Environmental issues should concern everyone

Published 12:07 pm Thursday, June 20, 2002

By By Brian Blackley, Publisher
Whether or not a person believes in the ideology behind the theory of evolution, strong evidence exists that it is a real and legitimate scientific theory that holds a great deal of water. I am not referring to the "man from apes" idea as much as I am referring to Darwinism, the Law of Natural Selection or "survival of the fittest."
What I mean is that over time, as circumstances change, the more resilient and hardy specimens survive and grow, no matter what kind of animal may be in question. And as these hardy specimens breed, their offspring have similar characteristics, perhaps more pronounced due to a particular trait's existence in both parents.
This ideology has, arguably, been critical in the development of animal and plant life in our world. The strong survive, and nature weeds out the week in an effort to produce better, hardier plants and animals. I believe in it, personally, and I believe that evolution is a natural defense God gave all living things to allow them to adapt and perpetuate their existence amidst changing conditions in environment, habitat and climate.
But the world is facing something it has never faced before on such a global scale. Mankind is moving more and more into unoccupied habitat and is making it his own, taking from it the resources that many plants and animals require for their development.
This is an unusual topic for me to explore, but given my recent discovery of two critical facts, I have spent considerable time pondering this issue - and I have not gotten very far.
A few weeks ago, I wandered into northern Arkansas on a canoe trip. As my truck meandered along the mountain roads, my brother - my companion for the trip - noted that the oak trees on the side of the highway appeared to be in bad shape.
We began to notice that oaks throughout the trip seemed to be afflicted by some form of blight or another and we were extremely curious as to what it could be.
After considerable driving and observing, we pulled into an information center where we were hoping to inquire about canoe rentals and other trips and activities including getting a fishing license, finding out where some good public camp sites were, etc.
The people working there were engrossed in discussions with another customer and I wandered through the center picking up pamphlets, a map of the river, some information about camping and other things I wanted. Then something caught my eye. It was a leaflet that posed a question, "What is happening to our oaks?"
Seeing this as an answer to a day-old riddle, I picked up the leaflet and wandered back to the truck with a copy in hand for my brother. We got little or nothing from the pamphlet because little or nothing is known. Essentially, the verdict is still out, but the pamphlet pointed to a number of complex phenomenon that are "contributing factors" including a tree's age, recent years of draught, insects, pesticides and other things. These are claiming the life of many of Arkansas' oak trees and science is looking for an answer.
It is said that "shade resistant species" of trees - like maples, sycamores and some others - could take the place of some oak species in Arkansas.
Monday I read a series of stories in the Mobile Register pondering the question of the future of Alabama's black bear. This issue hit close to home as I saw, from childhood to adulthood, a drop in the population of black bears in my native Mississippi Delta. By the 1970s, bears were dying out in that area, and the one and only bear I have seen, I saw cross a road between two large wooded areas in about 1981. Word is that where there were once hundreds, there are now fewer than a dozen wandering Delta National Forest.
Alabama has also seen the demise of these animals, and the last of them are believed to live in an area near here in North Mobile County near Saraland.
But the expansion of people is taking its toll and numbers are diminishing steadily. Currently, Alabama's black bear - allegedly reported to part of the Florida subspecies of black bear by a relatively controversial theory - is not protected by the national government. The same is true of Mississippi and Florida black bears.
I am a conservationist, but I am struggling with questions of whether or not these recent events - among countless others we hear about locally, regionally and nationally - are simply part of the evolutionary process. If so, is the demise of some species of the Arkansas oak and the black bear part of evolution?
I believe the world must change. After all, change is one of the only known absolutes. But will this change bring our own ruination? Is the disappearance of critical species of animals a warning to us that we are taking our world too far? It seems so to me.
I plan to write my legislators and urge them to pass stricter environmental controls - something that goes against my core beliefs in free enterprise - because I fear continued destruction without protecting certain areas and species will lead us down a dark road in the future.
Brian Blackley is publisher for The Advance.

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