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
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...