Thomasville Times Enterprise

January 23, 2014

GUEST OPINION: Snakes, cats, climate and science denial

Beth Grant
CNHI

— By Beth Grant



This is not the 1950s! We can no longer pretend that humans are not destroying the natural life systems that support us. 

With our actions creating precipitous declines in biodiversity, we are threatening life as we know it. Without healthy ecosystems, we are losing pollination services, weather moderation, soil-building, water and air quality, and the peace and spiritual values that nature provides.

Our children know much more about video games than they do about what is outside their home, school and car doors!  This contributes to obesity, depression, poor attention and concentration, and hyperactivity.

Our region of the country may be in better shape than some others, but we are rapidly following in their footsteps in destroying the natural world and replacing it with human environments. I’ll never forget coming home after a summer in New York City in 1971 as I watched the sky get bluer and the land greener with expanses of forests, and felt glad I am a Southerner!

Native species are in sharp decline, including about 40 percent of our terrestrial birds.  We need to wake up and realize we want to protect our natural world and biodiversity with our actions. 

It may be an unpopular example, but the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (EDR) is a species that only exists in the Southeastern U.S. It’s numbers are in significant decline, even in our area. It is no longer found in some southern states.  The Whigham hunters are finding fewer and fewer snakes and are having to travel much farther to find them. This year's roundup will not even feature the hunt as the main attraction  as there are so few hunters signed up, and the rewards are greatly reduced and there will be no milking.

Hunters put gasoline down gopher tortoise burrows to chase the snakes out of their winter dens. The gopher tortoise is a keystone species to the ecosystems where they live.  More than 350 species of animals depend on their burrows for protection and survival, including several that live no where else. Several local organizations such as Birdsong Nature Center, The Golden Triangle Resource Conservation and Development Council, The Longleaf Alliance,and Gopher Tortoise Council have educational programs about gopher tortoises.

No rational argument can be made for continuing to hunt and kill rattlesnakes as the information in Bill Matturro’s recent letter to the editor shows.  Claxton converted its roundup to a wildlife-friendly event in 2012 and it is now more successful than ever.  It has live snakes of many species on display by people who are authorized to keep and protect them. It has increased its educational components in the schools and at the festival. It is encouraging Whigham officials to make a similar transformation, and I certainly hope that local citizens will support this and Whigham will soon make this change, too.

Whigham is the only town in Georgia or Florida to still continue the hunt. All of the others have converted to a life-supporting event. Hundreds replied to a former Cairo Messenger poll overwhelmingly opposing the hunting and killing of the snakes at Whigham.

A ranter supposed I must prefer rats to cats after I called in a rant about the destruction that outdoor cats cause to other animals. UGA researchers recently attached cameras to local house cats as they wandered outdoors, and found that they were killing a wide range of native wildlife to a much greater extent than expected. This included mammals, birds, reptiles and insects.

When cat lovers keep their cats inside, the cats live longer and healthier lives and the wildlife that belong in nature have a greater chance of survival. If we didn’t irrationally fear and kill the native predators like snakes, they would take care of the rats! If any made it into our houses, then the cats could get them.

You have to be ignoring all sources of information besides the likes of Fox News, Rush  and the cartoons and some of the columns in this paper to deny that climate change/global warming is real and that it is pushed by human activity.  There are often news articles in our paper that describe this.  Rather than go into this here, I refer you to such radical groups as the U.S. military, the Weather Channel, NOAA, the Union of Concerned Scientists, for factual science instead of science denial generated by Big Oil and others with values of profit over truth and life. 

Lastly, I'’ll say what we need to do if we care to protect life, including ours. We need to protect and conserve remaining natural areas like Lost Creek Forest, Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve, Birdsong Nature Center, River Creek WMA and other publicly and privately owned conservation areas right here in our local area. You can find more information about all of them online. When we plan new construction and manage our lawns, roadsides, parks and other public areas, we need to preserve, protect and plant as much native vegetation as possible, especially creating wildlife corridors large and small. We need to eliminate exotic invasive plants and animals and begin to replace many other exotic plants with natives. Native plants are the base of the food web. Without them we cannot have native wildlife and all of the ecosystem services that healthy biodiversity provides. If you like eating insect pollinated food, like most of the fruits and vegetables, you need to care!  If you want to continue seeing songbirds, you need to care!  If you like to breathe fresh air and drink clean water, you need to care!

As a volunteer, I teach Dr. Douglas Tallamy'’s ideas from his book Bringing Nature Home at local libraries, garden clubs, nature centers, neighborhood associations, etc. I’d be happy to present this to your group, church, scouts, class, etc.

If you would like to learn more about what positive differences we can all make, contact me at bethgrant@bellsouth.net.