Chicago Kayakers, Environmentalism, and Incentives: What’s Good For the Goose is Good For the Gander?

(Cumberland Island; 3/19/11)

Cumberland Island, Georgia, is the premiere sea-kayaking destination in the Southeast.  Last February, I looked forward to catching my first glimpses of the feral horses on Cumberland Island.  The area is not only a birdwatcher’s hotspot, but an important location for the nesting of three species of endangered sea turtles.  Just offshore, it is one of the world’s largest endangered right whale calving grounds as well.
Wild Cumberland,” is a chapter of the grassroots group, Wilderness Watch.  It is dedicated to protecting the ecology, wilderness, and wildlife of Cumberland Island.  This group reports that most of the feral horses on Cumberland Island are suffering from disease and malnutrition because they are not native to the island.  They are not native to the island or even the continent and therefore do not fit within the natural ecosystems. They suffer immensely as a result, and they also do widespread damage to the island itself.  They are not adapted to the harsh climate and topography, lack of freshwater, and numerous parasites.  Three out of ten foals do not survive their first year.  The horses also damage the island’s sensitive dune and marsh ecosystems, trample nests of endangered shore birds, and compete with native species for limited food and water resources. (17)

I did not know the plight of the wildlife on Cumberland Island until I researched it afterwards.  I questioned the appearance of some of the horses and I also wondered if we could leave our orange peels for the birds rather than bag them to carry out or release in the current during our trip as we were instructed by Leave No Trace.

A big portion of the the waste we throw away each year is food and when it decomposes in the landfills, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.  The Environmental Protection Agency provides a useful resource with its Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy. At the top of the list is “source reduction,” or creating less excess. After source reduction, feeding hungry people through food recovery or gleaning.  Feeding animals comes next in the hierarchy.  On a larger level, hogs, cows, and other livestock make great use of commercial food waste.

Michael Pollan, in his book Second Nature, writes about the greening of his Connecticut home and scolds environmentalists for focusing too much on wilderness. He argues that “the habit of bluntly opposing nature and culture has only gotten us into trouble, and we won’t work ourselves free of this trouble until we have developed a more complicated and supple sense of how we fit into nature.” We misunderstand the middle ground even more than we misunderstand wilderness. It is there, in the places where we must grow food and cut trees, that we work everything out. (9)

Environmentalists broadly support the goals of the environmental movement as a political and ethical movement which seeks to improve and protect the quality of the natural environment through changes to environmentally harmful human activities.  Some hold stronger views and are politically inclined and they tend to argue that true environmental change cannot occur under the present economic model.  Eco-socialists are environmentalists who combine Marxism, socialism and ecology with environmentalism hold an anti-capitalist ideology that sees capitalism as the cause of environmental problems, social injustice and inequality.

Mary Fairchild-Lake Michigan(Chicago shoreline)

Here in Chicago, the Calumet-Sag Channel and the Little Calumet River up to where it joins the Grand Calumet River; the north and south branches of the Chicago River, and a portion of the North Shore Channel are areas where water quality is targeted to become safe for swimming.  Some question the timing as well as the cost of the end result of this project which began four decades ago.

Tom Bamonte, who has been leading some trips around this area recently reports, “…Chicago’s lakefront, traversed by millions of vehicles, pedestrians and boaters each year… Five of us met at the Jackson Park boat ramp on Sunday, June 26…. (that’s four lawyers, but who’s counting). …We headed for the 68th Street Crib and then turned south and paddled towards Calumet Harbor….”  Tom Bamonte

In January, the Illinois’ tax rate went from 3 to 5 percent.  Andy Brownfield writes in the State Journal Register about the Alfonso Lee family that has chosen to move back to Florida since the recent tax hike this year.  Alfonso and his wife make less than $50,000 a year, and the tax increase has hit them hard.  They have two cars, but they both ride the bus due to the high taxes and high price of gas.  Brownfield sums up that an average family of four making $40,000 is going to have an extra $640 they’re going to have to come up with. (25)

Unlike the Potomac in Washington which is sporting mutated male fish with female traits from chemical polutants, over thirty years of improvements have made Lake Michigan fishable.  Older cities, like Chicago, built sewers that combine waste from homes and factories with storm runoff.  If waterways are saturated, locks and gates to Lake Michigan are opened to prevent flooding.  The Deep Tunnel project was intended to prevent those overflows.

Although the Deep Tunnel project began in 2006 it is not expected to be complete until 2029 when it’s final giant-control reservoir will be completed.  The first phase, digging 130 miles of geological ductwork, was intended specifically to “eliminate waterway pollution,” according to district records. (20)

Is what’s good for the goose good for the gander?  Two famous lawyers debated an important issue back in the 1850s.  Abraham Lincoln believed so much that what the American system was all about was making it possible for other men to rise as he had done.  But slavery was completely against that.  A person worked hard, they labored, and yet the fruits of their labor belonged to somebody else.

Could continued tax hikes not be considered a form of slavery for some today?  Abraham Lincoln countered that Douglas’ reliance on majority rule was morally bankrupt.  Lincoln took Douglas’ argument that says that what the people in the territories decide is up to them–it’s a democracy. If they vote for slavery, so be it–that’s majority rule. Lincoln’s conclusion was that there was an independent standard of right and wrong that was more important than the majority vote–that slavery was wrong. (27)

Symposium(Inland Sea Kayak Symposium 2011; Nigel Dennis Tour, Bayfield, WI)

The Inland Sea Society was created in 1988 to advocate for conservation on Lake Superior and to promote sustainable recreation through responsible kayaking.  Inland Sea Society works on projects promoting environmental stewardship through education and recreation, sustainable communities, and watershed-based organizing.

This was the third year that the symposium was including an “incentive program.” In order to reduce waste and to prove that people can gather without creating a heap of garbage, registrants were encouraged to bring thier own coffee mug and plate, paddle or bike to the event, leave their keys with them as proof that they would not need to drive once checked in, bring a bike to get around during the event, carpool to the event, and finally put on display the most interesting and artful trash found during the symposium so they could win this challenge…  (28; Inland Sea Kayak Symposium, p. 15.)


The Inland Sea Kayak Symposium is now located in Washburn.  In 2005, Washburn became the first eco-municipality in the United States.  Eco-municipalities aspire to develop an ecologically, economically, and socially healthy community for the long term, using Sweeden’s Natural Step framework for sustainability as a guide, and a democratic, highly participative development process as the method.

On Friday, I drove my car into Bayfield to visit Juddith Lokken Strom (link to video featuring her), owner of Greunke’s First Street Inn.  This is a bed and breakfast where I usually stay on my kayak expeditions.  Greunke’s has been accomodating guests for over 140 years including John F. Kennedy Jr. and his kayak group in 1995. Other noteable visitors include Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, Bridget Fonda and Billy Bob Thorton.  Juddith wondered why the symposium moved.  It had once been great for her business.
Bayfield Wisconsin:  “… there are some troubles in paradise.  Sky-rocketing property taxes and utility bills are making it harder for folks to live here year round.  The population has actually dropped inthe last ten years, the town could lose its only grocery store… there’s still no Wal-mart…, no McDonalds.. no traffic lights..” Bayfield Wisconsin:  the best little town in the midwest? 

After checking in and getting our wrist bands on, we headed over to the opening reception for the symposium where we were led to do hand motions to the French song Frere Jacques.

Frère Jacques, frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

We were charmed by the research that had been presented to us about the influence of the French, the English, the Metis voyagers, and the Anishinable people who, in particular, continue to call this area their home with reservations at Red Cliff (pictured above) and Bad River at both ends of the Wisconsin shore.

The following morning, while kayaking the Wisconsin shore, Nigel Dennis and I noted the newly expanded Red Cliff Casino on the the beautful shore of Lake Superior.  The only casino with a view of the Apostle Islands…

Brother Jacob, Brother Jacob,
Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?
Morning bells are ringing! Mornings bells are ringing!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

1)  “Nature in the Suburbs,” by Jane S. Shaw.
2) Feeding Wild Racoons
3) Red Cliff Casino:  A Boost For Northwest Wisconsin; Danielle Kaeding & Gitchi Gumee Gamut, 9/13/10
4)  Leave No Trace
5) Leave No Trace–Dispose of Waste Properly ; Leave No Trace Dude
6) Forest Gardening
7) Is It All Right To Feed Wild Animals? by Whit Gibbons, June 7, 2009; University of Georgia, Savannah River Ecology Lab.
8) An Explosion of Green, by Bill McKibben; Atlantic Monthly, April 1995.
9) Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardner’s Education. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press
10) Horse Nutrition
11) What to do with 25lbs of Oats
12) Do Wild Birds Eat Orange Peels? ; How to Make A Bird Feeder
13) How to Feed Wildlife in Autumn
14) Food Not Eaten, Jonathon Bloom, 2007.
15) Basic Information About Food Waste
16)  Wilderness Act of 1964 by University of Montana
17)  Wild Cumberland: The Cumberland Island Chapter of Wilderness Watch.
18)  A Boater’s Guide to the Federal Requirements For Recreational Boats
19)  Local Wildlife:  Care Across the Continents
20)  Feds Probe Chronic Sewage Overflows into Lakes, Streams, Michael Hawthorne; 3/19/11, Chicago Tribune.
21)  A New Era For the Chicago River; Tom Bamonte, 5/14/11.
22)  Where I Stand On Cleaning Up the Chicago River, Debra Shore, 5/18/11.
23)  Taxpayers May Have to Pay Billions to Clean Up Chicago River, Paul Merrion; 6/20/11, Crains Business Report.
24)  Pollutant Turns Male Fish into Mutant Mommies; Kevin Spak, 4/21/10.
26)  Voyage of Discovery:  David Strauch’s Calumet Harbor Portage, Tom Bamonte, 7/4/11.
27)  The Time of the Lincolns, Abraham and Mary Lincoln:  A House Divided , PBS The American Experience.
28)  Inland Sea Kayak Symposium 2011, Washburn, WI.
26)  Sea Kayaking and Whitewater:  Roughing it With Nigel Dennis & Scott Berry, Mary Fairchild; 6/19/11.
27)  Taxpayers May Have to Pay Billions to Clean up Chicago River, CASKA; 6/20/11.
25)  Income Tax Will Hurt Low-, Middle Income Familes Most, Andy Brownfield, 1/29/11, State Journal Register.

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