine article links to various historical and scientific studies, and the facts he presents are easy verifiable from a scholarly tradition that includes hundreds of solidly sourced books. Here is a list of a representative few of the most recent volumes—required reading for any self-proclaimed scholar of Native American history and culture, George.

An American Genocide

We Are the Land

Tending the Wild, Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources

Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks

Indian Country, God’s Country: Native Americans and the National Parks

Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness

California Prehistory: Colonization, Culture, and Complexity

If Mr. Wuerthner was an expert in the history of western expansion and the creation of national parks and reservations, he could not have written with a straight face, “Indian removal to reservations had no more to do with the creation of national parks than the establishment of San Francisco, Chicago or Denver.”

It was the creation of the smokey, crowded cities that inspired the urban rich to agitate for the creation of national parks with recreational “wilderness.” Volumes of historical research reveal the national parks were created by governmental policies designed to remove the Indigenous inhabitants through legalized mass murder, forced evictions, systematic starvation, dishonored treaties, barbed wire cattle enclosures, deliberate extirpation of the native food supply, and legislative denial of legal and civil rights to Indigenous individuals.

But, no, for Mr. Wuerthner, “Tribal removal to reservations was done for a host of reasons, including to make the West safe for miners, loggers, ranchers, settlers, trade routes, and railroads, but the last thought in anyone’s mind at the time was to create national parks on former Indian territories. These two events are unrelated, except to the degree that yes, all national parks were at one time within the territory of one tribe or another.”

Must we point out that the last sentence of that paragraph contradicts the first sentence? Do not pass Go, George. Clairvoyant Wuerthner claims to have access to the “minds” of those creating the parks. Unfortunately for him, these “minds” left plenty of documents behind recording their intentions, as Treuer points out.

In 1886, the sainted national park-promoting “conservationist” and white supremacist and soon to be president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, cackled, “The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian. I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

Wuerthner, the self-proclaimed Indian scholar, incorrectly writes that the “Chumash Indians who lived in San Francisco …”. If George had bothered to look at Wikipedia, which is the main source for supposedly factual statements he occasionally bothers to reference, he would have learned that the Chumash people were located hundreds of miles south of the Bay Area in Santa Barbara. Oops. Go to Jail, George.

Wuerthner does not appear to have read, much less studied Benjamin Madly’s scholarly An American Genocide, which documents that in the early 1850s California paid salaries to members of vigilante groups policing potential parklands. Led by professional Indian killer James Savage, the 560-man Mariposa Battalion slaughtered dozens of Miwok families in the Yosemite Valley. In a series of sneak attacks, Savage’s forces killed men, woman and children and burned their houses and barns on the Land where their ancestors had resided since time immemorial.[2]

Relying upon a Wikipedia post, Wuerthner chooses to laud Savage’s Mariposa Battalion as “a militia consisting of miners … regular frontiersman. … the miners felt threatened due to Indian depredations and attacks … The formation of the Mariposa was in response to several Miwok attacks on miner supply outposts and the murder of a number of trading post clerks and the plundering of supplies.”

Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas fought back bravely and at terrible odds against the centuries long invasion of tens of millions of disease-bearing white settlers with their guns and ammunition, toxifying gold mining, exploitative trading posts, and violently racist mentalities. Backed by the US Army, settlers in California poisoned the water and clear cut the forests and carelessly slaughtered game in excess of nutritive needs. The few whites that fell to the violence of Indian self-defense and retribution are a trickle in the ocean of Indigenous blood unleashed by the settler vanguards of capitalist-colonialism.

Wuerthner’s reference for his Savage hagiography is a sparsely sourced pro-white settler propaganda Wikipedia entry on James Savage, whom the white supremacist Ronald Reagan immortalized as the heroic Blond King in an episode of Death Valley Days. General Electric Corporation sponsored that television show, which launched Reagan’s political career and resulted in his much criminally indicted presidential administration planning and funding the genocide of Indigenous populations in Central America. Following Reagan’s pernicious lead, Wuerthner paints the Blond King as a peaceable man, driven to justified violence by warlike Indians.

Wuerthner writes, “To avoid bloodshed, the Battalion commander, James Savage, told the Miwok chief Tenya … that his tribe had to sign a treaty, or his people would face harsh consequences. Savage was not inherently anti-Indian, [he] even married native women from local tribes.[3] … Upon entering the [Yosemite] valley …. The battalion reprisal for the theft of their food and other supplies, was to burn the Indian encampment and food stores. While this may seem harsh treatment … In the West, and among the Indians themselves, the Old Testament an eye for an eye was the common response to any insult, theft, or killing. … [These Yosemite Valley Indians] were taken to a reservation near Fresno.”

According to Wuerthner, Indigenous peoples, like their tormentors, were followers of the revenge- and incest-obsessed Judeo-Christian Old Testament patriarchs—but nothing could be further from the anthropologically validated truth. No, apparently eager to whitewash the history of colonialist genocide, Wuerthner claims, without any credible historical support, “Intertribal warfare across the West was likely responsible for far more Indian deaths than anything the US Army or even the vigilante groups could effect. … If America wanted to wipe out Indian tribes, the US Army could have done this easily, but the general goal was to try to persuade, coax or force Indians to adopt American values.”

Mr. Wuerthner does not explain what those “American values” were, but he has an opinion regarding Indigenous values: “Next Treuer quotes one of the members of the Mariposa Battalion who he reports said: ‘Any attempt to govern or civilize them without the power to compel obedience, will be looked upon by barbarians as with derision … The savage is naturally vain, cruel and arrogant. He boasts of his murders and robberies, and the torture of his victims very much in the same manner that he recounts his deeds of valor in battle.’”

Wuerthner comments, “The quote accurately described Indian attitudes towards war and their enemies is …. In many tribes, your status was based on the ability to collect scalps … Tribes regularly mutilated and tortured their enemies whether other tribes or white people. … most tribes had no sense of shame or morality about what we would today consider barbarous behavior … it is easy to understand how white settlers could conclude that Indians were barbaric and cruel given a different set of cultural values.”

Easy to understand, George? So you say.

It is 2021 and the conservationist Wuerthner sides with the white settlers against the barbaric, shameless, immoral Indigenous communities obstructing mining, commerce and agriculture. He conveniently omits that it was the white settler-vigilantes who took Indian scalps by the thousands for state-supported bounties. Does Wuerthner believe that any form of violent Indigenous resistance to state-sanctioned genocide required that resisters deserved to be killed for not marching into the concentration camps peaceably?

By way of sourcing his claims that Indians were barbaric and animalistic, Wuerthner references a perennially best selling book published in 1838 and in the 1920s and revived in 2016 as the virulently racist Trump era dawned. 21 Months a Captive: Rachel Plummer and the Fort Parker Massacre is cast as fragments of the memoir of a 17 year old girl who was purportedly captured and tortured and sexually brutalized by Comanches after her family had enclosed their tribal lands in Texas. There is no reason to regard the Plummer book as factually true; it was largely written by her entrepreneurial father James Parker after Rachel died at age 20.

The Plummer book is but one of many torture-porn cultural artifacts, including so-called Cowboys & Indians movies, that have projected a monstruous image of Indigenous people into the collective unconscious of white America for generations.

Wuerthner seems happy to source many of his Indian-baiting statements to a range of Indian-hating popular books, but he seems to be untutored in scholarly studies that would give the lie to images of the barbarous, priapic, warlike Indian attacking Bible-worshipping settlers who were just trying to make their livings. The Klu Klux Klan and its newest incarnation as the Republican Party have long promoted similar views of Black and Indian people to justify the lynchings of thousands during the 19th and 20th centuries. While these racist memes remain standard fare in online white supremacist circles, like White Rabbit, it is shocking to find such echoes in The Wildlife News.

Here and in other essays in The Wildlife News, Wuerthner flails against the well-proven fact that Indigenous burning and scientifically constructed horticultural practices shaped much of the ecology of North America symbiotically for plants, animals and humans and for thousands of years prior to the colonial invasions.

Mr. Wuerthner claims that meadow and forest understory burning is worthless because it does not stop modern wildfire conflagrations. And that may be true to some degree under modern drought conditions, but Wuerthner misses or chooses to ignore the well-substantiated fact that Indigenous burning was not intended to stop the type of catastrophic wildfire we experience today. Rather, Indigenous people tended selected portions of the land with the controlled burning of nutritious grasses and plants and trees that thereby reseeded, and provided space and food for human and wildlife, lichens, trees and bushes to thrive. Indeed, a recent investigation by an international consortium of scientists provides convincing evidence that Indigenous people consciously shaped the ecology of the planet for at least 12,000 years.

But Wuerthner is having none of that. He claims that Indians only tended small portions of the land and “human influence was not ubiquitous, not did it overwhelm natural processes across the continent. … This is another misleading idea promoted by Native American advocates. That because some small portion of the land was modified by native influences, that everything in Nature was under their ‘influence’ and management. …. Advocates of Indian burning make it sound like the natural world relied on humans to remain ‘healthy’ or ‘productive.’”

In fact, millions of acres in North America were tended for thousands of years by burning combined with pruning and agroecological practices because Indigenous people knew that what they gave to the Land, the Land would restore to them. Antithetically, modern settler colonialism continues to rely upon a purely extractive mindset. And it is the ruination of the land by industrial and agricultural capitalism that is driving many tribes around the globe to fight back nonviolently as they are still forced off the Land at gunpoint, as at Standing Rock and in Amazonia and Canada and so many other water protection sites.

Bouncing off Reagan’s infamous “lazy welfare queens” trope, Mr. Wuerthner asserts, “The [tribal] lands were sold to the federal government, not ‘stolen’ as often portrayed. … No tribes were ‘removed’ from Yellowstone, and many tribes willingly went to reservations lured by promises of government handouts of food, clothing and so forth.”

We are not making this shit up. Many of Wuerthner’s statements are provably false and the reader is recommended to the bibliography we posted above for a genuine history of how the national park system was built upon Indigenous removal into concentration camps.

Wuerthner writes, “Next Treuer uses the old argument about Yellowstone that native people had lived there for thousands of years and claimed Yellowstone as their home …. I have spent as much as 2-3 months of the year camping, hiking, and otherwise exploring Yellowstone Park. Does that mean I “lived” in Yellowstone? Of course not.”

Except, well, you did live there, George, duh.

It is well known, as Wuerthner himself observed in his 1992 book Yellowstone, A Visitor’s Companion that Indigenous peoples thrived in the Yellowstone region for more than ten thousand years before they were driven out by US soldiers. For one of many historical accounts that put the test of truth to Wuerthner’s claims, the reader can access Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks.

With the Crow, Blackfeet, Bannock, and Shoshone peoples expelled from their ancient hunting grounds, the first national park was created at Yellowstone with racially segregated facilities, a disgusting practice followed by the National Park Service into the 1960s, which was not excusable then or now, even though Wuerthner advises that we must not “use today’s cultural and social values to judge the past.”

Like slavery, George? Easy to understand, is it?

Of course, institutional racism is alive and well at the National Park Service. As a case in point, here is an account of how the NPS treats 100 centuries of Coast Miwok archeology and dwellings at Point Reyes National Seashore—as so much garbage.

Let’s conclude with perhaps the most egregious of Wuerthner’s many misstatements about Indigenous people: “There is good evidence that with the arrival of the horse and firearms, Indians were culpable for the demise of the buffalo on the plains.”

Apparently, George only consults Wikipedia when it’s anonymous editors agree with his premises. But if he had, he would have learned, “The [Bison] species’ dramatic decline was the result of habitat loss due to the expansion of ranching and farming in western North America, industrial-scale hunting practiced by non-indigenous hunters, increased indigenous hunting pressure due to non-indigenous demand for bison hides and meat, and cases of deliberate policy by settler governments to destroy the food source of the native Indian peoples during times of conflict. The US Army sanctioned and actively endorsed the wholesale slaughter of bison herds. The federal government promoted bison hunting … primarily to pressure [Indians] onto Indian reservations the during times of conflict by removing their main food source. Without the bison, native people of the plains were often forced to leave the land or starve to death.”

One could go on with more examples, but it is time for The Wildlife News readership to reject such ahistorical disdain for the ancestors of Indigenous peoples and their descendants. It is the persistence of inherently racialized attitudes fomenting inside portions of the conservationist movement that makes it imperative to wholeheartedly adopt Treuer’s proposal that, “All 85 million acres of national-park sites should be turned over to a consortium of federally recognized tribes in the United States. … The total acreage would not quite make up for the General Allotment Act, which robbed us of 90 million acres, but it would ensure that we have unfettered access to our tribal homelands. And it would restore dignity that was rightfully ours. To be entrusted with the stewardship of America’s most precious landscapes would be a deeply meaningful form of restitution. Alongside the feelings of awe that Americans experience while contemplating the god-rock of Yosemite and other places like it, we could take inspiration in having done right by one another.”

Humans have always shaped nature, even as our environments have shaped whom we are. It is past time for us all to make that relationship a conscious act and to take on the responsibility of creating a future for all of us in a world where many humans are searching to regain the tremendous body of traditional ecological knowledge lost to capitalist consumerism.

In fact, as Theresa and Peggy point out in their companion essays, scores of tribes and Indigenous organizations have been working together to heal the Earth for many years. Indigenous peoples are leading the way in confronting the climate emergency and envisioning a livable future. What will you do, dear reader?

 

[1] Anderson, Kat, Tending the Wild, University of California Press, 2005. Pps.4-8.

[2] Madley, B., An American Genocide The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, Yale University Press, 2016. Pps. 188-193.

[3] One can doubt that the multiple women Savage “married” viewed the situation so primly.

____________________________________________________________________

 

Peter Byrne is an investigative reporter and science writer in Northern California. Touch base with him at www.peterbyrne.info 

 

 
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About The Author

Greta Anderson

Greta Anderson is a plant nerd, a desert rat, and a fan of wildness. She is the Deputy Director of Western Watersheds Project and lives on the land of the Tohono O'Odham and Yaqui people in what is now called Arizona. Greta's opinions and world views are not necessarily reflected in the posts of other authors on this blog.

105 Responses to “Which side of the horizon are you on—setting or rising?”

  1. avatar Chris Zinda says:

    I repost what I posted in the subject article, adding NPS sites are lucrative places.

    ***

    Humans are humans regardless of race, all engaged in a zero sum game for flora and fauna.

    What GW gets right is the idea that indigenous peoples are any different.

    What I add and he never does is their conservation is still just that, seldom preservation of any of the natural world, just like their colonial counterparts. The world is ours to use, the question of “wise.”

    It’s time we have some natural world preservation ethic from all humans.

  2. For more background and history on this topic read CONSERVATION REFUGEES: The Hundred Year Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples (MIT Press 2009)

  3. avatar Beeline says:

    I am pleased that some red brothers and sisters responded with the above critique. I thought it a bit strange that Mr. Wuerthner would focus on Native American history the way he did on what is supposed to be a website devoted to wildlife matters.

    Prejudice exists at many levels and it requires diligent study to find the facts. Several books that changed my views were: Who’s the Savage by Wrone and Nelson and The Indians of Southern California in 1852 which was a compilation of the notes written by B.D. Wilson published by John Walton Caughey.

    Who’s the Savage comtains notes from Anglo-centric ‘heroes’ like David Crockett who described an attack on a Creek village in which many Creeks were burned alive inside their dwellings. It also has descriptions of the buffalo slaughter of the southern herd by Col. Dodge and the slaughter of passenger pigeons in Michigan.

    The Indians of Southern California in 1852 describes what B.D. Wilson went through in attempting to run a reservation near what is today’s Fort Tejon north of Los Angeles. Imagine what it would have been like to be given the job of care taker for all the Native Americans from about 30 miles north of Sacramento down to the Mexico border on one plot of land.

    A congressman of the time, Mr. Gwinn summed up the treatment of the California Indians as follows.

    “We have taken their acorns, grasshoppers, fisheries, and hunting grounds from them. The ponds where the wild fowl assembled in the winter, offering them for the time an abundant supply of food, is now the mining and agricultural region of our citizens. The Indian must perish from cold and hunger if this Government does not impose to save him. From his hunting-ground we export an annual average of $60,000,000 in gold, and the revenue paid to the Treasury, from one port in California, exceeds $3,000,000 annually, and yet the miserable pittance of $120,000 to feed and protect these original inhabitants of the country is refused and cut down to 20,000 dollars by the grossly unjust policy adopted by the other House (Republicans). If this is to be the policy of this Government towards this people, it will form a dark page in our history, if it does not bring the vengeance of heaven upon us as a nation.” as published in the Los Angeles Star 30 Oct 1852.

    The facts are out there but it takes a special kind of courage, dedication and perseverance to find them.

    I wish my red brothers and sisters well as they have been risking their health and their lives in defending Grandmother Earth.

    • avatar Glenn Monahan says:

      You are citing past outrages, that are not occurring today. We must move on!

      • avatar Maggie Frazier says:

        Really uplifting to hear those two sentences whenever there is a question as to the treatment of a group of people – who arent YOUR group!
        Have been hearing it from many of our current “politicians”, too.
        And oh yes, these outrages in one form or another ARE occurring today!

      • avatar Peter Byrne says:

        You’d best read the essays again.

  4. avatar Jamie Ervin says:

    Really glad to see these responses printed here. The modern conservation movement needs to acknowledge science and history, even if it conflicts with pre-held beliefs we might have about wild places. There is a way to pursue better protections and better management for public lands that lifts up Indigenous peoples and supports their culture and their sovereignty. It is disappointing that Wuerthner (who apparently is still stuck on 1890 in terms of his thinking) does not see this. It is even more disappointing that he gets so much air time in outlets like Wildlife News.

  5. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    This is really heartbreaking, and I thank you all for your posts and comments.

    I can see both sides, which these two comments exemplify greatly but I am concerned that our remaining wild areas have a voice too and protection.

    I have and had no doubt whatsoever that the approach of traditional Native Americans is much better than exploitative, and has so much to offer – but in modern times can we be sure our wild places are protected?

    • avatar Maggie Frazier says:

      Thats a big worry now. The urge to “use” every bit of space to make a profit threatens many of our wild places.

      • avatar Peter Byrne says:

        There have been no “wild “places on Earth for at least 12,000 years. The aim is to tend the planet in a responsible manner.

        • avatar Maggie Frazier says:

          The idea is to save the few places we have left!! Rather than develop, mine & graze them out of existence. Maybe they dont meet your criteria but at this point in time, they are what we have.

  6. avatar Glenn Monahan says:

    This is cancel culture at its finest. Mr Wuerthner has a reputation as a thorough researcher, and has a long history of spot on journalism.

    So, traditional ecological knowledge is going to save the human race?

    Current research indicates that the SW cliff dwellers very likely removed native forests from their surroundings to the extent that it altered the hydrological balance to the extent that it caused their agrarian system to fail! Good job with the inherited wisdom!

    The largest coal strip mine in Montana is owned by the Navajo Nation! Think carbon loading and climate change!

    The clear cuts on the east boundary of Glacier Park are on Blackfoot res land. It’s all about the $$$ and screw the environment.

    I’m dead serious here … if you want to return stolen land, begin with whatever real estate you own. SET AN EXAMPLE!Donate your home to a native family. Own a nice little cabin somewhere, or do you live on an out of town homestead? Give them to native families! Don’t go after public lands.

    The Navajo res covers about 27% of Arizona’s land and the Navajo people are 4% of Arizona’s population. As a white dude, I CANNOT SET FOOT ON ANY OF THAT LAND, EVEN FOR NON EXTRACTIVE PURPOSES LIKE HIKING.

    Sure, give our public lands to a sovereign nation, and don’t complain when you’re shut out.

    • avatar Peter Byrne says:

      I was waiting for the feeble “cancel culture” complaint to try and gloss over the real and present problems with Indian-baiting. Poor ole white guys complaining that they can’t trespass on Sovereign Land! As for the science regarding traditional ecological knowledge, we provided many scholarly references, y’ll might want to inform yourselves more broadly before posting knee jerk reactions straight out of Fox TV.

    • avatar Mark L says:

      So if you headed south, would you be upset about not being able to step into Mexico because there’s a wall there? Or does it only work if you’ve been excluded from a Rez? And if it’s wildlife, that have NO OPTIONS to ‘hike’, how does that work out for you? And more importantly…..why is it always about YOUR needs?…oh wait, hiking isn’t a need, is it? When does it end?

      • avatar Glenn Monahan says:

        So … have you begun the process of deeding your real estate to a native family? This would be where the rubber meets the road. Otherwise you are just one of us colonialists. After you’ve done that, then let’s talk about turning over our national parks to tribes – but not until you step up!

        • avatar Mark L says:

          Glenn, I’m already a member of a ‘native family’. How am I gonna donate to myself? Give to my tribe? I already do, even scholarships (no, not federally recognized). I’ve done my part, now you’re up bucko

  7. avatar Roger Rosentreter says:

    George W does good research and views the world without blinders. He speaks for nature.

  8. avatar John Carter says:

    Unfortunately, those espousing so-called traditional knowledge continue to fail to provide evidence that they historically used fire to make forests healthy. As Mr. Monahan pointed out, the current research does not support the myth of traditional knowledge.

    Traditional knowledge does not replace science. It belongs in the arena of religion, something that people choose to believe but lacks scientific basis.

    It is not unseemly to point out the current exploitation of the environment by indigenous people. As humans we all are taking part in this exploitation that displaces the natural system and ultimately undermines our ability to persist. The difference is, those who argue for the myth of traditional indigenous insight or knowledge fail to recognize that their claims of some higher set of values or knowledge then sets them up for this very criticism. That is, they are not living up to what they claim. It is this form of hypocrisy that brings rebuttal.

    It is time to acknowledge that we are all people and ethnic distinctions are dividing us rather joining us into what Martin Luther King supposed to be the goal of unification of purpose and equality.

  9. avatar Peter Byrne says:

    I suggest reading the sources on traditional ecological knowledge that we suggested in the essays. As for so called modern Western science, gee, how do you think we got into this climate and species extinction catrastrophe in the first place.

  10. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    It’s a different, better approach than European exploitation, but I worry that there are those who will take advantage of this, and those who advocate for returning the national parks will have inadvertently opened the door to logging, drilling and open pit mining? It’s already on the doorstep at some national parks.

    Please assure me that this will not happen.

    • avatar Maggie Frazier says:

      Sadly, Ida, its further in than just on the doorsteps in National Monuments, National Forests & other areas that should be left to Wildlife & their habitat.

  11. Many legitimate issues of social justice have been raised by advocates of what is sometimes called “land back” — such as the writers above — and they deserve to be heard in an open national dialog.

    But let there be no mistake — this is about culture, not nature.

    The reason advocates call for giving national parks to tribes is not to ensure that the trees, rivers, lakes, mountains, wolves, grizzlies, bison, and eagles are well protected. Our national parks and wilderness areas already provide the strongest possible protection, which is why they are the most ecologically intact places in the U.S.

    The reason “land back” advocates want control of national parks is because they want to be able to “manage” them. This is not for the benefit of nature, because there are no species whose survival depends on more human “management.” It is about “managing” the land for the perceived benefit of humans, including — as Treuer’s Atlantic essay makes clear — hunting, burning, and other resource development, which are not now allowed.

    We live in an era of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and lack of green spaces for millions of urban dwellers. In this context, proposals which for purely cultural reasons would abolish irreplaceable national parks and open them to human “management” of nature should be soundly rejected.

  12. avatar Brad Meiklejohn says:

    I am with George Wuerthner on this subject.

    There is magical thinking (and perhaps a hint of racism)in the notion that any group of people has an exclusive lock on an enlightened relationship with Nature. I take people as they come, as individuals, and find that those who care for Nature come in many shapes, sizes, colors and creeds.

    I’m all for land acknowledgments that actually acknowledge the land. I’m in favor of “land forward” rather than “land back” and suggest we start by returning developed portions of Turtle Island back to the turtles.

    Geo is right that early humans did not evolve in North America, making all of us colonists at some level.

    As for the notion that any group of “we” knows best what Nature needs, I side with those of more modest claims. If your have an impulse to garden, grow beans.

    • avatar Mark L says:

      I think you’ve lost the point that ‘colonists’ keep ties to their place of origin. Natives did not do this. Hence the ‘New (whatever)….York, Mexico, England, WORLD (cough cough)’. When Vikings colonized Greenland, when Columbus sailed to Hispaniola, those were colonization attempts..they carried THEIR flag, and saw land as being part of their peoples new possessions. That’s not what Natives did. They followed a land bridge (or boated). No flag, no material support from the homeland, no Twitter feed to brag (take note). Different construct

      • avatar Mark L says:

        That’s not to say they didn’t make mistakes. They exterminated whole species from a continent. But when in history had this issue come up before? I’m certain there was a point at which some objected to the killing of the last few mastodons, cave bears, etc. It wouldn’t have mattered if they were even in the majority, as some other tribe would still find a way to kill the remainders….hmmm…..just like white rhinos recently. And probably tigers and elephants in Asia and Africa. See, we are all feeling the same sad story after all

        • avatar Peter Byrne says:

          Much research shows, Mark, that the reasons for the disappearance of the North American Megafauna are not clear, but do involves some combination of subsistence hunting, severe climate changes, and other complexities, including tipping points–which is not the same as deliberate killing. Unlike the Colonialists, however, the The First Peoples did not have a governmental policy of exterminating species, which industrial capitalism has long deployed.

          • avatar Ida Lupine says:

            “Unlike the Colonialists, however, the The First Peoples did not have a governmental policy of exterminating species, which industrial capitalism has long deployed.”

            This! And it still goes on with “Wildlife Services”.

    • avatar Peter Byrne says:

      If you read the essays carefully, Brad, you will learn that “colonialism” is defined as expropriating the Land of Others. It escapes me where you find a hint of our essays claiming that any group of people has an “exclusive lock” on understanding nature (which obviously includes humans). “Turtle Island” brings with it a very useful philosophy and a huge body of tending the land with SCIENCE we call the forms of traditional ecological knowledge that the National Park Service has worked so hard to exterminate for a century.

      I am learning a lot about how sectors of the Rewilding and Conservation Movements remain mired in 19th century colonizing mentalities, unwittingly, I suppose, to be charitable. This (broader) movement has protected some lands from commercial development, which is laudable, but sectors of it 1) do not acknowledge the foundational symbiosis of humans with all beings, animate and inanimate and 2) oddly elevate the Cartesian-Newtonian notions of “science” that (falsely) separate humans from “nature,” over ecological practice that these sectors incorrectly assign to “magical thinking,” while trying to use modern scientific research to somehow try to undercut the practical, experimentally validated knowledge that humans gained from several millions years of being on the planet. This is not a binary situation; traditional (if often lost) ecological knowledge is science, and in its first incarnations Western science was “magical.” Newton was an alchemist, you may recall. Science and magic and culture are intertwined.

  13. avatar Denise Boggs says:

    I hesitate to wade in because this is a no win situation. I guess I am a misanthrope at heart because human beings, regardless of race, are responsible for the destruction of the Earth. I completely disagree with:

    avatarPeter Byrne says:
    November 6, 2021 at 1:26 pm
    “There have been no “wild “places on Earth for at least 12,000 years. The aim is to tend the planet in a responsible manner.”

    Tending the planet is destroying it. At this point I simply want to protect any remaining places that have wildlife, plants, trees, fish – the natural world – from human beings. Humans have shown they can’t “tend” them or respect them or honor them. So leave them alone. I am all for protecting places that exclude humans entirely. Just stay out of them and leave them for the non-human species who live there. If I had my way, humans would be excluded from YNP. The grizzlies and wolves need that land far more than any human being. Humans are genetically flawed by genes that seem to promote ego, narcissism, greed, wealth, and the inability to live with one another, much less non-human life. I choose grizzlies, wolves, octopus, orcas, white sharks, preying mantis, badgers, falcons, and on it goes. They leave me in awe. The earth is dying and humans, all humans, are completely and irrefutably responsible for it. Humans do not leave me in awe.

  14. avatar Brad Meiklejohn says:

    I am all in favor of more conservation by Native Americans. In fact, we need more conservation by all Americans. Where Treuer’s article and the responses to Wuerthner by Byrne et al lose me is in the rationale for transferring national parks to Native Americans. This transfer from one hand to another wouldn’t advance conservation, but merely take it sideways. If this is about “land back” why not focus on any other bits of “stolen land,” like Manhattan? I’d be delighted to see that part of the world under enlightened ownership.
    There is the suggestion in Treuer’s article and in the responses to Wuerthner herein that better management would result from Native Americans running the national parks, but that has to be paired with the abundant instances where Native Americans have proven just as rapacious in logging, mining, and casino development as the next guy. I chalk that up to people being people. All of us are capable of goodness and evil. No one gets a free pass and no individual is exempt from praise or scorn as merited.
    “Woke” used to be something to aspire to, indicating awareness and sensitivity. Unfortunately, “woke” has earned its pejorative status because it is now intolerance masquerading as tolerance, it is Marxism dressed up in Lulu-lemon yoga tights. “Woke” has overtaken American society, including conservation, and the results are everywhere to be seen in revisionist histories and contempt for foundational figures (e.g. Muir, Leopold, Audubon) as colonialist racist patriarchs. Foundational conservation concepts, such as wilderness, wildness, and even the notion of conservation itself are being defenestrated in this spasm of ethical cleansing. The proposal to transfer national parks to Native Americans seems to be yet another calculated attack on the systemically racist white colonialist patriarchy that the woke abhor.
    In case you haven’t noticed, Americans are turning away from the self-rigtheous stereotyping that is “woke” cancel culture. I, for one, don’t believe that the way to build yourself up is by tearing another down. I don’t believe that people of the past should be judged by the standards of today. I believe that you move forward facing forward, not looking over your shoulder. The history and accomplishments of American conservation are a source of pride, not shame.

  15. avatar Michael kellett says:

    Brad,

    Well said. I could not agree more.

  16. avatar Peter Byrne says:

    All Lives Matter, Actually

    In my opinion, the real issue, Brad, is that the past is NOT past. The cultural racism and capitalistic, colonialist politics propelling the genocide of Indigenous people around the globe in centuries past is operating in the present. The violence of colonialism wielding guns and IMF mandates and the expropriation of labor and raw materials is very much at play in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa. Domestically, the colonial police enforce a racial order in the ghettos and barrios of our cities. And, yes, ideological colonialism and racism still rule the national park system and, sadly, core elements of the conservation movement.

    The rematriation of the land of national parks around the world to the governance of Indigenous tribes is not a new idea, but it is increasingly popular and doable!

    At Point Reyes National Seashore, Indigenous-led organizations, including a tribe operating a casino, and several “woke” conservation groups, are leading a movement to restore the cattle-ranching-devastated ecology of the park in accord with traditional ecological knowledge and common sense. In British Colombia, the Haida people control the Gwaii Hannasa National Park.

    In Death Valley National Park, the Timbisha Shoshone people have fought for decades to achieve real sovereignty over the land, with mixed success. The Death Valley success is mixed due to decades of opposition from the Park Service and tourist-centric contractors.

    Death Valley, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Zion are essentially governed by the profit-seeking Xanterra company, which is owned by an evangelical Christian, the politically far-right billionaire, Philip Anschutz.

    Should Indigenous organizations run the parks, it is likely that the rapaciously motivated Xanterra would be expelled. This is not to automatically glorify the motives of Indigenous organizations as such, they are not necessarily run by saints. But there are 10 million people of Indigenous heritage in the United States, with lots of room for bringing forth doable solutions.

    The main point of our three essays is that the tending of our “wild” places needs to be turned over to the tenets of several millions years of Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, as the not-so-tender mercies of capitalist colonialism and its guiding ideologies of white supremacy and scientific “rationalism” have abjectly failed to protect the lands of the whole planet,

    Unfortunately, the fossil fuel corporation-designed COP26 is a dangerous sham, nearly devoid of Indigenous presence. But a global practice of traditional ecological knowledge—which really amounts to de-industrializing the land—may be the only way to ameliorate the climate emergency. That reasonable path is heard in the streets outside the COP-26, not in its public relations-driven boardroom meeting, dedicated to espousing techno-greenwashing.

    COP-26 is not Woke.

    Would those who are objecting to Peggy’s and Theresa’s and my so-called “wokeness” have objected in the same way to those who fought for civil rights for African Americans and Indians in the days when when activism was punishable by the rope? Modeling “wokeness” as somehow objectionable is a pretty lame way to avoid looking in the mirror. Cancellation can get misused, of course, and we are not calling for anyone to be cancelled.

    Speaking of history, in 1963, as the Civil Rights Movement raged, a founding father of the modern conservation movement, Edward Abbey publicly stated, “Am I a racist? I guess I am. I certainly do not wish to live in a society dominated by blacks, or Mexicans, or Orientals. Look at Africa, at Mexico, at Asia.”

    In his very influential 1968 book Desert Solitaire, Abbey labeled Indians “indolent savages” and he called for the forced sterilization of Navajo women. Abbey’s volumes reek of a rampant hatred of Indians and Blacks and Latinos. And Abby was not exactly a small-pox-scarred, 18th century fur trapper; he was an educated white male intellectual writing in the rambunctious 1960s who called for saving the “wilderness” from industrial development and urban hordes, the Indians and Negros, the Others, the people-not-like-Edward Abbey.

    Abbey’s overtly racist and misanthropic books reveal a type of paranoia that has to some degree shaped decades of discourse amongst the mostly white males who sit on the boards of influential conservation organizations and proudly trace their roots to Abbey’s so-called monkey-wrenching politics, or more appropriately, perhaps, vigilante-style eco-fascism.

    In Desert Solitaire, Abbey wrote, “The wilderness should be preserved for political reasons. We may need it someday not only as a refuge from excessive industrialism, but also as a refuge from authoritarian government, from political oppression. Grand Canyon, Big Bend, Yellowstone and the High Sierras may be required to function as bases for guerrilla warfare against tyranny.” Abbey was apparently unaware that settler-beleaguered Indigenous nations had adopted that same strategy, because, like so many conservation-minded people, Abby could not be bothered to explore the genuine Indigenous herstory. He deferred to the image of Indians that he saw on 1950s television, shows glorifying the Indian killer, Daniel Boone, or “Rawhide,” or those icons of well-armed frontier respectability, the Cartwrights.

    A commenter on this bog, Brad Meiklejohn sits on the Leadership Council of the Rewilding Institute, alongside George Wuerthner. Brad writes in response to our critique of Mr. Wuerthner’s ahistorical caricature of Indigenous peoples, “Foundational conservation concepts, such as wilderness, wildness, and even the notion of conservation itself are being defenestrated in this spasm of ethical cleansing. The proposal to transfer national parks to Native Americans seems to be yet another calculated attack on the systemically racist white colonialist patriarchy that the woke abhor.”

    Brad, us Woke folks are not calling for the ethnic cleansing of the bodies of white male conservationists; that would be genocide, like what white America did to the Indian nations. There is, however, a reasonable call for another kind of cleansing, as so eloquently express by David Treuer in The Atlantic article, a replacement of the ideological hegemony of the “systemically racist white colonialist patriarchy,” as you so described it, with a truly radical agenda: rematriation.

    Let us cast aside the control of the national park system by the white male-owned Xanterra corporation, which dominates the federal governance of the national parks parks—which are still run on the conservation models created by the “racist white colonialist patriarchy.” Let us rematriate the blood-soaked, stolen lands to to the descendants of the people from whom the lands were taken at gunpoint, and not that long ago in the scheme of things. That would be a great start to turning America into a place where all people can live in peace.

    Or do you prefer Xanterra?

    Peace,
    –Peter

    • avatar Michael Kellett says:

      Peter,

      Talk is cheap, and you obviously have an endless supply of tired culture war slogans to fill these web pages.

      How many acres of land have you actually saved? My guess is zero.

      Meanwhile, you trash people who have made a lasting difference in protecting wild nature from industrial resource extraction and development.

      One example of the superficiality of your arguments — you rightly criticize cattle grazing at Point Reyes National Seashore, but you apparently missed the fact that George Wuerthner, one of the many people you have attacked as a racist, has been one of the most outspoken opponents of grazing in the park. https://www.thewildlifenews.com/2021/09/14/point-reyes-national-seashore-capitulates-to-ranchers/

      Have a nice day,
      Michael

      • avatar Peter Byrne says:

        Dear Michael,

        I am well aware of Wuerthner’s stance on Point Reyes grazing, and he has done some valuable conservation work, in my opinion. But the legacy of his achievements may be undercut by an ahistorical stance on Indigenous cultures, and his “humans are not part of nature” philosophy, to which I and many others roundly object as an absurdly circular, eschatological logic.

        How about instead of trying to insult me (which is impossible) you stick to the facts and the actual arguments. For instance you wrote in this comment section,”We live in an era of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and lack of green spaces for millions of urban dwellers. In this context, proposals which for purely cultural reasons would abolish irreplaceable national parks and open them to human “management” of nature should be soundly rejected.”

        Neither Treuer nor myself and colleagues are suggesting “abolishing” national parks, which are badly managed by the NPS and its for-profit contractors. No, the suggestion is to work on changing the management structure of tending those lands under the guidance of traditional ecological knowledge, which provides a time-tested the scientific basis of approaching ecological issues.

        As for the slogans, well, one person’s sloganeering, is another person’s well-argued and historically-based truths. Black Lives Matter, do they not?

        Newly emerging philosophical and political points of view, especially from outside the old boy’s networks, speaking generically, often attract the fear filled disdain of those wedded to ways of thinking that have coalesced into their group identity. The achievements of 1964 Civil Rights laws are still objected to by significant factions of white people in America, including ex-presidents. It is time for the elitist structured conservation movement to be infused with newer, younger, blacker, browner, less misanthropic, less pale face blood.

        As for saving acres? I do not “own” any, but I do strive in my journalism to save millions of acres, so the verdict is not in. Someone asked here about returning Manhattan, or maybe upping the original underpayment. Seems like a good idea, but let’s start with the parks.

        Yours,
        –Peter

        • avatar Chris Zinda says:

          You sure are anthropocentrism, defined, Byrne.

          No different than any other human no matter how anyone is sliced.

          • avatar Peter Byrne says:

            Yes, I am a human, not a robot. But I firmly reject your anthropocentrism label as I do not view humans as the center of the Earth or the universe. We are simply nodes in a network of rocks, planets, stars, plants, animals, trees. Gaia is trying to take care of us but we are not listening. Tending the wild is as much about listening as it is about doing. Those humans who claim to “speak for Nature” are the anthrocentrics, in my opinion.

            • avatar Mark L says:

              Well said Peter. I agree totally

              • avatar Hiker says:

                Sorry, but you agree with his use of the words “tending the wild”?
                It’s really a contradiction, the wild is WILD.

                • avatar Mark L says:

                  “ es, I am a human, not a robot. But I firmly reject your anthropocentrism label as I do not view humans as the center of the Earth or the universe. We are simply nodes in a network of rocks, planets, stars, plants, animals, trees. Gaia is trying to take care of us but we are not listening”. That part. Is this not something you agree with?

                • avatar Peter Byrne says:

                  Actually, what some folks call the “wild,” is not wild, i.e. untended by humans. Every last inch of planet earth has been impacted by humans, sometimes for the health of species, often not. If you want “wild,” maybe it is to be found on Mars.

                • avatar Mark L says:

                  As far as ‘tending the wild’, someone is going to attempt to say what can and can’t happen to every acre in our country, like it or not. It’s our RESPONSIBILITY to fight for what we think is the right way for that entity to manage it, regardless of politics, motives, and circumstances. To not do this is to be bereft of some kind of passion for nature. If you are, why be on this site? We are having discourse on what’s best, nothing more nothing less.

                • avatar Hiker says:

                  You guys can’t seem to understand that the words ‘tending the wild’ seems to imply a need to make it behave a certain way, like a garden. The NPS may not be perfect guardians, but at least 90% of their management is hands off.
                  You would see that if you had an in depth visitation.

  17. avatar Bea Trueblood says:

    One has to admire the trove of Traditional Ecological Knowledge that guides the squadron of 30 helicopters skimming just above the water level of the Colorado River in western Grand Canyon National Park. Twice daily this fleet departs Las Vegas, passing the Great Plexiglass Toilet Seat in the Sky, and landing on Hualapai Res on the south bank to disgorge hundreds of tourists for their carefully gathered shrimp cocktail. These Bell Jet Rangers are Sacred to My People since Time Immemorial.

  18. avatar Bea Trueblood says:

    One has to admire the trove of Traditional Ecological Knowledge that guides the squadron of 30 helicopters skimming just above the water level of the Colorado River in western Grand Canyon National Park. Twice daily this fleet departs Las Vegas, passing the Great Plexiglass Toilet Seat in the Sky, and landing on Hualapai Res on the south bank to disgorge hundreds of tourists for their carefully gathered shrimp cocktail. These Bell Jet Rangers have been Sacred to My People since Time Immemorial.

    • avatar Hiker says:

      This occurs in the Park? Or just outside on Indian land.

      • avatar Bea Trueblood says:

        That’s open to legal interpretation. The Hualapai (and the Navajo) claim their property boundary is the centerline of the Colorado River. NPS claims the park boundary is the south (river left) bank but their are loathe to litigate the issue since the GCNP authorization language is vague on the matter.

      • avatar Chris Zinda says:

        I think the point is no matter who controls the land it will be exploited by humans no matter their race.

        • avatar Peter Byrne says:

          Race is a social, not a biological concept. Indigenous is not a “race.”

          • avatar Chris Zinda says:

            Sweet.

            So, why do you delineate, refer to “whites?”

            Your hypocrisy is no different than any other.

            For the record, I believed the Hopi-Navajo should manage Bears Ears – from the start. Yet, they didn’t demand this. Tell us why.

            From 2016:

            “To salve their knowing conscience, Friends developed a corporate partnership with Patagonia Outdoor Products hiring their employees to wander the monument and approach visitors, an inherently governmental, potentially dangerous task that should be reserved for a currently underfunded BLM/NPS. Neoliberally, everyone wins with this program – except the resources and the indigenous peoples who should have been given control over both the land and mandated guided tours, much like occurs at Chaco Canyon and Navajo National Monuments for which the Act was first proposed.

            This profitable relationship based on the use of irreplaceable cultural artifacts is grossly unsavory, a ménage à trois of prostituted land ethic between the outdoor industry who wants to sell widgets to be used on subsidized public lands, the flowery prose environmental crowd selling books who celebrate the now pseudo-wild places while lamenting cattle grazing they appropriately deem inappropriate, and the environmental groups that stand on ruins announcing themselves as the Lorax while selling sandals on river trips.”

            • avatar Peter Byrne says:

              Like I said, “white” is a social construct, it has political meaning. There is zero genetic basis to “race,” but, nonetheless, delineation by race is used to divide people.

              Mr. Zinda, so easily throwing around labels like “hypocrisy” begs the question at hand. Best to refrain from personal insults as it undercuts whatever logic you are trying to express. We probably do have some unity regarding distaste for the commercial exploitation of the Land by anyone.

              • avatar Chris Zinda says:

                Cool. Let’s take that.

                As a human, I don’t care what “social construct” you or anyone may be. I believe all humans exploit nature for their own gain, most absolving their stain. In this case, I don’t trust an indigenous construct any more than colonial (white or otherwise)- especially these days when preservation of any landscape heresy. I see you as yet another human using language and construct to control nature, garden it,’save it’ like any corrupt enviro. Like any Mountain States Legal Foundation member you seem to believe nowhere should be off limits to humans for the sake of the rights of nature itself.

                It’s sickness sold as virtue.

                Even though I’m usually a critic, it’s great GW brings our collective (in)humanity to light.

                • avatar Peter Byrne says:

                  How can anywhere be “off limits” to humans when the very atmosphere and oceans have been poisoned by us? At the least, we owe the earth to clean up our act.

                  But, more to the point, I am all for segregating vast tracks of forest and savannah and waters from development, and limiting or prohibiting human trampling. I oppose allowing the side effects of carbon-generating agriculture, cattle ranching, etc. But I also maintain that humans are smart enough to co-exist with all animals plants and things SYMBIOTICALLY.

                  Unfortunately, that way of knowing has been largely lost to us in the past hundreds of years.

                  And, fortunately, that perspective is not totally lost. Here is a great science paper that brings ways of knowing into contact: https://www.pnas.org/content/118/32/e2105073118.abstract

    • avatar Peter Byrne says:

      The helicopters and high-tech, nature-molesting touristing operations run by the small Hualapai nation and the National Park Service and many private corporations on the Grand Canyon do not, in my view, quality as a practice of traditional ecological knowledge.

      Given the genocide and the racial-economic treatment of the Hualapai for hundreds of years, their option may have been to starve, while others got rich having seized their lands by force. What would you do?

      Sadly, the park service does not allow for true indigenous ecological practices to transpire. I will not morally judge the Hualapai, but that does mean that I support their Canyon-killing enterprises.

      A solution is to turn the parks over to the sovereign management of the Indigenous peoples and those people of any stripe who will practice tending the wild, and the story will radically transform.

      There 554 sovereign tribal nations in the USA and each is different, it’s ridiculous to lump them all together. Plus, there are many tribes who are not recognized by the federal government, and whom seriously disagree with touristing and casino business practices.

      Search out the long lists of Indigenous organization around the world who are leading the way on climate issues, some of which we linked to in our essays. Those who voice traditional ecological knowledge have been largely silenced by the governments, media, and the academy, but that is changing.

  19. avatar Bea Trueblood says:

    Sorry, Mr. Byrne, but I like my odds of having one government listen to me on matters of public land policy better than my chances with 554 disparate tribal entities.

    You chastise Whites for speaking on behalf of Nature yet Chief Walking Eagle gets to channel Gaia. As my dad used to say, your arguments are horse hockey.

    The South wants a do-over of the Civil War, the Hopi want land back that the Navajo stole from them, and the Red Sox cry foul over losing the 1967 World Series. “If at first you don’t succeed, blame someone else” is not our national motto. Life ain’t fair, but those who succeed learn from their defeats. The litany of man’s inhumanity to man is long. The past is past and we can all hope to do better in the future.

    • avatar Peter Byrne says:

      The past is not past. That is is the problem, and the promise.

      • avatar Hiker says:

        The past is not the past? That’s some next level Matrix stuff right there. Reading that makes me realize that you are not open to any other opinions, but stuck in your righteousness. The worst sort of fanatic.

        • avatar Peter Byrne says:

          Name calling will get you no where, Hiker. By “the past is not the past” I simply mean that many issues that have plagued us in the past are still with us.

          In certain circles, there is a false notion that all or most of the Indigenous people in North America were exterminated, but that is not true, there are 10,000,000 Indians here.

          There is also a false trope that Native Americans are accorded equal treatment with the culturally prevailing, but diminishing demographic here, some of whose members are prone to automatic, insulting backlash against ideas that are strange to them, rather than thinking things through and informing themselves of empirical facts. Blessings upon you, may your Hike be fruitful.

          • avatar Hiker says:

            “By “the past is not the past” I simply mean that many issues that have plagued us in the past are still with us.” If that is really what you mean then simply say so.

            Obtuse, arrogant, short-sighted. I didn’t use those names before. I call it like I see it. Convince me otherwise.

    • avatar Mark L says:

      Whoa whoa….whoa! Bea, do you LIVE in the south? Exactly WHO wants a do-over of the civil war?

      • avatar Hiker says:

        You haven’t been paying enough attention. This is in the news just about every day.
        Even Ted Cruz has mentioned it. Yesterday I think.

        • avatar Mark L says:

          “Even Ted Cruz”? Oh wow, I should listen huh? Nah, I’m good. What’s he REALLY done for Texas?

          • avatar Hiker says:

            I used Ted Cruz as an example of what is being said, not an example of who you should listen to. I would never tell you that.

  20. avatar Bea Trueblood says:

    Sadly, as happens too often on the left, this has turned into a circular firing squad. The notion of turning all national parks over to tribal management is an unforced own-goal, with Byrne et al managing to antagonize their natural allies.

    Count me in for any effort to advance land conservation with anybody anywhere. Count me out on shifting public lands out of public hands.

    The notion that Native Americans were forced off their lands specifically for the creation of national parks is specious at best. Yes, Native Americans were forced off their lands and some those lands later became national parks. But many of those places also became cities and golf courses. As Byrne et al note, we cannot get inside the heads of those alive at the time. Wuerthner’s main point is that the timelines generally don’t add up, though Yosemite may be a specific exception.

    The unfortunate side effect in all of this is that no comes out clean, especially beleaguered conservationists whose job is damned near impossible on a good day. As Byrne has demonstrated, it’s a whack-a-mole job distancing oneself from the bad actors that give your group a bad name. The problem is that groups are made up of individuals and individuals have all the good and bad qualities of human animals.

    • avatar Peter Byrne says:

      Oh, dear, Bea, I do not view the ideologies expressed by Mr. Wuerthner, Edward Abbey, and too many other conservationists as “natural allies” to my own way of thinking, rather the contrary, which is why we wrote the essays that started this discussion.

      I am grateful for all of the comments, though, as I am learning a lot about the shape of the conservation movement by discoursing. As you not doubt noticed, we have provided much empirical source material regarding the development of the national parks through native dispossession, and the herstory of tending the wild, so I suggest you might want to review that material to get on the same page, if you so desire.

      For my way of thinking, the rematriated parks would still be open to ecologically responsible members of the public, but the commercial exploitations of these lands would be terminated and they would be carbon sinks. (Gag me, spell check here want me to replace “rematriated” with “repatriated,” but I declined.

      For a VERY powerful view of the situation, check out this great paper co-authored by an very active Indigenous scholar, Eve Tuck: https://clas.osu.edu/sites/clas.osu.edu/files/Tuck%20and%20Yang%202012%20Decolonization%20is%20not%20a%20metaphor.pdf

      • avatar Hiker says:

        Everything you just wrote reeks of condescending thought patterns. For example: “For my way of thinking, the rematriated parks would still be open to ecologically responsible members of the public” Who could possibly make that call? Imagine the long lines at every park as visitors attempt to prove how “ecologically responsible” they are! I would never trust someone like you to decide how the wild should be “tended”.
        Your ideas are like a bad smell that polite people would just hold their noses for. Not everyone here is polite.

        • avatar Peter Byrne says:

          Easy to insult people behind an anonymous mask. That is the coward’s way, Hiker Dude. Blessings upon you, may you find your true way on the path of life.

          • avatar Hiker says:

            Can’t you see how condescending you are? In two sentences you both insult and bless me! Your whole attitude is holier-than-thou and insufferable. I don’t care if you insult me and I don’t need your blessings. Oh, and I thought you weren’t going to ‘discourse’ with me while I ‘hide my light’. What a joke!

            Of course you haven’t responded to a thing I wrote, instead focusing on my choice to be anonymous. Talk about cowardice.

            • avatar Peter Byrne says:

              Oh, dear, I must shower more blessings upon you Dear Hiker. May your Troll Light and your Troll Way be strewn with Rose Petals and Lakes of Honey.

              • avatar Hiker says:

                HAHAHAHA!!!! WTF? Now I’m a Troll? Beware this self righteous fool. Don’t disagree or you’ll be a Troll too. HAHAHAHA!!!!

              • avatar Nancy says:

                Stop it Peter. I’ve been a part of this blog for a few years and your “sudden” appearance, makes me think you’re the troll? Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong?

                • avatar Peter Byrne says:

                  What say, the blog is now a private affair? And you allow anonymous postings from trolls hurling gratuitous insults? Are you trying to “cancel” me?

                • avatar Hiker says:

                  Instead of debate you whine. And, insults are only bad if the person is anonymous? You’ve been insulting the whole time. Then you complain about being cancelled after you made fun of someone else about that. Like Chris said earlier; hypocrite. If you don’t like what I said about your statements then back them up.

                  Your whole premise is skewed. Let’s say you are correct and that many tribes in the Western Hemisphere were ecologically sound (debatable, but lets table that for now). None of those ecologically sound cultures exist here in the U.S. (maybe in the remote parts of the Amazon). All that knowledge is lost.

                  Of course many tribes were guilty of the same crimes as the Europeans. They launched wars, took slaves, sacrificed, raped, and tortured each other. Many overused their resources; like driving hundreds of Bison over a cliff at the same time. In other words they behaved like humans.
                  There’s the myth of the ‘Noble Savage’ started by the Romans, especially when they liked to point out their own flaws. We are all flawed. Our back and forth has highlighted yours.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        “(Gag me, spell check here want me to replace “rematriated” with “repatriated,” but I declined.

        🙂 And it did not go unnoticed. Very good!

  21. avatar JEFF E. says:

    Meanwhile……..
    http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/siberia-up-to-20c-warmer-than-normal-with-huge-temperature-anomalies-predicts-weather-expert/

    Seems like the earth may need to shake us off like a bad case of fleas as different George once said.

  22. avatar Bea Trueblood says:

    This guy Byrne is just a Jabberwocky. He’s a fraud. How can you tell? Because his language is false. No Native American I’ve ever met uses words like “rematriation” or “herstory.”

    He’s not even a dime-store Indian. He’s a professional scribbler whose job it is to tear others down. Meanwhile the rest of us over here are trying to build something up.

    Perhaps the kant of Kendi, DeAngelo, Butler, Crenshaw, and Forbes goes down well in Marin, but if I were a Native American I’d run like hell to get away from this guy.

    To paraphrase the pathetic Wizard, “Pay no attention to that lonely little boy with the slab of glass in his hand.”

    • avatar Peter Byrne says:

      Dear Trueblood,

      Theresa Harlan and Peggy Berryhill and many Indigenous scholars and activists have long replaced heteropatriachal phrases with with words such as “rematriation”. I learned it from them. For example, see https://sogoreate-landtrust.org/return-land/

      Please educate yourself.

      Blessings,
      –Peter

      • avatar Hiker says:

        The more defensive you get the more it looks like you are insecure and we are close to the mark.
        I agree with Bea, you are very good at tearing down.

        • avatar Peter Byrne says:

          Who ARE you? Do you not have the courage to own your remarks?

          • avatar Hiker says:

            Tearing down again. Many folks here chose to be anonymous. This has never been an issue until YOU came along. If you really think Indians need land back then go to Ireland.

            BTW I have decades of experience working for the NPS. I have seen first hand their flaws. They are not perfect but still the best choice.

            • avatar Mark L says:

              Yeah I agree some kind of anonymity can be necessary on this site, I think that’s healthy. If you choose to use your full name that’s fine, but forcing that view on others is wrong. I’d hate to see something said here used against someone for malice (or just to win a flame 🔥 up. Keeping it civil and beating up on ideas, not people, is a better strategy.

              • avatar Mark L says:

                As far as actually have indigenous persons run national parks, I find the idea intriguing but see lots of pitfalls. In a perfect world, we’d just hold those that currently run the parks accountable and have some degree of sunshine laws in effect to know what they are doing constantly. Lots of backroom deals makes lots of money for certain individuals and parties. Would that change after 20 of tribal intervention? Maybe, but I guarantee there would be less willingness to hold ALL meetings open to the public (not that the NPS always does now). So, which path is less likely to encourage corruption?
                Also, which path is less likely to encourage a disinclusion of ALL Americans?

    • avatar Chris Zinda says:

      Unless I’m missing something, Byrne isn’t indigenous. He’s a pretendian.

      I guess he should have been vetted more by TWN being paired with true indigenous peoples as a retort to GW. As this discussion went on I wondered how the other two thought, about how some white dude took over and spoke for them AGAIN.

  23. avatar Beeline says:

    I speak in defense of prairie dogs, golden eagles and even giant kangaroo rats. Is that offensive?

    You guys are barking up the wrong tree if you don’t think Irish people know about repression.

    • avatar Beeline says:

      Has anybody here besides me actually planted some trees this year?

      • avatar Chris Zinda says:

        I tend some baby white oaks that, previous to our caretaking, didn’t exist because the land was mowed by ranchers and owners. They came up the old way (self propagation) and I do nothing. My goal is to allow them time to get big enough that when we die the next caretaker (likely, instead an owner) must make choices.

        Does it count?

      • avatar Hiker says:

        I spend a great deal of my free time shutting down new, unofficial trails and shortcuts in the desert. There are many plants in my local FS trail system I have protected and know by sight. Does that count?
        I also eat mostly organic and limit my overall consumption (I bought a new shirt this year) and my phone is ten years old.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        I’ve had some persist and have decided to leave them be. A beautiful red maple (native) and oaks, and conifers. Some have fallen or snapped in storms (I leave them be also, unless they have become a danger.

        I was surprised at how fast they grow, the red maples! The birds love it.

  24. avatar Mark L says:

    Yes, I have, but small scale. Almost all are in pots for now…mostly lemon, avocado, and pomegranate. I’m in zone 7a/b so hard freezes already, got a sunroom full of plants up to 11 feet tall. My yard is an oak/hickory forest so nothing but leaves acorns and pignuts (no grass, thank you). Pignuts from 70 feet up sound like small caliber arms fire when they hit the metal gazebo. Duck!

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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