Like almost every morning, last Friday found me leafing through the pages of the Forum newspaper. Separating this day from most was a story on page A7 which carried the following headline: "Farmer 'flipped out' at pelicans." It described a Faribault County, Minn., farmer who, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, destroyed 1,458 nests and 2,400 eggs and chicks of American white pelicans on May 17 of this year. The farmer is being charged with a misdemeanor.
For someone who pays particular attention to outdoors stories, this one stood out for the sheer numbers involved; 2,400 pelican chicks is a lot of death, particularly in light of the fact this was one of Minnesota's largest nesting colonies of this protected species.
According to the story, the farmer has been renting land near the colony for some years and growing corn and soybeans. He claims to have suffered $20,000 in expenses and lost revenue due to contaminated soil and crushed crops caused by the pelicans.
Unfortunately, crimes against wildlife are not all that rare. Some consist only of senseless wanton killing such as the case a couple years ago when a handful of young naval officers went on a bird-and-animal shooting spree along the Florida coast before being caught slightly embarrassed and more than slightly inebriated.
Others, like the pelican colony destruction, involve at least a hint of reasoned thought. When I lived in Mississippi there were multitudes of fish farms, most raising catfish for commercial sale. It was well understood that fish farm owners would illegally kill all manner of wading birds - great blue herons and the like - in order to keep the birds from eating their product.
Around here it's cormorants. The overall population of double-crested cormorants seems to have ballooned in recent years. Fishermen not only grumble that the fish-eating fowl are competing with them for their catch, some have gone so far as to shoot the birds.
On the West Coast sea lions are a target. Every year untold numbers of salmon - both wild and hatchery-raised - are consumed by these voracious marine mammals, which have learned exactly where to place themselves to take advantage of their fishing opportunities. As a result, it's not uncommon to hear of sea lions being shot at by angry fishermen.
Birds of prey represent another target for those with ideas apart from the law. Stories are told of the occasional pheasant hunter shooting at great horned owls in the belief that by doing so more pheasants will be available to hunters. And there's the 2007 federal sting operation which targeted a group of pigeon raisers in California ending in the arrest of several individuals for the killing of many falcons, hawks, and eagles.
Ever since mankind first began venturing out of caves, there have been run-ins with wild animals. That will never change. Our daily endeavors often bring us into conflict with nature whether it's dealing with barn swallows nesting above our back step or coyotes harassing livestock. The question of what to do under such circumstances often isn't an easy one to answer.
Yet, one would think that as our culture becomes more mature and therefore knowledgeable, we would more closely adhere to federal and state laws. Moreover, one would expect the level of tolerance for nature to grow over time.
Animal abuse at the hands of their owners is disturbing to read about. But there is a distinguishable difference between the abuse, neglect, or killing of one's own pet and that of wildlife. That is, wild creatures belong to all of us. No one owns the birds of the air or the animals which roam the prairies and forests. Whether we ever see them or not, they are there for all. Additionally, most are protected in some fashion by federal laws.
That's what makes the destruction of this pelican colony a crime which reverberates well beyond the borders of Faribault County. Those 2,400 pelicans will not be seen soaring above North Dakota or any other state for that matter. When a crime is committed against wildlife, it's to the detriment of all of us.