We have met the enemy and he is us. Pogo, comic strip character created by Walt Kelly
Have you picked wild berries? Eaten fresh fish or game at a family meal? Traipsed across undeveloped land? Growing up in South Georgia, I took all these for granted.
My parents were the first generation to avoid farming since my ancestors arrived before the American Revolution. Their aspirations were aligned with the rest of the country. At the turn of the 20th century, 40 percent of the U.S. population earned its living off the land.In 100 years plus, that figure has dropped to less than two percent. Today over the river and through the woods is unlikely to take you to grandmother’s house. Imagine trying to program those directions into your GPS!
As an adult, no quixotic notions about weeding or gathering eggs remain with me. Like most Americans,the diversity of activities and job opportunities makes urban life more appealing. With more birthdays, access to decent healthcare has become part of the mix. Nonetheless, it is disturbing that many people lack direct experience with the land and its resources.
Even in Alaska which boasts nearly 33 percent rural population and the lowest density per square mile, urban residence numbers are increasing at a faster rate. Georgia, where agriculture remains a big industry, has a rural population below 20 percent. In New York State the figure is around eight percent.
These are points to ponder after reading about the recent“satirical” legislation introduced in Alaska to give New York City residents a taste of federal land regulation. HJR31 addresses the resistance to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil development and drilling. The bill has bipartisan support for drilling in what is known as “Area 1002,” which came under federal protection in 1960 and was extended in 1980. The 29,687 square miles of land represents about 8 percent of Alaska, and Central Park represents about 6 percent of Manhattan, making the two equivalent based on percentages.
With a population below one million and a less hospitable environment, Alaskans may not imagine that without protection, the 49thstate could transform within a few decades. The Empire State of the South has not made protecting farmland, rivers and forests a priority. Some still believe we can pave away the problems. Even 19th century residents of the original Empire State would probably be surprised to see where thinking that a paved road meant economic growth has led.
If I read the maps are correctly, the majority of the deforestation west of the Mississippi took only 70 years, occurring mainly between 1850 and 1920. The U.S. is among the seven countries where the majority of the world’s forests remain. All are very fragile. The U.S. is among the seven countries where the majority of the world’s forests remain. As a country that thinks in two-year election cycles, kudos to Teddy Roosevelt for his stewardship in protecting natural spaces for the future.Let’s be vigilant as we move through this century.