Tuesday, January 01, 2019


On August 12, 1775, the Spanish naval officer Juan de Ayala named an island in San Francisco Bay after the California Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis californicusis) that were common in the bay. The archaic Spanish word for Pelican is "Alcatraz." This is fitting. In 1827, a French captain wrote that the island was "covered with a countless number" of the pelicans. Of greater interest though, was the strategic position of the island. In 1850, the President reserved the island as a military installation, barbette guns were installed, and in 1858, it was converted into a military garrison. The isolation, inaccessibility, and cold waters surrounding the island were seen as attributes suitable for a prison and in 1861, the island was used to house Civil War prisoners. It was designated as a long-term detention center in 1868, a military prison in 1907, and a Federal prison in 1934. So isolated, impenetrable, and inaccessible was the prison that only three men were ever able to escape - three professionally trained actors at that - an event captured on film on a Panavision Panaflex color camera in 1.85 to 1 ratio and shown to millions of shaken viewers in 1979. However, all of the pelicans escaped and were never caught. They no longer nest on the island.
Husk of invasive seed from Alcatraz.
Good move. Ordinarily, barriers are constructed to keep certain objects from mixing with other objects. For a variety of reasons, right or wrong, someone sees a need for separation, whether it is phosphorus and water, tourists and lava, employees and management, audience and truth, road salt and roads, astronauts and absolute zero, or John Anglin and society at large. 
We have two trends. At one time, there were natural barriers on earth, things like oceans, mountain ranges, rivers, climate zones, ice fields, and deserts. These kept certain living things from mixing, living things on one side of the barrier that had traits that threatened the existence of living things on the other side of the barrier. As discussed earlier, these barriers have been penetrated by motorized aluminum and steel cylinders, wonders of long distance, high-speed travel. Once on the other side, we behave like liberating armies, releasing wildlife into new lands, not realizing that we behave more like the doomed armies of Troy, who unwittingly transported a wooden horse filled with enemy soldiers through the gates of their fair city. A night of mad celebration ensued, followed by deep sleep. The soldiers poured out of the horse and massacred the inhabitants of Troy.  
Doesn't say dead or alive.
At this time, we have artificial barriers. These have been constructed for a variety of reasons. Some have been erected to slow the advance of invading armies of non-native species. A prime example is the system of electric barriers set across the bottom of the ever-popular Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC), whose creamy, mossy-grey waters glisten in the brown sunlight that beams through the photochemical smog, "a river and canal system running so thick with fecal coliform that signs along the banks warn that the contents below are not suitable for 'any human body contact'" (Columbia.edu). These have been installed with the intent of preventing the migration of non-native, aggressive bighead, silver, and black carp into the Great Lakes, where they would devastate the current fishery, which had replaced a previously devastated fishery, which had replaced a previously devastated fishery, which had - the barrier goes both ways; it is also intended to prevent the species that devastated the Great Lakes - tubenose goby, ruffe, sea lamprey - from entering the Mississippi River system and devastating the current fishery, which had replaced a previously devastated fishery, which had. How many layers of which had are in this story, anyhow? The next layer is probably a tale of a new species of electric carp that makes sailors jump off of their ships into the coliform-rich water where they are cooked alive. 
At least it didn't jump. 
Another fine example is a silt fence. The earthmoving associated with the construction of objects along water bodies such as this Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium, this National Historic Place, is isolated, that is to say, quarantined by a silt fence, a plastic mesh barrier that is designed to capture the debris that would be carried away by rainfall or snowmelt into the water body. Along the CSSC, this would include the occasional mobster. 
Similar objectives lie behind the construction of sound barriers along highways. Over 3,000 miles of these barriers have been erected in the US, which has 164,000 miles of highway. Traffic produces noise from engines, aerodynamics, and tires slapping on pavement, typically 70 to 80 decibels, about the sound of a roaring blender held at arm's length. Artificial, sustained noise at these levels has adverse impacts on wildlife, including loss of hearing, inability to detect environmental cues, increased heart rate and respiration, and altered behavior, including site abandonment and failed reproduction. Similar effects are seen in humans. Adaptive responses in humans are usually limited to behavioral changes such as increased and sustained personal noise production and sonic and interpersonal isolation. For economic reasons, many humans in such environments are entrapped like animals caged in a zoo, having impaired migratory ability. 
On the foggy night of September 13, 2013, seven-thousand-five-hundred migrating songbirds burned to death in a gas flare at a liquefied natural gas receiving and regasification terminal in Saint John, New Brunswick. The dead birds included Red-eyed Vireos, Parulas, Black-and-white Warblers, Magnolia Warblers Redstarts, thrushes, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and possibly Olive-sided Flycatchers and Canada Warblers. Many birds migrate at night and, like insects, are attracted to light, even hot light. Once they are lured by lights into urban or suburban settings, many remain in the habitat-poor environment, where they experience increased mortality. Into the den of cats, they fly. This is a windfall to the American suburban housecat population, which, under the cover of darkness and out of sight of humans, quietly dispatches 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds each year. That cat sneaking across the kitchen counter while your back is turned is probably turning on the porch lights, those new LEDs, the ones designed to save something. 
Humans are affected as well. Aside from disrupted sleep patterns, one-third of the human race is unable to see the night sky; the glow of a city is visible on the horizon anywhere in the northeastern U.S. To reduce the spillage of these man-made photons into the environment - steadily increasing as humans switch over to LED lighting - shields are installed on street lights and some skyscrapers shut off their lights at night. 
Numerous other examples could be described here, such as clay liners beneath landfills, armed patrols around wildlife refuges, earthen berms around large aboveground petroleum storage tanks. Each is an example where human activity is segregated from the natural environment, an implicit recognition of the damaging effects that these activities and/or their byproducts have upon the ecosystem. 
An inspection of petroleum tanks, landfills, wildlife refuges, street lights, highways, and earthmoving projects around the planet reveals that the vast majority of these lack protective barriers. We are at large. The wise animals don't wait to be moved to zoos or preserves or other protective custody; they are in self-imposed exile. The unfortunate ones are trapped by forces beyond their control and their continued existence is in question as they lose hearing, fail to recognize dangers, alter their behavior, and fail to reproduce. 
Alcatraz was closed on March 21, 1963. But wildlife can't tell the difference between a prison and a shopping mall and all the while, the fence surrounding our territory is expanding across the globe. Given enough time, all of our territories would merge, becoming a global institution. There would be no natural environment to shield from us. We are like a wooden horse filled with silt, unrecycled plastic, deafening noise, a million lumens, leaking petroleum, and we have passed through the gate, we have crossed the border. Certainly, this may be with all good intent, but whatever it is, they are afraid of Humans, even those bearing gifts. 


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