Laws designed to protect the environment, but which favour it by restricting man’s natural activity will inevitably lead to the demise of both. This is because man – even modern man – is an essential and natural component of the ecosystem.
I recently visited my friend and an old friend of Thomas More College Fr Roger Boucher on his farm up north of here deep in rural New Hampshire. I have written about his place before – Serving the Common Good in Rural New Hampshire.
Fr Boucher is a retired navy chaplain (he is Commander Boucher) and he lives on a farm on the top of a hill that has wide views (which even the government agrees are wonderful, for it taxes his property at a higher rate because of it) that include the White Mountains and lakes. Part of his income comes from the harvesting of Maine blueberries on his land. A company comes and harvests them and distributes them, and it pays Fr Boucher. The are naturally growing blueberries. They are smaller, but much sweeter than the usual blueberries. If the trees are cleared then the sunlight strikes the ground and the dormant root system of blueberries comes to life and starts to grow.
Fr Boucher has a turkey problem. A family of turkeys can clear a field in a week so he wants to scare them off. The traditional way of dealing with them would be this: shoot a turkey and leave it there. The turkey attracts a fox which will eat it. The arrival of the fox scares off the remaining turkeys so he need not shoot them all to save his blueberries. This buys time for the blueberries to become ripe, the company comes in and harvests them and pays Fr Boucher. The problem is that the law has changed, says Fr Boucher, to reflect the green, environmentally aware attitudes of city and surbanites who have started to buy up local property. He is not allowed to shoot the turkeys. Because the crop is not ‘planted’ but is already there and so grows without further cultivation, it is considered natural, and therefore natural also for turkeys to eat them. It is considered unnatural therefore for man to seek to stop them doing so by shooting them.
The problem is that while it is true that the blueberries are indigenous and grow naturally, the terrain they need to grow requires the activity of man to create it. Without man clearing the trees they would not grow. For the Christian this is no surprise, for man is natural too and his activity, when well directed, is as much a part of the ecosystem as every other creature’s and in fact is the most important part.
When man clears the trees, the blueberries grow, so we have more blueberry bushes. The turkeys get to eat the blueberries. While they do not get all the blueberries they would like, and one dies at the hand of man, they still get more to eat than if there were not blueberry bushes at all. This means that there are more turkeys as a result of this arrangement. The fox gets to eat a turkey or two that otherwise it wouldn’t. So we have more foxes. Because we have more blueberries to harvest Fr Boucher gets his income and it contributes to the livelihoods of those working for the harvesting company. And finally, thousands of people get the chance to eat Maine blueberries and at a lower market price, because there are more blueberries.
If Fr Boucher is stopped from shooting a turkey then there are less blueberries, less turkeys, less foxes, less income for several families and less food for man to eat. Eventually he will be forced to stop the cultivation of the farm, trees will grow back (and we already have plenty of them, look at the photos of the surrounding countryside) and turkeys, blueberries, foxes and several families lose out.
This is a nice example of how a philosophical error leads to very real detrimental effects for man and for animals. At the root of the law stopping Fr Boucher from shooting his turkey (it is on his land), is the assumption that when man shoots a turkey it is unnatural and will be damaging the ecosystem. For the Christian, man is not only an essential element to the ecosystem, but he is also the highest because he has dominion over it. It is natural for man to use his intellect to achieve his aims and this means using tools. Whether it is a stick to beat it with, or a gun to shoot it with, it is natural for him to kill turkeys; if it is in accordance with good stewardship of the environment.
It should be pointed out that man is capable of acting in such a way that is contrary to the idea of good stewardship. The reason that this law and other designed to protect the environment exist is that they are attempts to deal with the destructive potential of man’s behaviour. I am assuming that at one point turkeys were in danger of disappearing altogether and the law was a response to this. Furthermore, my guess is that the law makers didn’t intend to stop responsible stewardship, such as Fr Bouchers. However, if this is so it does not seem to come into the thinking of those who now enforce such laws such as the government’s environmental managements agencies who seem bound by the letter rather than the spirit of it.
The point here is that until the law reflects a true understanding of man’s natural place in the environment then it is just about inevitable that the result in an unforeseen consequence that will result in the demise of both man and the environment. If a law works for the environment, but against man, then because man is an essential component of the ecosystem – yes even modern man – the demise of man will lead to the demise of the environment in the end anyway because each needs the other in order to flourish.
I went up to the farm with my colleague at Thomas More College, Dr Tom and his wife Sherri Larson and their four children. And here is the view from the top of the hill with their eldest, Ben Larson, admiring the view.