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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Field Note: Cliff Hanger

Published: March 6, 2023

By Mark Seth Lender

A cormorant returns to the sea in the Falkland Islands (Photo: (c) Mark Seth Lender)

Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender expands on his essay about cormorants and explains how the remnants of war can create refuges for wildlife where no humans will venture.

Explosives in one of the paradoxes of the modern world can be a best friend to wildlife. Not under shellfire of course or when the bombs are falling (no life benefits then, except the corpse rats). The help comes in the interim. Not all ordinance explodes when it lands and locations of live shells and bombs are often unknown. With land mines (or so the land mine crew hopes) there is also an absence of immediate explosion. Mines are deliberately hidden, the maps often go astray or never existed, mines themselves are frequently moved by storms. In all cases, unexploded bombs, landmines, the errant grenade, entire landscapes become interdicted. But only to us.

There is a minefield between Israel and Jordan inhabited by wolves. Now many decades after the mines were placed, no one knows exactly where they are and even if they did, no one wants to take the risks involved in removal. I know a photographer who missed the warning placards and accidentally wandered in. One of the soldiers she was with was able talk her back out the way she came. “Talk” because no one could go to her as all that would have done was increase the likelihood of tripping a mine. She had luck that day for which there are few substitutes. The wolves however have no need of luck. They are light enough to step on a pressure plate with impunity; they crisscross this deadly landscape at will.

Nomans Land off Martha’s Vineyard Island was a Navy bombing range and home to a great variety of birdlife because of the large number of lurking UXB’s. Other than the reports of pilots strafing whales (oft repeated, possibly true, impossible to confirm), the Navy probably did more good than harm. Land Mine Beach (my designation) outside of Stanley in the East Falklands enjoys the same ambiguities and that same continuing protection. A leftover from the Falklands War, the landmines are constantly shifted by storm seas.

Where Nobody Knows Nobody Goes....

There may be better ways to establish interdiction for the sake of wildlife. But nothing so deterministically ensures compliance as high explosives.

Except for hard radiation.

In the Chernobyl exclusion zone wolf, bear, boar, deer, lynx, moose and many other species now abound proving that even radioactive fallout is less deadly to the inhabitants of the Natural World than Homo sapiens.

Back to Mark Seth Lender Field Notes


Listen to the corresponding "Cliff Hanger" essay

Mark Seth Lender's website


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