Written by Treothe Bullock, Portland OR. – An ecological milestone event was recorded in Hawaii for the first time as The Dalai Lama hosted – Environmental Summit – began. U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley introduced the Dalai Lama and shared that for the first time global CO2 levels, as measured in Hawaii, reached 400 parts per million. Best estimates say it has been about 10 million years since the planet has had such high levels of atmospheric CO2 . Modern humans have only been around 1 to 200,000 years and this represents a fundamental game change for our existence. Besides the Dalai Lama, the panel included Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber; Andrea Durbin, executive director of the Oregon Environmental Council; and David Suzuki, a scientist and host of the award-winning Canadian Television series, “The Nature of Things.” David Miller, host of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Think Out Loud,” moderated the panel discussion, part of the Summit on Spirituality and the Environment.
To be honest, this writer was shocked at the level of consensus and clarity in seeing the challenge we face and pathways of meaningful response that came out through the panel. It was heart lifting.
The Dalai Lama began by talking about his own biography, which began in a time when every wild stream in his experience could be directly drunk from. The idea of pollution was not existent. This has changed dramatically in a world where human population in our lifetime is predicted to shift from 7 to 10 billion. If India and Asia aspire to the levels of carbon based consumption represented by the USA we are on a path of mutual ecological destruction. We must accept the truths of sincere science and the fact that we live in a time in which old patterns no longer match the truth of our reality. He likened the economic activity by which we meet our needs as humans to a donut. On the outside of the donut is the environment, which we all depend on. On the inside of the donut are those among us who are most vulnerable – be it because of age, health, class or…. An economics of truth and compassion has responsibility to a practice, which is sustainable and affirming to the diversity and ecological integrity of the environment. It also has a responsibility to raise up those human beings among us who are most vulnerable.
Andrea Durbin reinforced some of these points in repeating the EPA statistics about the levels of known toxic chemicals and hormone disruptors that are currently in our environment. We have 80,000 human produced chemicals in our modern environment and only 200 are tested and 5 controlled. Unlike in Europe, in the USA chemicals are introduced to the environment until harm is proven. Human mothers have over 45 know harmful chemicals, which cross the placenta blood barrier into their children before birth. We are engaged in a huge toxic experiment. Our political system in broken and most of Oregon’s historic positive environmental legacy stands on the work of Governor Tom McCall, a Republican who was able to put common values ahead of partisan politics for the benefit of a common future – 30 years ago. Her group is currently working on passage of a bill that would at least demand full disclosure of the chemicals in the clothing and toys etc., which are made for use by children.
David Suzuki addressed how it has come to this. A century ago most of humanity was still living rurally in agriculturally based economies where biological realities were at the forefront of our common experience. As cities have moved into the center of the majority of our collective human reality the economy has become central to how most of humanity perceives it’s needs being met. The biological context of the economy has receded to the background of direct experience.
The Great Depression of the 1930’s taught a generation the importance of gardening and helping our neighbors and saving for a rainy day. WWII gave a huge lift to the economy despite its horrors. After the war it was largely decided that the nature of economic activity was not as important as the growth of economic activity. This has led to a blind faith in growth economy as the most important collective ideal for our mutual success. Oil spills and wars are good for this economy as they increase activity.
And here Governor Kitzhaber stepped in with very matured insight. He pointed out that the metrics of our economy are driving the current problems and that what we need to develop, in the next few years, is a new set of metrics for our economy. He implied we need metrics that include debits for the externalizations of ecological degradation and credits for responsible and sustainable innovations. We need metrics that show debits for generating class inequities and injustices and credits for development that lifts the most vulnerable up. An example of this is the Oregon Health Plan, which rather than simply funding care for the ill, invests in the fundamental health of all so there are less ill in need of care. He also shared a model for creating political will to make new agreements in the Oregon Watershed Councils which brought together Forestry, Environmentalists and local interests to collaborate on local decision making processes which generate new solutions for all stakeholders.
David Suzuki called this last example out as a failed model, based on similar round tables put in place in BC during the Crown Timber Lands crisis of the 1980’s, unless certain fundamental agreements exist. He spoke of the two most fundamental biological needs of the living. From our first gasp at birth we need air. We need air, which has not been poisoned. We need air, which is clean. As beings that are almost 70% water our second fundamental need is water. Water, which has not been poisoned. We need pure water. These agreements are not yet in place. We are still in a model that regulates the amounts of a very limited range of the current known toxins and hormone disruptors and there are many more we do not yet comprehend or protect ourselves from. We need a fundamental commitment to our basic biological needs and then we can go forward with a round table or council based process. It is meaningless without such fundamental agreements.
Andrea Durbin called out the reality that until we can change the funding of our democratic process so that our legislatures are responsive to communities rather than the corporate donors their reelections depend on, there may not be an effective political response to our challenge. We need to address campaign finance.
In addressing the problem of how we begin to leverage changes in our behavior the topic of carbon caps and taxes came up as both California and British Columbia have entered into implementing these programs. While taxation is taboo in the current political climate Kitzhaber pointed out that we already pay a carbon tax. We are paying in the form of environmentally caused illness and disease, in the failing of ecosystems, flooding and erosion of coastal areas, destabilization of climate…. We must be less passive in how we are taxed and use a more conscious responsive approach to the truth of our situation.
The Dalai Lama responded by suggesting we need to solve these problems while simultaneously decreasing population growth and practicing a socialism that is protective of the most vulnerable. He joked a bit about the socialist claim and then paired it with Freedom. He stressed the essentiality of freedom, which ennobles humanity and leaves the space for our creativity. He spoke of how each individual is precious and that if we are mired in the rhythms of our biological necessities we cannot develop our humanity. A humanity that has an inner life with qualities of empathy, compassion, self awareness and analysis, creativity & discipline that brings us into the social connections, and cultural and self awareness’s that foster true happiness and protect us from the depressions and addictions that social isolation and inner poverty make us vulnerable to. He also joked about his own lack of modern education as he promoted a renewal of education as fortifying for our humanity. An education which is based not only in the study of the truth’s of our moment but enables our youth to interact with these truth’s in ways that motivates them to action and gives them direct experience with the world. Education that connects truth, reality and social connection is a foundation to understanding which generates culturally realistic responses to our shared challenge.
The work is only just beginning. It is hopeful to hear political leaders who are able to articulate many of our challenges and meaningful directions of response. Each presenter shared how they are making personal changes to reduce their personal ecological impacts – recycling clothes, buying foods without packaging, bicycling more, sharing tools and vehicles. The Dalai Lama shared the Buddha’s teaching that the nuns and monks should be planting trees – that subsequent generations will have forests to care for and be cared by. He also admitted that many of our religious traditions are not in pace with the reality of our time. Regardless of belief, we can all choose to live with a compassion that brings forward precious life.
One of the Majestic generosities of our drylands…
These growing in the company of the Painted Hills Goddess country….
These growing right out of stony ground with little soil…
I remember meeting a wild crafter, preparing for a guided walk on Tsel Queetsin (Madrona Point – now closed to the public) at the epicenter of many of the most ancient stories of Orcas Island in the San Juans – She told a story of being raised up on homestead claim land in the Dalles area above the CheeAwana. Her family land had an ancient bitter root pit. Each year families would come for the bitter root harvest. The roots were slow cooked in a pit so that they were caramelized and then dried into cakes which could be reconstituted over the course of the year. She would always look forward to this spring time visit and the mystery of the preparations of fire – the laying of leaves and roots.
World War II came and the families were tragically disrupted in their rhythms by the War. They did not recover from the trauma of the war and never returned for the harvest in her lifetime.
Gratitudes for the generosities of our mothers our grandmothers and all future mothers. May we remember the root of generosity of our Mothers. May we remember the root of Mother’s Day – as a prayer from the Mother’s that we bring an end to the practice of War. Gratitudes for the peace and beauty of the flowering earth – and this flower whose root to this day – blesses the table of many a feast.
These Painted Hills clays were born out of the ashy breathe of early Cascade volcanoes…
Reds are from the time when all of earth was tropical, wet and warm…
Before there were polar icecaps…
Golden Clays are from the time after the Chesapeake incident – in which a meteor crashed so hard into what is now the east coast of Turtle Island – that it fractured stone 5 miles deep – and sent off a cloud of dust that screened the sun and began the freezing of the polar ice caps…
Grass evolved on the planet for the first time in this cooling change of the Oligocene – it is thought that the increased carbon sink services of grass contributed to the stability of a cooler earth and our polar ice caps.
Horses who lived in these hills during the time of the Red Clay were still 3 toed forest browsers…
Historic Memory of Ten’s of Thousands of Sea Mammals Indigenous to the Columbia River Watershed
Over 2200 sea lions and seals make themselves at home in the Columbia River. As far as 145 miles up the River at the Bonneville Dam, Willamette Falls on the Willamette and the waters in between the ocean bar at Astoria sea mammals are at home. (According to the Oregon Dept of Fish & Wildlife “A 2006 survey conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) estimated up to 1,200 California sea lions and 1,000 Steller sea lions in the lower Columbia River.”) This is not a new phenomenon. Early English speaking visitors in the landscape – Lewis & Clark, David Thompson & the head of the Hudson’s Bay Company, George Simpson, documented large numbers of seals all the way up to Cascade Falls & Wyam, Celilo Falls, over 200 miles up the river. It has been estimated that at the time of Lewis & Clark there were over 20,000 sea mammals in the River system. Today most are migratory animals that breed primarily in California. It is estimated that 200 years ago there may well have been year round residents. Despite these large numbers the seal lions were extremely difficult to hunt and had incredible value. It has been reported by George Simpson, that in the slave trade that existed at the time in the Pacific Northwest, a River Sea Lion had a value (primarily because of its fat) – that exceeded the value placed on a human life.
Willful Amnesia –
The sea lions and seals have kept their memory and despite big changes they are still in the Rivers. Historic mythical fish runs were decimated and many species have been made extinct. The colonial capitalism process of the British and then USA has commoditized much of the landscape in the Pacific Northwest. Salmon Industries set up combinations of catch wheels and gill nets with canneries which removed so many of the salmon – which historically had been catchable every day of the year – that remaining Indian Villages along the Columbia such as Priest Rapids faced starvation as early as the 1880’s. When the Bonneville Dam came in it had no fish ladder and the complete destruction of historic runs began. As the resource of salmon diminished, remaining sea mammals were viewed as competitors and killed off with inexpensive bullets by hunters and fishermen. In just over a hundred years after the 1st colonialists came into the region most mega fauna (large mammals) that were not colonialists had been completely removed from the river system. Sea Lions were not the only mammals impacted. Grizzly bears were as deeply affected.
From the time that sea mammals began their return in the 1980’s until recently government scientists have written reports about exotic animals eating endangered salmon. Historically sea mammals consumed an estimated 2 – 4 % of salmon in line with current levels of consumption. Humans currently consume about 17% of salmon. Dams are estimated to destroy a minimum of 17 % of current runs. Current salmon runs in Oregon range from 1 to 19% of historical levels depending on how ocean conditions interact with habitat loss in a current year. In those places that habitat has not been completely destroyed 40-70% of habitat destruction is typical. Salmon recovery is dependent on the recovery of habitat, bringing down of dams, the ending of toxin flows into our watersheds, and management of human harvesting. Because sea lions have the advantage of water adaptation and do not have weapons they have been make into scapegoats in the fragility of endangered and threatened wild salmon runs.
This spring in the year 2013 only 40 spring Chinook salmon had been caught by ceremonial native fisherman above the Bonneville Dam in the period leading up to the traditional first salmon ceremony. Indians were forced to serve last years frozen salmon at the first salmon ceremonies. Meanwhile sports fishermen below the dam had harvested over 6000 spring Chinook salmon. (The management rational is to let sports fisher people fish early when it is hard to catch anything and First Nations to fish later when it is easy to catch.)
When First Nations were forced to sign land cession treaties they were wise enough to maintain title to traditional hunting, fishing and gathering rights. The level of habitat destruction that has occurred and the lack of transparent treaty right easements and ecological treaty right based responsibilities on privately deeded lands have represented a collapse of the meaningfulness of those historic agreements, and rights established by what has in time come to be recognized internationally as Indigenous Title. Because by international law lands that were not ceded by agreement maintain Indigenous Title most of the United States is in fact illegally occupied by non indigenous title holders (over half of land cessation treaties were never ratified by Congress – those that were obtained under a threat of genocide – effectively nullifying their legitimacy). Canada to the North has taken this issue to heart and has been renegotiating title across huge acreages in light of International Law. In the United States the Federal government has had a consistent pattern of avoiding any acknowledgement or openings within its legal system for International law to come into play with the adjudication of historic and ongoing theft of resources being destroyed in defiance of Indigenous Title. The Pacific Northwest has been an exception to this overarching pattern as the historic Boldt decision affirmed history treaty obligations as having standing into the future and specifically applicable to the harvest of Salmon in the Columbia River and associated watersheds. The recent decision recognizing the primacy of Klamath Indian fishing based water rights over agricultural water rights reinforces this legal reality.
The result of the marginalization of salmon is that both First Nations and the Federal and State agencies that are charged with the management and recovery of the salmon have declared war on the sea mammals. Just last week a sea lion tried to get past the Bonneville Dam in the fish ladder and was killed for the deed. As I write this the four traps at Bonneville have sea lions and have been covered with tarps to keep the likely killing out of the public record. Two are now scheduled for life in a New York Aquarium and one is being “euthanized”. Several others were branded and returned to the water. . Idaho, Washington and Oregon have permits to kill up to 95 a year through 2016 representing a cull of up to nearly 500 sea lions! A court order stopped the killing in 2011 but judges have ruled in favor of the killing despite multiple lawsuits to stop it. Animals are being branded and marked to assist their tracking. Animals are being shot at and harassed in an effort to deter them from their biological and historic indigenous imperatives. Repeat eaters at fish ladders are being trapped and killed. Sea Shepherd – the planetary enforcers of sea mammal protection law and activists around these issues has set up guardians who are documenting this violence and questioning the science and ethics which have led to the marginalization of animals that have a diminished political and economic voice in comparison to the salmon.
Grizzly Bears presence at the Salmon Table.
A similar story holds true for the Grizzly Bear who historically had a presence at the falls along the River during salmon runs. Successful reproduction in grizzly populations depends on a source of high fat foods in the fall before hibernation and again in the spring after emergence from the den. Their are two distinct dietary strategies that differentiate the Grizzly Bear populations of the west. One is centered on the Whitebark Stone Pine – the tree which grows highest in the Western Alpine slopes – it is a high fat food source that squirrels gather and store with other nuts in middens. Grizzly’s have become experts at raiding squirrel middens in the fall and have been documented digging through 6 feet of snow in the spring to access squirrel middens for spring feeding. In good years the nuts can provide up to 60% of caloric intake of grizzly mothers.
The other primary food source for the grizzly is salmon. Historically they have learned to simply strip the skin and fat from the salmon leaving the meat for the birds and others who feed around them. This feeding and sharing was a primary way that the nutrients from the sea grew legs and was then distributed across the landscape as bear feces and through the bodies and feces of the tertiary feeders. While Grizzly Bears are slowly making a comeback after virtual extinction in most of the lower 48 states all known populations are Whitebark stone pine reliant. The lower elevations of salmon based diets include levels of violence from humans that have as of yet not been willing to stop. The Columbia River National Scenic Area is a place where public lands and salmon meet in historic Grizzly Bear habitat. Isolated evidence of a grizzly presence in the Columbia River National Scenic Area has been reported privately. It could well be the place a reemerging grizzly population could cross over from the high mountain whitepine diet back to salmon.
9 vertebrate species have a consistent primary relationship with salmon – this is a link to a report that details this – by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Grizzly Bears are listed in the top 9 consistent primary relationships while sea lions and seals are listed with the 58 species known to have recurrent relationships.
Clark’s Nutcracker & Grizzly Bear Communities
First Nations were largely treated like the sea lions, seals and grizzly bears by the mostly European industrialized fishing business. They were viewed as competition to full scale exploitation of the “resource” and every attempt was made to remove them. Smohalla led a long running “renegade” occupation of Priest Rapids and the Wyam people kept fidelity with Celilo Falls despite the most brutal of tactics to destroy their fisheries and their lives – leading to the eventual flooding of both sites. From the First Nations perspective the Construction of the Priest Rapids and The Dalles Dams by the US Army Corp of Engineers was a capstone strategy to complete the removal of Indians from the River and destroy the centerpieces of the traditional diets and culture of the people in a longstanding genocidal process. Despite these efforts the Indian Nations did not go away and have continued to win battles in the courts on behalf of the fisheries and slowly efforts to restore the wild runs that still have shadows of existence are under way. Despite the continuance of salmon – continuing to eat a traditional diet has become life threatening as a result of toxic chemical loads in the ecosystem.
Here is an overview of an EPA report presented by Larry Dunn, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, on impacts of toxic chemicals on the traditional diets and children in the Pacific Northwest. Extremely high levels of birth deformities and cancers are documented as directly connected to toxicity in traditional foods.
The EPA concluded in this report that quote,
“Some 80,000 chemicals are produced and used in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency has been able to require testing on just 200 and only five have been regulated under the Toxics Substances Control Act… The time has passed for negotiating acceptable levels of toxic chemicals in the environment, with the current levels and number of health issues which can be attributed to chemical exposures, we as a species appear to be on our way to extinction. To avoid this we need to be aggressive in cleanups, and regulating the use of chemicals. We must protect those most vulnerable groups and in the process we will protect everyone.”
Regulatory Agencies have proven themselves to be a political ruse despite well intentioned scientists who work within them and attempt to communicate the level of danger toxins in our environment represent. It may be that rather than fighting against the remaining mega fauna who share salmon we need to address, in a more meaningful way the permission given to those who have toxified our home in what could be read as a continuation of a genocidal process against First Nations and their Human Rights to access traditional foods without being poisoned. We all share the fate which our Native Nations are enduring with the most visible impacts among us all.
A growing movement to establish Rights of Nature and to give our ecosystems and local community’s protection from corporate personhood rights is emerging which could allow us to reverse the fiasco of “regulated” harm that has resulted in the toxification of our icons of indigenous food systems. Community Ordinances are effectively stopping the ability of corporate activities to engage in this form of violence on a local level.
Sea lions and seals have been watching and listening to the River through all of this. Will they in the end have the River?