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Patagonia: Environment Reports - Why Now?

Why Patagonia? Why now?

by John Sterling

I once followed a pick-up truck down the dirt road that leads to my favorite fishing hole on the Deschutes River in Oregon. On it was a bumper sticker that read "Cows Kill Salmon." I pictured a bovine predator streamside stalking its salmonid prey. But as I drove on, mulling over the slogan, I made some connections. Cows don't eat salmon. They trample riverside habitat, which muddies precious clean gravel beds that salmon need to lay their eggs. "Cows Kill Salmon" was the message, but the lesson is: everything is connected.
Everything is connected. Patagonia has fought for 25 years to protect wild forests and salmon streams, and to stop pesticide spraying on agricultural lands. Each of these habitats affects the other. Now we face an environmental menace that threatens them all. That menace is genetic engineering: the scientific process of forever altering wild organisms by rewriting their genetic code. Supporters say genetic engineering may cure some diseases and increase farm efficiency, but at what cost? Eminent scientists warn that genetically modified organisms should stay in the laboratory until we know how they will affect human health and the environment. Industry has ignored this warning.
One-third of the corn and half the soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified. Much of the food you buy contains genetically engineered ingredients: sodas, milk, baby food. These products are not labeled, and nobody knows what hidden effect their genetic modifications might have on human beings.
At the same time, nobody knows what will happen when those industrial mutants interact with native wild animals and plants. This unregulated manipulation of nature is a dark threat to the essence of what is wild.
Point: When we started our salmon campaign nearly 10 years ago, we thought the greatest threat to wild salmon was dams. Now The New York Times reports that a Canadian company eagerly awaits approval to sell genetically engineered salmon eggs to U.S. fish farms. These eggs become fish whose growth hormones never stop pumping. They reach "market size" (seven pounds) in 18 months. In a wild salmon this should take three years. The offense to the salmon is agonizing.
First, we domesticate the salmon to produce cheap supermarket fillets. Now, through genetics, we further insult these fish by forcing them to grow twice as fast as wild salmon. And the cheap salmon steaks pose a perilous threat that the fish farmers don't likely consider. What happens when an overgrown mutant salmon escapes its coastal pen and interacts with wild salmon? We don't know. Nobody knows. We do know that escapees from existing fish farms spread sea lice and other diseases throughout wild salmon populations, and compete for spawning grounds with native fish. I don't want to look at a stream in the Pacific Northwest and wonder if its salmon were engineered by a guy in a white coat in a Nova Scotia fish laboratory.
Point: Over the years Patagonia has raised the alarm about the timber industry's clearcuts and pulp mills. Now the same industry is poised to replace native forests with genetically modified tree farms that bear no resemblance to wild forests. Like farm crops, pine, aspen, willow, eucalyptus, fir and cottonwood trees are now being engineered to grow faster and survive heavy doses of chemical pesticides that protect them from insect damage. The timber industry is experimenting with these trees. But a forest is not a crop. What happens if the industry logs native forests and replants them with genetically modified Frankentrees? In the hands of the timber industry, genetic engineering could destroy the complex web of trees and insects, fungus and birds and streams and fish that we call forest. We'd be left with cornrows of fast growing, pesticide-tolerant trees.
Point: A decade ago we learned that farmers used dozens of different pesticides and defoliants to grow the cotton that we used in our sportswear. So, we committed to using only organically grown cotton. But genetically modified crops present a threat more menacing than chemical applications. A Cornell University entomologist recently found that monarch butterfly larvae that ate pollen from genetically engineered corn died within days. As we speak, farmers are growing crops that could kill dependent species. What happens when wind carries toxic corn pollen into neighboring habitat? Nobody knows. Yet the USDA has considered allowing genetically engineered products to be labeled as organic. We cannot allow industry to force genetically engineered products into the market and our environment without knowing what will happen when these altered organisms interact with the wild. Science, says Huston Smith, "only measures those aspects of reality we can control, leaving out all those aspects of reality that are beyond our ability to control." Science cannot measure how genetic engineering will impact uncontrollable wildness. And we desperately need that wildness to keep our hubris in check. When faced with the enormity of Nature, I feel humble.
I feel relieved that I can't understand everything about wild nature, nor should I try. I cannot control Nature, but it is a great honor to seek and find my place in its wild plan. Genetic engineering represents an attempt to cast off humility and to rewrite Nature's plan. This is arrogance of the worst kind.
John Sterling is the environmental programs director at Patagonia.
Don't Domesticate Wild Nature Take Action!
We must protect wild nature from the unknown effects of genetically modified organisms. Patagonia believes that these organisms should be considered harmful until proven otherwise, and should therefore remain in the laboratory to avoid contact with the wild. Please write to the Food and Drug Administration commissioner AND the U.S. Department of Agriculture; tell them that genetically engineered food ingredients or crops should not be allowed on the market or into the wild unless: 1) Independent safety testing demonstrates they have no harmful effects on human health or the environment, 2) They are labeled to ensure the consumer's right to know, and 3) The biotechnology corporations that manufacture them are held responsible for any harm these organisms cause.
Go Organic! Only certified organic food is guaranteed to be free of genetically engineered ingredients.
Genetically Engineered Food Alert
Center for Food Safety
Greenpeace True Food Network

Patagonia: Environment Reports.

Behind that Farmed Salmon Steak by Seth Zuckerman*
While genetic engineering is a pervasive affront to the wildness that surrounds us, humans have manipulated Mother Nature's bounty for some time. In particular, we've developed a talent for cultivating and mixing the nearest and dearest elements of the natural world: our food. Crossing different varieties of crops and livestock has long been used to create hybrid flora and fauna that better meets our needs, suits our tastes and fills our stomachs (and wallets).
How do these subtle changes in color, texture and yield affect the other members of the ecosystem? Could an innocuous supermarket salmon steak really impact anything other than your gut? You be the judge.
*The following was adapted from "Behind That Farmed Salmon Steak," by Seth Zuckerman, in Salmon Nation: People and Fish at the Edge (Ecotrust, 1999; Edward C. Wolf and Seth Zuckerman, editors).
The sight of a whole salmon in the supermarket conjures up the feral power of these fish, which range the high seas for years until they zero in on their home river for the final chapter of their lives. They evade sea lions and grizzly bears, leap cascades and waterfalls, and couple in streams too small to contain their robust bodies. Ingest a morsel of this fish, the word "salmon" seems to promise, and it will imbue you with some of that wild strength and perseverance.
But if you eat salmon these days, you may well be consuming a product that's no wilder than a grain-fed steer. A glut of farmed salmon - amounting to roughly half of the world's supply - has flooded the market from fish feedlots around the globe. These factory farms consist of mesh pens anchored in cold-water bays and inlets in places such as Norway, Scotland, Chile, Washington State and British Columbia. The ingredients in the salmon they produce are quite different from what goes into their free-ranging cousins captured by nets or hooks.
In captivity, salmon are raised on a diet of oily brown fishmeal pellets made from inexpensive fish such as anchovetas, sardines and mackerel. Raising each pound of farmed salmon takes four pounds of those smaller fish, in effect wasting three-quarters of the catch that is processed into fishmeal. In this way, B.C. farms alone account for a loss of nearly 90 thousand tons of edible protein each year. Wild salmon flesh gets its color from the fish's prey, particularly krill, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans. But the fishmeal pellets turn the flesh of farmed salmon a pale gray. Fish farmers know that gray salmon won't sell well, so they add dye to their feed. And because salmon are natural-born predators, smaller native fish (including juvenile wild salmon) that stray into the farms don't stand a chance. Salmon farmers notice that when native oolichan (minnow-sized smelt that are important to indigenous people's diets) pass by the pens, the salmon stop eating their fishmeal pellets but "mysteriously" continue to gain weight.
Farmed fish are so densely confined that a typical one-pound Atlantic salmon is within fifteen inches of its neighbors. Diseases can spread rapidly through such packed quarters, so the fish are fed antibiotics, just like most domestic chicken or cattle. About 30 percent of the medicated feed goes uneaten; from uncontained net pens it enters the sea's food chain, where it has been found to kill natural marine algae and bacteria and cause deformities in halibut larvae. Nonetheless, the farmed fish still contract infections and are attacked by parasites. Wild stocks pick up those diseases in two ways - either from escapees, or as they pass by the fish farms en route to their spawning streams. Norwegian authorities have poisoned 24 rivers with rotenone - which kills all aquatic life - in an attempt to eradicate sea lice and a lesion-causing disease spread there by farmed salmon.
The excrement from one large B.C. fish farm equals the sewage of a city of 10,000 people - all of it flowing straight into the surrounding waters, fouling nearby clam beds and other sea habitat, at too high a concentration to be assimilated easily by natural forces. Salmon excreta are one reason that environmental activists are pushing for fish to be raised only in closed-containment systems, allowing the wastes to be treated before being discharged into the water.
Atlantic salmon have become a favorite of West Coast fish farmers, in part because they can be raised at higher densities than native chinook. These fish frequently escape from their pens into the wild. In 1997, one Washington State farm lost 360,000 Atlantic salmon in a single incident. Alien Atlantic salmon have been found to spawn successfully in Vancouver Island streams, and fishery advocates are concerned that they will compete with threatened populations of native Pacific salmon.
Instead of conjuring wildness, these farmed fish are subverting it - fouling the waters, harming native fish, and demanding that oceans be strip-mined of cheap sardines to feed aquatic livestock. But it gets worse: feedlot owners want to introduce a strain of Atlantic salmon that has been genetically engineered to mature in 18 months, half the time now needed. Some of these "Frankenfish" would escape and probably displace slower-growing wild salmon from their native streams. In time, instead of evoking the wild, salmon might come to mean destructively raised protein in a faux-wild package. The gonzo growth gene that has been spliced into the salmon distances us further from an era when fish were wild, and cooling off in the summer meant a dip in the lake, not cranking up the air-conditioner. There comes a time to decide we have strayed too far, and, like the salmon, to find our way home.
For more information, contact:

Ecotrust 1200 NW Naito Parkway, Suite 470
Portland, OR 97209 503-227-6225

Atlantic Salmon Federation
PO Box 5200, St. Andrews, New Brunswick
Canada E5B 3S8; 506-529-4581.

Marine Otter

Marine Otter
South America's Endangered Species...

Scientific Name: Lontra felina | Current Range: Peru south to Straits of Magellan
The marine otter is sometimes called the sea cat. It has coarse, dense hair that is dark brown with lighter underparts. Its physical characteristics include a long body, flat head, small ears, and a broad muzzle which is whiskered. It has short legs and webbed feet to facilitate swimming. The marine otter's head and body length averages 22 to 31 inches, and it weighs 7 to 31 lb. Diet consists mainly of crustaceans and mollusc, with lesser amounts of fish. Some aquatic vegetation is taken, but it may be ingested accidentally along with shellfish. The killer whale is thought to be a predator and there may be competition for food with gulls and sea lions.
Most observations of this species are of single individuals, though occasionally it is seen in groups of three or more. Mating has been observed in December and January. Young are born in autumn and winter, after a gestation period that lasts somewhere between 60 to 120 days. The normal litter size is two, but up to four or five young in one litter is possible.
The marine otter occurs along the Pacific coastline from equatorial Peru to the southern tip of South America, with the most abundant populations occurring on the Chiloe Islands south of Chile and further south towards Cape Horn. An unconfirmed estimate places total population at less than 1,000 individuals.
This species known habitat includes exposed rocky coastal areas and secluded bays and inlets near estuaries. While searching for freshwater shrimp, it sometimes ascends rivers up to 2,000 feet above sea level. The marine otter has been studied in an area characterized by a rocky shore of irregular topography with a heavy swell, constant strong winds, and a dense cover of shrubs and small trees stunted by wind and poor soil extending down to the highwater mark above a heavy growth of seaweed and algae.
The marine otter originally occurred more or less continuously from northern Peru to Cape Horn, and possibly also in Argentinean waters. It has been hunted for its fur in Chile, where it is now considered to be threatened or endangered. It is very endangered in the northern part of the country and rare in central Chile, where it is vulnerable due to limited suitable habitat. In Argentina, the marine otter has always been somewhat marginal, but is now on the verge of extinction. At one time it was abundant in the Beagle Channel, as Charles Darwin observed during his voyages on the HMS Beagle, but has now disappeared from the Argentine portion of the Channel. The only known population lives on Staten Island, where its status needs to be evaluated. Populations are probably small and isolated in Peru, where it occurs in discontinuous pockets of suitable habitat all along the Peruvian coast.
Conservation priorities have been outlined for this species. Field surveys should be conducted throughout its range to determine current distribution and status. Beginning in areas of suitable rocky habitat, the surveys should develop into regular monitoring programs. Studies on the ecology and conservation requirements should be continued in order to identify those habitat features that must be conserved to ensure survival and recovery of the species. Research is also needed on food requirements, and on the impact of human activities such as harvesting of marine resources, including algae. Coastal protected areas need to be established in Argentina, Chile, and Peru.