Playing God in suburbia

  • Greg Hanscom

 

For the past six years, I’ve been a volunteer medic on our local ambulance service. In each ambulance, we keep a stack of 4-by-8-inch cards. I’ve treated victims of everything from stomach flu to mine cave-ins, and I’ve never had occasion to use those tags. I hope I never do.

Here’s how they work: Faced with a bus crash or an earthquake — an accident that creates more victims than you can tend to at once — your job is to quickly survey the patients. Then, you assign each one a color-coded card, which has perforated color strips across the bottom. A patient with a green card is injured, but not seriously. A yellow card indicates serious but not life-threatening injuries, while a red card means the patient has life-threatening injuries in need of immediate attention. Finally, a black card indicates that a patient is dead — or about to be.

This triage system, pioneered during the Korean War, is designed to give the greatest number of people their best shot at survival. In a situation where resources are limited, it’s a harsh but necessary solution. But it puts the medic in a horrible position: You have to decide who is likely to live or die.

According to some people, we’re in just such a situation with the West’s wildlife. Rob Roy Ramey, the Colorado scientist who plays one of the starring roles in this issue’s cover story, says that in a world where conservation resources are limited, "We have to do triage." We have to choose which habitat to protect and which wildlife to restore — and we have to decide which ones to let die.

To some extent, we’ve been doing this for a long time. Conservation groups have to pick their battles wisely, or risk losing them all. Land trusts have to be strategic about where conservation easements will do the most good. State and federal wildlife agencies make tough decisions every day about where they’ll spend their limited time and money. But are conditions now so dire that we need to abandon certain species (or subspecies, such as the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, the subject of this story) entirely because our attention is needed elsewhere? I’d like to think not.

Of all of the public-land management agencies that have been pinched for money in recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has perhaps been squeezed the hardest. Last year, the agency received just $69 million for endangered species recovery. Compare that to the $4.8 billion Congress appropriated for national highways, or the $1.3 billion it spent on early reading programs, or the $880 million allotted for nuclear waste disposal. We’re a wealthy society. Surely we can dig a little more change out of the couch for wildlife.

It also seems to me that we’re smart enough to accommodate a few more people in the West and still preserve wildlife habitat. We don’t have to wreck Colorado’s economy to protect a few thousand acres for the Preble’s mouse.

Then again, maybe we’ve decided, as a people, that we’re only willing to stretch so far for other creatures. If so, we’re playing God with the West. The outcome, even if we succeed in saving a few chosen species, is sure to be heart-breaking.

High Country News Classifieds
  • POLICY DIRECTOR - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Seeking Policy Director to lead our policy programs to ensure the health/vibrancy of CA's Inyo/Mono Co. public lands. FT or PT. Remote OK but frequent...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Friends of the San Juans (Friends), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is seeking an experienced, passionate, and charismatic environmental leader to continue its strong community leadership...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.