Friday, May 9, 2014

Last Flight spins a cautionary tale about protecting nature

I recently re-read the book, The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird, written by Bruce Barcott, a Seattle-based writer whose works include The Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier.

Published in 2008, it recounts the uphill battle of Sharon Matola, director of the Belize Zoo, against Fortis, a Canadian-based company that wanted to, and eventually built, a hydro-electric dam in Belize.

A book about a bird - and much more.
If you live in B.C., you probably recognize that name - it's the same company that supplies natural gas to heat our homes, at least in the Lower Mainland.

The battle took place in the first half of the first decade in this new century. The company proposed a dam across the Macal River that would flood large areas of jungle and essentially destroy habitat vital to rare scarlet macaws as well as jaguars and other wildlife; the area also contained grounds and more than likely artifacts sacred to the Mayan culture.

The book describes how Matola tried to organize resistance, using every legal means necessary to stop the dam. Studies indicated the dam built there would not make that much difference in terms of increasing electric power for the country, but too many people had invested in it to care about unimportant items like, does it really help residents?

I already knew the results of the battle before I read the book, having followed it and published articles about it when I was editor of the Calgary Psittascene, the newsletter of the Calgary Parrot Club from 2001 to 2003. Although Barcott never mentions it in the book, wildlife artist Robert Bateman was very involved in the battle as well, working with Probe International to make people aware of the situation and to create pressure to perhaps stop the dam being built in that particular location.

However, even though I knew the result, I found the book captivating, a real page-turner. It was as full of drama and suspense as any fictional thriller.

And kind of like a horror story, too - a bit scary.

I say scary, because every time it seemed the people working against the dam actually came up with a good argument, legal precedent was somehow gotten around by various means, including greasing the right government or judicial palms or just outright ignoring environmental laws and daring people to do anything about it.

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?

It's a cautionary tale, a reminder to all of us about how we must be on guard against this type of environmental bullying in the name of progress, given some of the issues going on in B.C. right now with respect to the Enbridge situation.

Some of you may be scratching your heads, wondering why I'm writing about this in what is essentially (supposed to be) a travel blog.

A toucan enjoys a pineapple chunk in the Belize Zoo. 
Obviously, it has something to do with parrots...and anyone who read my previous blog post may recall that the very first time I saw parrots was in Belize. But it was also the first time I ever went paddling in a sea kayak. Completing the hat trick of "firsts," it was the first international trip I'd ever taken to anywhere.

That was way back in 1991. That trip really infused me with the idea of becoming a travel writer - a travel writer that tries to help connect people with nature ... through my writing and photos, trying to make a difference in helping preserve our natural environment, worldwide.

It took a while for me to get there, transitioning from being a sports writer, and while you could argue the journey is still continuing, I think you can see, I developed a bit of a soft spot for Belize, and just why I was so disappointed to see a Canadian company engaging in something like this.

I think the next house I purchase will have a fireplace that requires wood (or my preferred alternative, one of those artificial fire logs that burns for four hours) so I don't have to pay any fees to Fortis, a company that, throughout the process, demonstrated that the best interests of the environment were not its priority.

I still have a soft spot for Belize, I have a friend, Nikki Buxton, who is the managing director of the Belize Bird Rescue. I've met other writers who have also been there - some as writers, one as an archaeologist - so I do feel a connection to the place. While I may never return there, I hate to think that all the aspects and qualities that I found so attractive as a traveller are being denigrated by short-sighted governments and businesses.

Of course, this is not the only place in the world where this is happening. It is happening right in our own backyard. Recent cuts to B.C. Ferry services by short-sighted government bureaucrats threatens a very lucrative, viable, and sustainable economic element in the province, that of tourism.

Like Matola, we need to let the government know through letters, petitions, calls to MLAs, emails and social media that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable.

Because as Edmund Burke once stated, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Wild scarlet macaws in Honduras.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting reading this since I just met Nikki and Sharon JUST this past week at the Bird Rescue and at the Belize Zoo. It is a gripping book...