I've just returned from a very special corner of the world: Canada's Northwest Territories. Yellow Knife, Canada is a town of some 25,000 people now celebrating its 75th anniversary. It came into being during the Yukon Gold Rush era.
Most East Coasters head south or west this time of year on vacation. My husband and I headed north, way north---to see the Aurora Borealis. We stayed at a wonderful remote spot called Blachford Lake Lodge, some 80 miles from Yellow Knife. Blachford Lake is just off Great Slave Lake, one of the world's great fishing spots. From the lodge windows one looks out over one of the most pristine vistas that still exists on earth.
In winter the lake is frozen and snow-covered, small hilled islands are covered with spruce, trembling Ash, Birch and pine trees dusted with snow. Our view of the Aurora was unparalleled: in the middle of the night we watched the darkness light up with shimmering shades of green, white, yellow and pink dancing across the sky in wavering arcs and slithering bands.
While we were there the lodge hosted an educational conference, attended by two polar scientific experts. One took us on an hour-long nature walk. He opened my eyes not only to a wealth of arctic environmental information, but also to the abundant life that exists under the snows in winter. He explained, for example, that some small mammals, voles, live the entire winter just above the land but under a 2- to 3-foot layer of snow, tunneling in for warmth (yes warmth) to the protection of the deeper, crystallized snow that is considerably warmer than the top of the ground during that part of the year. Imagine: snow that is as teeming with life as, say, parts of the sea.
He also taught us that climate change is driving infestations of the Japanese bark beetle--a non-native species--which could eventually kill off large parts of the sub-Arctic forests. Temperature changes are destroying the life cycles of lichens and other organisms which sustain local caribou herds. He said the caribou population is getting "hammered" by a combination diminution of its food supply, forest fires killing off the lichens and other caribou food sources and lastly, hunting.
The Canadian culture is much "greener" and pro-environment than our own. Recycling is everywhere. Air Canada, for example, sells earphones to passengers warning them to hang onto and reuse them, "for the environment."
But as much as it is doing for clean air, clean water and open space, the Canadian consciousness has not evolved to the point where its protections for animals and species are as strong as our own.
Canadians still kill baby seals for their coats by clubbing them to death. It is illegal to slaughter horses in the U.S. but we ship tens if not hundreds of thousands to Canada each year for slaughter. Hunting is not as regulated as it is in the U.S., nor is there as much attention paid to preservation of species. The group, Nature Canada, a nonprofit with tens of thousands of members and representing 350 pro-environment groups in Canada states on its website:
Hunting, where it occurs, should not jeopardize the health of hunted populations or the systems of which they are a part.
At least part of this need for consciousness-raising could start with Canada's natives, or First Nations peoples. Although most live in houses, work in office environments and live non-traditional lives, they hang onto the need to "subsistence hunt" as if they had no access to grocery stories and lived in their ancestors' teepees or igloos. The fact is, First Nations' hunting has gone the way of teepees and igloos--it is their past, not their present or future. Their permission to hunt should be regulated accordingly.
Canadians are perfectly in tune with the needs of their environment, and support their First Nations populations much better than we support our Natie Americans. They have yet, however, to raise their environmental consciousness to the point where they realize that without allowing wild animal populations to thrive, the rest of the environment will not thrive without them.
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By Bonnie Erbe