The Left Hand of Eden: Meditations on Nature and Human Nature

William Ashworth, Author
William Ashworth, Author Oregon State University Press $19.95 (194p) ISBN 978-0-87071-460-3
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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In a jolting about-face, Ashworth, an environmentalist for three decades who led a campaign to save the spotted owl from loggers, argues that the wilderness-preservation concept is fundamentally flawed and should be abandoned. Practicing what he now preaches, Ashworth resigned from his position in the Sierra Club in 1996 to protest its new policy opposing all harvest of timber from public lands. He contends that wilderness preserves and parks, by reinforcing our separateness from nature and by fostering the illusion that we're doing something constructive, actually encourage exploitation and wanton misuse of nonprotected lands. Instead of setting up boundaries, Ashworth advocates responsible stewardship: ""We must make ways to meet the needs of all of us from the same land base,"" he urges, though how this is to be accomplished is not clearly delineated in his impassioned essays. While Ashworth ""strongly supports continuance"" of campaigns to preserve endangered species like the bald eagle in his native Oregon or the whooping crane, he concludes that ""we have neither the criteria nor the right to judge"" which species should be saved from extinction. Therefore, he proposes, we should let some species slide gracefully into oblivion, so long as we do not fragment or destroy their habitats. Some readers will find that Ashworth is injecting a healthy dose of realism and balance into environmental debates; others will view his current stance as profoundly wrongheaded. In any case, the essays slamming environmental activism often seem to work at cross-purposes with other lyrical, intense essays in which Ashworth--basking in a ponderosa pine forest in California or tracking an elusive bird on North Carolina's Cape Hatteras--stresses the complex interdependencies of plants and animals that make up fragile ecosystems. (Apr.)
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