If you were to name the thing you most fear, what would it be?
I don’t mean the fear that Donald Trump will be president, or that your 16-year-old son will tell you his girlfriend is pregnant, or that Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing will run out of chartreuse and silver K15 Kwikfish in mid-July. I mean the kind of heart-thumping fear that will wake you from a deep sleep.
One of my fears is being eaten by something. Whenever I’ve camped beside a stream, and found myself in a sleeping bag on grass that obviously was trampled flat by bears, the idea that I could come to a grisly end has crossed my mind. I know people who have been in the jaws of bears, and I prefer to avoid that experience. It’s not so much the chewing and swallowing part that bothers me, but the aggression and violence that precedes it, all that biting, clawing and snarling.
Before the invention of firearms, we humans likely spent as much time worrying about being eaten as we spent worrying about finding something to eat. Once we realized what guns could do, we killed not only the ones that could kill and eat us, but the ones that were competing with us for food. This included pretty much everything that flew, swam, crawled or walked on four legs.
For years, cleansing Earth of predators was in vogue. We called these animals “critters, “varmints” and “vermin,” adding whatever adjectives would help us feel righteous about ridding the planet of their filthy carcasses.
At the peak of this insanity, anything that competed with us for food was fair game. In the century just past, shooting seals, sea lions, eagles — anything that ate salmon — was not only common, but was considered to be a fine and noble deed. At one time, the government paid a bounty for eagle feet and Dolly Varden tails. We killed owls, crows, ravens and hawks. As recently as 1967, at Stewart Island, B.C., I saw people shooting killer whales, an unremarkable event, at that time.
After we had killed off all the wolves, bears and mountain lions, we felt more comfortable about raising domestic animals and letting our kids play outside. We had no idea of what we had done to affect the nature of things. All we knew is that God gave us dominion over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. It was like a blank check. No matter what we did, it was OK.
Fortunately, we’re slowly learning that not everything is OK. Findings of a recent study show that fear of being eaten has much to do with ecology. In the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, researchers recently studied the effects of introducing fear to a landscape.
Bears and cougars had been extirpated on these islands years earlier, and raccoons had replaced them as the apex predator. The raccoons, with no predators to fear, could take all the time they wanted to forage for food in the tidal areas. While this may seem just ducky at first glance, all that foraging was bad news for some of the smaller forms of animal life.
Researchers wondered if introducing fear would make a difference. When they played recordings of dogs barking, the raccoons starting spending more time worrying about being eaten and less time foraging. Restoring fear to the environment ended up restoring a semblance of natural balance in the tidal zone.
This study of raccoons and barking dogs got me to thinking about terrorism. The mere threat of violence and aggression can cause fear, which terrorists use to achieve their political aims.
Fear is a great motivator. Fear that President Obama will “take away my guns” has significantly increased sales in guns, ammo and body armor. Fear that a President Hillary Clinton would create an anti-Second Amendment Supreme Court is causing people to support a presidential candidate who seems to have little regard for any of the Constitution, let alone the Second Amendment.
I refuse to react to any recordings of dogs barking. Only if we allow fear into our landscape can terrorism prevail.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.