Thursday, April 24, 2008

I saw you leaving.

This little angel is a kangaroo rat, specific to San Bernardino and Riverside counties in southern California. The kangaroo rat subsists on seeds and lives in brush along riverbanks and creeks. It helps redistribute plantlife after floods by disseminating seeds throughout its habitat.

But guess what? Its habitat is shrinking very quickly. Over 30,000 acres of land were designated several years ago as critical to the kangaroo rat's survival, but now the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, under the tutelage the Marmoset Brigade, is proposing to slash this creature's protected habitat to under 11,000 acres.

SAN BERNARDINO, CA — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wednesday proposed a dramatic reduction in habitat designated as critical for the survival of the charismatic and declining San Bernardino kangaroo rat. The proposal would designate a total of only 10,658 acres of habitat, a 68-percent reduction from the current designation of 33,295 acres.
Now, I've spent plenty of time in San Bernardino county. My first trek into this desert region took place in 2000 when I was hijacked by several friends into camping in Joshua Tree National Park. My friends fed-exed me a plane ticket to Ontario Airort, and since I had never been to Los Angeles at that point, I thought we were going to spend a madcap weekend rolling around and hobnobbing with celebrities in that glamorous city. As my friends drove in the opposite direction from civilization, my heart sank - we were not going to be bumping into Paul Rudd any time soon. Worse, we eventually pulled into a K-Mart out in the middle of nowhere and purchased several sleeping bags.

A bad sign if ever there was one.

All the while, we were driving through desolation. Civilization came in small and widely separated patches, and consisted mainly of a gas station / convenience store, a few ramshackle huts most likely occupied by meth lab technicians, and one or two homesteads.

We drove through the quaint, tiny town of Twentynine Palms and reached our destination. The park was a gorgeous, vast expanse of rust-colored rock jutting up from the brush-covered earth, Joshua Trees hapazardly and majestically sprinkling across the landscape. Although my time there was brief, it was a memory I will keep forever.

Now, I moved to Los Angeles in 2006 and on my first day in town, I dumped my shit off and drove to Twentynine Palms. The drive was completely different. Civilization has encroached in a devastating way - the roadside is no longer the romantic desert landscape of yesteryear. Instead, it is a vision of doom featuring automobile dealerships, casinos, outlet malls, Wal-Marts, subdivisions of little to no personality, and water parks. Yes, water parks in the fucking desert.

And then there's Twentynine Palms itself. Still a charming town, but its population has boomed from 11,000 to 28,000. Its main road is mostly hotels. It has a golf course with bright green, lush grass. My first reaction to this sight was utter and complete disgust. If you want to play golf - play it where there's fucking grass. Don't build a golf course out in the god damn desert and expect to keep it green - I mean, what is wrong with you people?

The water it takes to maintain the grass in this fucking golf course is staggering, and locals complain that the watering of this golf course (along with several new residents' lawns) has changed the humidity of the area. They say they can no longer rely on ventilation itself to keep cool. They now want air conditioners, because they're sweating more now than they were before. A lot of people who moved to this area years ago were HAPPY that they never had to use air conditioners.

Why am I blathering about this? Because all of this demonstrates what's going on in the desert. What once was completely devoid of human life - a shunned, arid hell - is now a trendy spot for a second home. And as humans do best, we're destroying the homes of others in the process.

We're fucking up enough unprotected land. We NEED to protect some land from human encroachment if only to have a reminder of what this shit used to look like before we decided to put Wal-Marts on it.

And regardless of how necessary people think it is to build a new subdivision in Death Valley, we need to save land for other species, especially ones whose very existence we have already endangered. Because, as we all know, most animals on the endangered species list are endangered because of one thing - people.

My problem in discussing the plight of the kangaroo rat is the simple fact that if you tell the average person that a variety of rat is teetering on the verge of extinction due solely to the selfishness and short-sightedness of man, their response will generally be either, "Ew, I hate rats" or "so what?"

Now, here's the thing. Man is not in charge of the planet, despite the fact the we think we are. These animals - all of them - they have every right to be here, and we, as the "thinking" species, have a responsibility to ensure their continued survival.

Imagine how boring this place is going to be when they're gone.

You can read more about the kangaroo rat's current situation here.

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