Recollections by Richard Bleil
Somewhere around 1990, I was living with my good friends. I was in graduate school in Boston, and I was watching their son after he got home from middle school in exchange for room and board. This moderate suburban house, as it turns out, was valued at a very high cost. Part of the reason is that it wasn’t in Boston, per se, but rather in a little suburb on the outskirts of the city. Behind the house was a hill that led to a wooded area (maybe a park?). We’re not talking about the deep woods, but neither are we talking about a heavily urban area.
One day, standing on the deck just about dusk, I was looking at the hill. Over the crest of the hill appeared a stunningly beautiful red fox. Still quite some ways away from me (I won’t say how far because I’ve never been good at estimating distance), she was in no danger from me, nor I from her, and yet we were close enough for our eyes to lock. She stared at me, and I at her, only for a moment until she turned around and calmly walked back into the woods.
If you remember Larry Bird, basketball player for the Boston Celtics, he actually lived about a block or two from us. I don’t think I would have been as excited about seeing Larry as I was this adorable little creature. She was so very cute, and the chance encounter was enchanting.
I wonder if there are any more foxes around that house, or has the city finally engulfed her refuge. The other day I was thinking about the resources in America (although it’s a global problem) and how we use them. The Native Americans called her “Mother Earth”, and had a respect based on the understanding that it is from Mother Earth that we all sprang, and back to her we will return. The settlers (or, perhaps more appropriately, those of us with ancestry rooted in Europe) don’t think like that. It is the settlers that build permanent structures, blast the images of our leaders into sacred mountains and exploit resources to the point of extinction. In the end, it will be our undoing.
Corporations don’t even have to buy the land they are exploiting. Logging and oil rights are sold by the government, meaning the companies are free to move on as soon as their profit margin is maximized. Sometimes, I understand this. Logging is sometimes needed when an area becomes overgrown and fire hazard is high, just as hunting rights are granted to thin herds of overpopulated animals in danger of starvation. But these resources, the animals that are soon to be extinct (or are already), the forests that are being stripped, the mountains that are being torn asunder for their coal and minerals, rightly belong to us. They belong to we, the people, if indeed they belong to anybody.
As I write this, I realized that I have no idea who is in charge of those contracts. Trump famously opened up formerly federally protected lands for oil exploration and exploitation for resources, but who, exactly, is in charge of those rights? Is it the department of the interior? Is it, indeed, federal or state that controls them? Where do the collected fees go? What is in the contract? How much harm are they allowed to do? What happens if something goes wrong like an oil spill? Is the corporation responsible, or the government, if anybody at all?
I have no answers to give you today, but as I think of it, it bothers me (quite a lot) to realize that I have no idea what the answers to these questions are. I know from working as an environmental chemist many years ago (back in the days of the “Superfund”), environmental laws regulated things like pesticides and herbicides. If a plot of land formerly owned by, for example, an agricultural company was found to have soil contaminated in excess of legal limits, then the EPA could sue those companies. Is this still the case? I believe, but I’m not certain, that the fines collected went back into the Superfund, but that fund has been discontinued.
I think, maybe, I need to do some research. I’m thinking about contacting the department of the interior, but honestly, I’ll at least start with web searches (mainly searches that shouldn’t raise federal red flags or interest in me). If I find anything interesting, I’ll post it. But don’t rely on me. Get involved. These are YOUR resources.