The 7 most insightful comments about the environment in 2014

REUTERS/Eric Miller
From Jan. 15, when the ice cave route opening was announced, through March 9, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore superintendent Bob Krumenaker's staff counted 120,000 visitors to the attraction.

The greatest joy of my job is to wade every day into a rushing stream of jabber about the things that matter most to me, and to many of you.

Not all of it is quotable, not by a long shot, but the mundane makes the best bits all the brighter and as I think back over the year’s most memorable moments, nearly all of them involve someone voicing an interesting, important point in an especially cogent, piercing or funny way. Herewith a very small sample of my favorites from 2104:

1. Tammy Pust on the collaring of bears. Pust, the state’s chief administrative law judge, in ruling that Lynn Rogers’ collaring of bears constitutes a form of possession that requires a state permit:

When a person confines an animal, the animal is no longer free to roam at will through its habitat but instead is forced to stay where the person intends. When a person marks an animal, the animal is no longer anonymous but instead is specifically identified for the person’s future purpose. …

By putting a collar on a bear and using that collar to track its location, Dr. Rogers  exercises an intentional power to alter the bear’s natural freedom in at least one critical respect: The bear is no longer free to avoid humans. It loses its natural ability to be left alone.

2. Becky Rom on North Woods mining. Rom, of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, at a MinnPost program on sulfide mining, answering the argument that Minnesotans have a responsibility to mine our own north woods for minerals we use in high-tech products:

There is not a single mining company that is saying it won’t mine in Zambia or Chile or any other place if it’s allowed to mine here. …   They’re mining everywhere. So it’s a false premise to say we have to sacrifice our waters, our landscape, our air to save Third World countries that regulate it even less. This is probably the worst place in America to put one of these mines because it is such a water-intensive environment. Deserts are better. Hate to say that — it’s somebody else’s back yard — but this is a bad place.

3. Linda, a nurse on a six-day St. Croix River paddle trip, on the experience of twice capsizing her new solo canoe and waiting in cold water for longer than was comfortable for assistance:

I don’t do well with failure, but in the end it’s just a boat I got on Craigslist and can put back on Craigslist. It could have been worse. And I’m a realist — I’m 4 feet 10 and a half, older than I used to be, not as strong as I was when I was wrestling a 66-pound aluminum boat. This was just the wrong boat. But I’ll find the right one.

(Note: My apologies to Linda for mistakenly identifying her as “Marty” in an earlier version of this post.)

4. David Biello, on wilderness. Writing in Scientific American about the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary meaning of wilderness in a time when no part of the world lies beyond human interference:

Wilderness poses this fundamental question at least: what kind of place do we want for our home? Will our terrestrial abode retain an abundance of plants, animals, microbes and fungi like the world Homo sapiens was first born into? Or will the Earth become a vast monoculture, a grim subset of nominally wild species that co-exist in symbiosis with modern human civilization, like rats and seagulls? The natural world can only persist now as a deliberate act of human will. That will require firm human purpose as a gesture of humility, yes, but also a form of self-protection.

5. Jon Foley on energy and local food. Foley, then of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Environment, on “food miles” and the widespread view that eating local food saves a lot of energy and reduces pollution:

I love local agriculture and local food, so many cool things happen with that, but it turns out the energy used to move food around the world isn’t that large in the grand scheme of things. Ironically, sometimes food that travels halfway around the world on a boat actually uses less fuel than something grown pretty close by and delivered on a pickup truck. Actually, suburban drivers going to the grocery store or farmers’ market in an SUV for one bag of groceries are probably one of the biggest emitters in what it takes to get some food to your plate.

6. Bob Krumenaker, superintendent of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, on last year’s ice-cave throngs (which recent weather patterns could recreate this year):

We’ve had quite a few broken bones, a number of head injuries, some of them clearly concussions. …  No heart attacks. Considering the numbers of people we’ve had, nothing really horrible. The staff enjoyed telling me about the woman who arrived in stiletto heels — I don’t know where she was from or any more info than that — and there have been a couple of twentysomething guys who came in shorts and tennis shoes. … But for the most part, people have shown up well-dressed and prepared for the conditions, which are arduous. They come back tired, and cold, and hungry. But they’re happy.

7. Brown bats echolocating. This one I’m unable to render in writing, so you’ll have to listen for yourself to the cool, percussive vocalizations of a big brown bat busily echolocating, presented by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Gerda Nordquist in a program on white-nose syndrome.

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