Life on Cape Cod is seasoned with all the news stories involving what can be characterized—perhaps misleadingly–as conflicts between natural and human interests. You could devote a whole section of the newspaper to them, along with sports, business, and food.
On the one hand it’s pretty cool that great white sharks are taking an interest in us. In one story last season a bunch of beachgoers worshipfully dragged a stranded great white back into the water. But how long will that shark romance stay hot now that beaches are being closed out of fear that sharks won’t reciprocate our loving kindness?
Most people love to spot an osprey, a bird once rare in these parts. But then there’s that recent article about a Yarmouth woman making the case that the osprey living near her makes a noisy, trashy neighbor.
Plover stories–plovers have become poster birds for species that can’t look out for themselves–have become a yearly spring ritual. Plovers (and their advocates) vs. those humans who want to get closer to nature by driving their ORVs on the beach. Plovers vs Truro dog walkers complaining about plover favoritism. Plovers vs. gulls (and gull advocates objecting to attempts to referee by poisoning the gulls).
It was exhilarating when, a generation ago, coyotes, noticing apparently that we were no longer into making our habitat safe by shooting large predators (having killed them all), decided to share habitat with us. But coyote love was for some in conflict with love of the small pets of which the coyotes, just doing what came naturally, were making a meal.
The Herring River Restoration Project in Wellfleet and Truro provides a lot of such issues. It will, if all goes as planned, by removing a 1909 dike, restore natural tides to the largest wetland in the northeast, a major victory of the natural over the manmade.
But not everyone is pleased. Some number of residents deplore the decision by Wellfleet selectmen to abandon the 1000 foot section of a very old sand road that runs across the tidal basin, because restoration advocates argued that it would impede the flow of natural tides. They treasure that road for its recreational value and regard that part of the restoration plan as a real loss.
There are numerous abutting homeowners who say they are fond of their houses and yards made possible by the dike and might vote, if it were a voting matter, for the manmade status quo. “The whole thing is ludicrous,” according to one, who says that if his landed is flooded he will lose the 40 years of labor he’s invested in his fruit trees.
Golfers have long enjoyed the golf course made possible by the dike. They will probably lose the use of the course for whatever months or years it will take to reconstruct the holes affected by the restoration.
A former selectman complains that the restoration advocates seem to think “that the lives of people are less important than what happens in the riverway.” But advocates regard the return to the natural as a win-win for nonhuman nature and human beings alike. And would probably point out that the nature vs. human split is a false dichotomy.
Cape Cod could use a permanent commission to deeply ponder and untangle the moral and philosophical issues involved in these human vs. non-human conflicts. But no doubt there would be local human animals who would offer themselves as qualified to represent the interests of the plants and non-human animals unable to represent themselves on such a board.
The 1909 Herring River dike was installed in part to make our town more attractive to tourists by reducing the mosquito population. That effort failed, as restoration advocates point out., and now one argument for removing the dike is that doing so will reduce mosquitoes– or, I suppose, at least get us back to the more natural, pre-dike sort of mosquito. We’ll get to see if we like living with them any better than the manmade sort.