I saw my first Adirondack pine marten (Martes Americana) the other day in Newcomb. I was on a marked state trail through Wild Forest, and came to a sizable stream fresh from the recent rains. A log seemed conveniently placed for me, but I hesitated. Knowing I would have wet feet, how badly did I wish to go on? Then I looked up. The marten was staring back at me from the opposite bank.
Give way! Hadn’t I seen the marten crossing sign, he seemed to be saying? The marten loped downstream, and took the next log across, paused and vanished. The animal was larger than I had imagined, redder, too, like my face flushed with excitement. The photo above is not of this animal. It is one of the many fine photos in the public domain provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
When I got home I remembered reading in Jerry Jenkins’ Climate Change in the Adirondacks (2010, Wildlife Conservation Society) that Adirondack martens are isolated by a hundred miles and more from cousins in New England and Canada; and that they can outcompete the larger fisher only by having an advantage in deeper snow. When the number of days with snowpack decline, as they are doing, the fisher may gain a competitive . There is already a 15-30% decline in the number of days with snowpack since I was in grade school c. 1970.
Do we have obligations to ensure Adirondack martens survive, because of their intrinsic worth, and so that our successors experience the same excitement I felt? Many might agree on the moral obligations. Fewer might agree on whether we have legal obligations. Fewer still might agree that those obligations, moral and legal, apply to our leaving the legacy of a planet at least as healthy as the one we now live on.
The hard realities and impacts of the warming oceans and shrinking ice which are already turning so many societies, human and more than human, to survival mode all over the world does challenge a boundary between moral and legal justice concerning future generations. This is because the global science is uniformly advising us that today’s pace of warming is the result of emissions in the 1950s and 60s and 70s.
Given the lag between greenhouse gas emissions and impacts of atmospheric change, we make climate decisions today that are likely to make life support systems much less functional for people – and martens – 100 years hence. This is a debt we are piling up far more ominous for society than fiscal imbalance.
Many philosophers have thought about current debts to future generations, and more than one has lived in the Adirondacks. One who did, and who regularly acted on his thinking, was the Reverend Woody Cole, Chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency from 1984-1992, and a resident of Jay. Woody died recently. He spoke to an Adirondack audience in St. Huberts (Ausable Club) in 1991 about his view that we have an intrinsic duty to protect life forms built into our evolutionary past. Here is an excerpt of what he said:
“In nature, each organism has its own uniqueness in the way it finds to procreate, to endure, and to associate with its habitat. Each organism has evolved its complex way of capturing the energy of the sun and of maintaining its species population, building up its genome or genetic code so that it can adapt, keep going; and keep struggling in a universe that is supposed to be running down.
These millions of organisms evolved from symbiotically derived relationships with other species within ecological systems both over space and time. Contemplating this billion year old record is awesome; biota helped to produce the thin layer on this planet known as the living biosphere. …it is unique in this universe, and of value intrinsically, in and of itself, beyond mere utility for human satisfaction….
Thus it is that the conservation of ecosystems can be seen as an ultimate good, a moral obligation for observers who have been nurtured and sustained by the diverse biomes that up Earth’s biosphere. As creatures capable of appreciating inherent values, we now have a moral imperative as human organisms to protect the rich biotic ecosystems that perpetuate the life systems of the planet.
As suggested by the anthropological – cosmological principle, we have a duty to insure that complex life will be available for eventual transmission into the universe itself. But first we must conserve our own planet’s diverse ecosystems.”
Photo: Pine Marten, Erwin and Peggy Bauer, USFWS.