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Life out here by Bret Kofford: The mother of enviromental lists

May 15, 2002

The man was livid that we had printed the letter to the editor from a member of a local environmental group. I explained to him we print all letters that are not libelous or absolutely tasteless, and that we recently had printed numerous letters on his side of the issue.

He wasn't mollified. He thought the other side, the bad guys, had no right to be heard "out there" in the Imperial Valley (I assumed he was a non-local reading the paper on the Internet), and I needed to put it to a stop.

I told him I couldn't do that. He got angrier. I had a feeling bad words were about to follow. I was right.

"Since you work in the media, I bet you are an …" and then he stopped and almost sneered the word "environmentalist yourself."

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It was as if he had said I was a child molester, a serial killer, someone who hangs with Allen Iverson. I am none of those things, but I guess I am an "environmentalist," if the other side of the leaf means being an "anti-environmentalist."

I love birds and trees and animals and lakes and rivers. I particularly love the beach, its waves, its dolphins, its seals, its sea lions, its penguins, or in a fun Spanish word, pinguinos. I even like getting caught up in kelp.

If that makes me an environmentalist, so be it. I don't go out and put spikes in logging trees, and I don't set up treehouses in old-growth trees and urinate into a jar for a year, and I don't put orange vests on deer during hunting season.

But I do think it is a good idea to protect our forests, our seas and our wildlife. After all, what did a pine tree, a tortoise or a porpoise ever do to any of us except make our lives a little bit richer?

Our congressman, Duncan "Big Game" Hunter, recently used a form of the "environmentalist" swear word at a meeting about our county's sand dunes. In a letter read at the meeting, he used the snide term "enviros," which is becoming an increasingly popular invective against those trying to protect nature.

He didn't, at least in this case, use the term "environmental extremist." When you add "extremist" to "environmental" it is like adding "mother" to another oft-used swear word.

That "environmentalist" has become a pejorative in some people's vernacular conjures up memories of 15 or so years ago, toward the end of the Cold War, when political figures like Bob Dornan and Pat Buchanan used the term "peacenik" as if it were an insult. God forbid that anyone would want peace in the nuclear age, guys.

Recently at the newspaper we interviewed a political candidate, a woman I like because she seems — unlike most candidates for higher office — real.

She said in explaining her position on environmental matters that she thinks nature is here foremost for man's use and enjoyment but also for his stewardship. That is something one is used to hearing from certain political/religious circles. Our discussion quickly moved to our county's sand dunes and those who would deny dunes enthusiasts the right to do what they want where they want because of a "weed," as she put it.

I am not a dunes person. Driving around on a motorized vehicle with sand and exhaust fumes filling my nose and mouth is not my idea of outdoor fun — it ain't exactly body surfing at P.B.— but if people want to do that for kicks, I say have at it. And as a bit of a gardener I am not fond of weeds, either.

So with dunes protection far from the top of my list, I was just going to let her get in her rant about the "environmental extremists" ruining the dunes experience for the people and let it go with a nod.

Then things got weird, at least from the view of this "environmentalist."

The candidate said if something in nature is threatened and needs protection, such as the aforementioned weed, there is no reason it can't be taken out of the area where it lives naturally and grown safely elsewhere.

"So following your logic," I said, "we should take the desert tortoises and bighorn sheep and move them out of the protected desert areas where people want to go and do their thing, and put the animals in a zoo, out of their natural environment but out of harm's way?"

"I don't have anything against zoos," she responded.

I said I don't either, but said every effort should be made to maintain natural habitats for wildlife.

"And following your logic," I continued, "it was just wonderful for our government to move the Cherokee Nation all the way from North Carolina to Oklahoma if others wanted the Cherokees' land."

She said if it served to protect the Cherokees, then it was a good idea.

The conversation came to a screeching halt. I stared at her. She stared at me.

I knew at this point she was sure I was an environmentalist.

I wasn't as certain whether she was convinced I was a mother environmentalist.

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