The Drive and the Bird
by: Mike Lushington 

The totally unexpected appearance of the Hooded Oriole in Matapedia, Quebec in November 1999, caused a great deal of excitement in our part of northern New Brunswick, as well as in the host village itself. This spectacular bird drew viewers from all over the northeastern corner of the continent: birders anxious to add another "Lifer" to their lists and others, simply curious as to what the fuss was all about.

The appearance of the bird and the attention it drew has given me ample ammunition for an idea that I have been promoting to local tourism people for the past few years: birds, and birders, can mean big money to a local economy. Of all those people (upwards of four hundred, I believe) who traveled to Matapedia to see the oriole, how many bought gasoline, ate meals and even spent overnights in local establishments.
But even as I promote such ideas, I am bothered by what amounts to a personal conflict.

I am a birder. I take pride in what I do, I spend as much quality time as I can in the field and I am working hard to become as knowledgeable as I can about the birds in my area, both through firsthand observation and by reading and studying.

But, even more fundamentally, I am an environmentalist, and have been consciously and deliberately, for a much longer time than I have been a birder. And one of the most basic tenets of my environmentalism has been the promotion of the wise, and conservative, usage of our depleting natural resources. How do I reconcile that philosophy with the attempts to motivate people to drive hundreds, even thousands , of kilometers for what usually amounts to a fifteen or twenty minute visit with a bird? o a large degree, I have settled that question for myself: I really don't travel any great distance to find rarities and an increasing amount of my field work at home is, and will be done on foot, by kayak or on my bicycle. Of course, since I have retired from teaching, I have the time to do this: my field trips are, as often as not, spontaneous and they are not crammed into a single, see-as-much-as-I-can outing on the weekends. However that begs the larger question: how do I reconcile my two, often opposing goals, that of trying to promote active tourism in an area which desperately needs something to stimulate a moribund economy with that of conservation? Am I simply talking out of both corners of my mouth? 

Increasingly I have come to think so. I really do not think that I can promote the indiscriminate waste of gasoline for the simple satisfaction of ticking off another species on my life list, be it in Matapedia, at Mary's Point or anywhere else. The fact that I was one of the first local birders to drive up to see the oriole reflects this conflict in my own mind: I did it, I was glad that I had (it is a beautiful, if sadly misdirected creature), and yet I have remained disturbed by what the environmentalist in me has to describe as a rather frivolous use of a non-renewable naturals resource.

ici I know that I am not prepared to argue that no one should ever travel anywhere to see birds. In any case I have a hard time dealing with absolutes, especially those which smack of moral righteousness. I know that birders, by definition are conscious and concerned environmentalists if only for the fundamental realization that without a healthy environment we will not have very many birds to admire. On the other hand I think that we have got to see that wasting gasoline to see birds is, the overall scheme of things, no better than wasting it for a frivolous jaunt to the local mall or a Sunday afternoon drive to nowhere.

As a form of appeasement to my own split conscience, I am trying to promote planning and carpooling. If I want to drive down to the bar to check out the geese, I will also make a run to the post office and stop off at the hardware store for those nails I need. If I want to take a trek to Sackville to visit the Waterfowl Park, I will take a carload with me. At least, in so doing, I feel, rightly or wrongly, that I am trying to incorporate some balance between these two very important aspects of my own life. Perhaps, in so doing, I can reduce that nagging feeling of hypocrisy within myself whenever I feel the urge to rail at some resource mismanagement just after I have been driving around the countryside in search of ... whatever.


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