The photographer Paul Nicklen starving polar bear really looked like Credit SealegacyCatersNews Web

The photographer Paul Nicklen starving polar bear really looked like. | Credit Sealegacy Caters News

By Louis Tucker, Los Angeles Audubon Society Member and Field Trip Leader

I am angry, enraged, bordering on going nuclear, outrage fatigued, and most simply, not happy. As citizens of this planet, we've got major problems. And, our feckless leaders are throwing every sort of distraction at us and exhausting us, so that we won't pay attention. Since January, I have signed easily more than two hundred petitions, maybe close to three hundred. Every day I sign at least four or five. These organizations ask for money. I'm of no use there, so, I sign petitions.

There is a reality that we nature lovers are faced with, confronted with, assaulted with. And, we have to pay attention. And, I will risk making enemies. I've stopped caring about the people who may be offended by what I'm about to write. I will not heed warnings about getting political; largely because what I'm about to say shouldn't be political, especially to people of honor and integrity. Unfortunately, that's what this present onslaught lacks: honor and integrity, and a strong concern for our planet and all of its inhabitants.

Several weeks ago, I came across an article on my Yahoo news feed that was about the strong possibility of the Red Wolf going extinct. This shook me to my core. What on earth could possibly be the reason for this? There has been a relatively successful program of captive breeding and re-introducing this wolf back into the wild where it is endemic; in northeastern North Carolina. This is our smallest wolf, and they only get to be forty-five to eighty pounds. This is quite different from the Gray and Timber Wolves which the males can easily exceed one hundred pounds. The restoration process had gotten the wild population up to one hundred and thirty wolves. However, along come poachers and hunters. Over time they've killed eighty-five of them; and now the number is down to forty-five wolves. There are still two hundred in the captive breeding program. Here's the "onion": the republicans in congress want to stop funding the restoration process. So, the wolves, without protection, will become extinct, by default.
There were fireworks going off in my head. There are insane implications to all of this. It's not just the wolves. The Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, wants to make it permissible to shoot Grizzly and Polar Bears in their dens while they are hibernating. Also, he wants to permit hunters to kill denning wolves. Let that idea swirl around in your head for a while. He wants to open up our national monuments and national parks and wildlife refuges for fossil fuel drilling and mining; and, while we're at it, mining around the perimeter of the Grand Canyon for uranium. That's only a small portion of what's on Zinke's menu. Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, aside from wanting to decimate that department entirely, is doing "small" steps of undoing every bit of progress that happened in the Obama years. And, Obama wasn't quick at the draw to make these environmental changes, as well, but, he did take big steps so that we have a safer and less toxic planet.

I furiously write this stuff down, because my outings, birding of late, have been very disappointing. And, I'm not one of these birders who has to have an exciting time every time I'm out looking for things. But, several weeks ago down at the Ballona walk, which I co-led with Irwin Woldman, it was discouraging with the lack of birds around. In the middle of November, there are usually a lot of different species of ducks. I guess they didn't get the invitation? Perhaps because it is still warm up north, many of the species haven't migrated yet. There were a good number of Mallards, a few Buffleheads, some Wigeon, and five Ruddies. Where we were along the south jetty, I didn't see any Surfbirds, just a couple of Least Sandpipers, very few Western Grebes on the water, no loons. It was one of the worst birding days I've had in my thirty-eight years of birding. This past weekend, December 2, 2017, I was to lead a birding trip up to the Antelope Valley for LAAS, which got cancelled, due to participation cancellation. However, the weekend before, I went up there to scout out what birds were around. And, there were species around, but not in the big numbers that I've seen up there in former years. The Antelope Valley in the winter is usually overrun with various races of Red-tails. I didn't see very many at all. In certain areas, it has been usually good for finding Ferruginous Hawks. Again, I only saw a few. I didn't see any Mountain Bluebirds - and that almost crushed my spirit.

When I moved to Los Angeles in January of 1987, one of my first birding excursions was to the West Antelope Valley. I went up the 14 freeway to Avenue D. And, I drove Avenue D from the 14 west all the way to Quail Lake. I never had to make any detours. Everything I wished to see, along with a few surprises, was right on this route. Golden Eagles, Ferruginous, Red-tails of many races, and Rough-legged Hawks were on telephone poles or on the ground. Also, there were Prairie Falcons, Merlin and Kestrel on telephone poles as well. Harriers were flying around in the area. I remember numbers of Joshua Trees and cactus where I would hear the murmurings of Cactus Wrens. And, the fields, closer to Quail Lake would be literally cluttered with Mountain Bluebirds.

As great portions of the Antelope Valley were developed for less expensive housing and further proliferation of the great American mall, many of these birds rapidly disappeared. The Golden Eagle and Rough-legged Hawks were first to leave. They were followed by the bluebirds. And, with the elimination of the Joshua Trees for houses, the Cactus Wrens went elsewhere as well. In the late 80's and early 90's there were more farms and agriculture in the west valley. That meant there were livestock and rodents –good chow for the predators–and many Horned Larks which kept more than a few Prairie Falcons happy. The Antelope Valley housing bubble burst, but most of the farms are gone. Many of the houses are run down, but that hasn't brought the birds back.

There is another factor at play here, which I will take a stab at, as to why there seems to be a lack of birds around which usually winter here. It's still not incredibly cold up north. For some of us who look at these events and try to figure out what's happening, the answer becomes more and more clear, that climate change is NOT a hoax; there are crazy temperature fluctuations happening all over the planet. We are having devastating hurricanes in some areas. The hurricane season this past fall was quite frightening. And, as some scientists have stated, we may not get as many hurricanes; but the ones we get, with the rise in ocean temperatures, each season will become worse than the last one.
In the west, here, we are now experiencing more severe drought. And, after the rainy season last winter, which was so welcomed and needed, the brush grew to huge proportions. Now, having an attack of the Santa Ana winds, a spark sets off the most incredibly horrifying wildfires that we've ever witnessed. And, that brings me to a point which I feel needs to be put in front of us to ponder and do something about.

Before the election of 2016, we were taking small steps, but, making progress with trying to do something about slowing down the acceleration of the heating of this planet. Brave steps were taken: laws made to cut the carbon thrown into the atmosphere, trying as best we can to use cleaner energy sources –using solar, wind, and plants that would be beneficial. As well as making more fuel efficient vehicles, and being judicious in our use of fossil based energy. One of the best solutions was to have an international accord where all nations would cut down the use of toxic energy sources: The Paris Agreement.

Unfortunately, a feckless, provocateur, huckster, TV reality star became our president. He and his minions have some really dangerous ideas they would like to bring to fruition. First, it must be said that this man is so full of bigotry, envy and hatred, that everything his predecessor put in motion, he has done everything within his power to undo. Their ultimate goal is the deconstruction of the democratic state. This man does not have any political experience. He has no sense of history, nor does he revere it. He is vindictive and petty, small minded, intellectually incurious, has no knowledge of the history of this great country, or of the world. He is divisive and exhales toxic verbiage.

It is simply amazing that at present, the economy is doing well and unemployment is down. How long can that last? He is withdrawing America from the rest of the world. All international treaties are headed to the circular file of lost dreams. He has intimidated members of his adopted party so that they become accomplices in this aberrant behavior. Intelligent discussions are not to be had. These groups of republicans and their leader have taken a machete/sword/AK-47 to programs that would be helpful to a myriad of issues. Educating our children is not a concern; so a woman who knows nothing about public and higher education becomes Secretary of Education. Educating children has become a class issue. I stand in wonder at how any of our children will be given an education because the people who lead the education department are found lacking in any expertise in collecting and implementing ideas which will help advance our children toward tackling their future.

The Secretary of State has no political experience and has left the State Department with career people leaving in horror and disgust. The Secretary of Energy does not possess any scientific knowledge. The prior leaders of that department have been physicists. He has jumped on the president's bandwagon to promote coal. Just about the dirtiest form of energy there is, along with drilling oil. None of the cabinet members have the qualifications to head their respective departments. And, notably, some want to destroy the departments they lead.

The national structure, world structure and everything that falls within those areas is going to be disrupted and ultimately destroyed. Our environment, our air and water, food sources, all forms of life, from invertebrates to all forms of creatures, plants, even humans are being threatened. And, there are many people responsible for this. It must be said that in this past election, there are people who wanted to get rid of the older form of leadership. But, what took its place in that vacuum are people who want to upend the system. And, with every vital element that we lose; every life form that dies or becomes extinct, it isn't just the leaders who are responsible. The people who support these misguided leaders are also responsible.

There are opposing agendas. Those who love to go out and be in the wild, whether that is hiking, birding, camping, rock climbing, canoeing, white water river rafting– activities involving being in the great outdoors–these activities are subtly being stolen from you. These elected and appointed leaders' allegiance is not to the departments they serve. Their allegiance is to big corporations: fossil fuels and big pharma for example. That means that they are not caring in the least for the outdoor passions that feed your spirit. They have made their alliances clear. For those of you who support these people, you have either been duped or you don't care. It is clear that the leaders on the right want to take away land that supports many endangered species. Land, especially in the west, which is sacred to Native Americans, land which in many cases are their ceremonial grounds, land that is their heritage. And for what, oil drilling, mining, fracking? If you've ever visited our National Parks, Monuments or refuges, you've seen what jewels they are. To have them marred by drilling rigs, mining shafts and tunnels is criminal.

Voters and people with sentiments on the right, you have to bear the responsibility of giving these leaders permission to destroy what is sacred and beautiful, and also beneficial. What benefit will there be after raping and pillaging the resources of these magnificent places? Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante Monuments are only the beginning. This president has ordered the shrinkage of 85% in Bears Ears and half of Grand Staircase Escalante. The republican congress has voted to go ahead and drill on the north slope of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge: a breeding place for millions of birds, calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou, denning for Polar Bears. This is not only going to speed up the earth's already climbing temperatures, it also has great possibilities of killing a lot of flora and fauna. And you folks who support right leaning politics, but also want to take in the beauty of the outdoors, I'm not going to let you off the hook. There is a Biblical principle that comes to mind which Jesus states: "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
Thinking of that quote metaphorically, I look at this as in the idea of creation. The life forms which have been created (we can always argue what the source is) as opposed to the industrial forces which man has created. The life forms have been on loan to us and we are to be good stewards of them; but they are perishable. The industrial forms, no doubt, have advanced our lives on this planet. But, there comes a moment when that progress can become destructive, when we have advanced possibly too far. Then it becomes necessary to stop, slow down, and reassess what steps we take from here. The earth's natural resources are finite. These fossil fuels are not endless. The felling of trees will eventually rob us of the necessary oxygen to live. The poisoning of our water ways has already taken their toll on animal and plant life. Coral reefs in our oceans are dying at a rapid rate. We are losing glaciers, ice in both the arctic and Antarctica is melting fast. That's bad for polar bears and seals where both of those species can be hunted by orcas. Without the ice floes, polar bears can't hunt seals and they drown, die of starvation, or are killed by orcas.

The frozen waters of the arctic once prevented orcas from being able to hunt in that area. Now that ice has melted in significant amounts, orcas have become the apex predator of the north. They have supplanted the fierce polar bear. The bear is a great swimmer, but, it is an animal that also depends on land and ice floes. It is a land animal that happens to swim. Orcas are dolphins on steroids and only live in water. The fierce "Ice Bear" is no match for a pod of orcas. Not even sharks can put up a good fight with an animal capable of making a strategy, and has a huge brain which it uses in very clever ways.

But wait! With climbing temperatures, and taking protections off of endangered wildlife, and drilling and mining, ending strict regulations, what do we end up with? That is worth thinking about. Some forms of life can live through almost anything. Think roaches, city pizza carrying rats, pigeons, starlings whose populations are already more than exploding. And, these guys can withstand almost any adversity. Unchecked, they also spread disease. Unchecked, deer populations spread disease. So can almost any life form if we lose bio-diversity and an ecological balance. In this present administration, the brain trust doesn't exist. Nor do they care. The heads of these environmental agencies declare that they are in favor of an ecological balance and then out of the other side of their mouths, they want to take land away, pollute our air and water, do sonic testing in our oceans and destroy the sensitive hearing of whales and dolphins. This is what the people who voted on the right voted for; and, oh, a little detail I forgot to mention, a threat of nuclear war. And, then, we won't be around to see what is going to happen next. You people need to own this, and bear the guilt.

P.S. There are several articles: in the Boston Globe by Kenneth Singletary, and in the New York Times December 11, 2017 by Matt Stevens about "what a starving Polar Bear looks like". Photos and film footage captured by National Geographic photo and film journalist Paul Nicklen.

This footage has also had a viral life lately on social media. I encourage everyone to see it. It is graphic, it is grave; and it will rip the heart right out of your body. But, we need to realize how urgent taking steps to slow down this drastic temperature rise are. I know the squeamish among won't want to look at this because the image is so horrible. But, we need to look at it. It needs to be seared in our brains, because, in the long term, this poor creature is not part of the only species that's going to be wiped off the face of the earth. And, if you don't think human life will be part of the extinction lineup, you'd better think again.