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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Estimating the wild

It wasn't too long ago that humans just took - shot, trapped, netted. The supply of wildlife seemed endless, just like the continent and our very definition as Americans did. There was no brake on our free-rolling desires, no need to conserve. Now, of course, there's not only the need to conserve populations, there's also the need to count the members of those populations. If we know how many moose live in Maine, for example, we can manage them for hunting, by rifle or Canon, and also maintain along the way the proper balance between awe and collisions with cars. The estimated number of cod in the Gulf of Maine determines how many people fish this year. The steady increase in bald eagles lifts our spirits and has the magical side effect of reducing the attention that global warming gets. Bengali tigers, African elephants - by God, we'll save them with the drama of mathematics. We love numbers. Surveys and studies prove we're doing something about It. Setting aside the paradox of trying to list the ineffable, corral the untameable, factor the mysterious - no, wait, I won't set that aside. The point of all this counting seems mostly to pinpoint the exact day when the last wild moose dies.

It's hard not to be cynical about human activities. We tend to exploit until it's too late. I therefore stay positive and applaud the State of Maine for its creative use of destructive technology in saving the moose. The state is nearing the end of a three-year study in which the primary research tool for counting moose is the helicopter. You see, if you fly your Sikorsky low and slow over the Great North Woods, methodically slicing up Maine's quadrants of wilderness, you'll frighten the moose into bolting from their hidey holes, and you the wildlife biologist can much more easily determine size and age and gender and make much more sophisticated projections about populations. (Disclosure of bias: I too have been frightened out of sleep by monsters, i.e., the Gulfstreams using Knox County Regional in the middle of the night.)

Let me therefore propose extensions of this technique of overkill to other areas:

NOAA could  use nuclear submarines to count cod.
The Army will undoubtedly conduct the next Census.
Drones could pollinate crops once all the bees die.
EZ-Pass could offer the implantable transponder, billing not only turnpike tolls but uses of public restrooms, smart phone minutes, BTUs in your living room, minutes thinking about sex....

Unfortunately, I can't think of any way to re-purpose cars.

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