Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Birding and Politics

A man (or woman) with binoculars is walking down a woodland path. At irregular intervals he stops, holds his binoculars to the treetops, smiles, and then perhaps either jots something down in a notebook or pulls out a field guide and thumbs through its pages. We observe him express a sense of satisfaction in finding the right one. He will probably spend a few hours repeating this activity throughout the trails of the woodland park he’s visiting. So, what is he doing? Most everyone will realize he’s watching birds. Or as those more closely aligned to the hobby would say, he’s birding.

What else might we assume about this person? Can we guess his religious affiliation? How about politics: is he liberal, moderate, or conservative? Does the fact that this person is fascinated by birds reveal anything about his personal wealth or level of education? Is he against hunting? Does he support the findings of science pertaining to evolution or global climate change? There are probably a myriad other things we might generalize or assume about this individual, but we should be cautious in doing so.

In 2009, Robert Mortensen of Birding is Fun blog wrote:
"It is generally assumed that if you are interested in birds, then you 'obviously' advocate conservation, and therefore must lean toward the Democratic party because 'we all know' that liberals care far more about the environment than the 'greedy earth-destroying capitalists' on the Republican side. This erroneous assumption might lead one to believe that all birders have the same position on issues like healthcare and abortion. Let us never assume and lump birders so generally into one camp or the other. A hobby involving 50 million Americans has more diverse opinions than that."
Today there are a lot of political shenanigans that ultimately result in a deliberate decrease of quality habitat for birds and other wildlife. If we support politicians who aim to pass legislation to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act, open up the ANWR for drilling, believe that anthropogenic climate change is an elaborate hoax played on us by scientists, want to destroy agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, or weaken wetland restrictions then, as birders, are we being true and faithful to the American Birding Association’s primary sentiment in its Principles of Birding Ethics? Is voting for or supporting such politicians compatible with "Promote the welfare of birds and their environment." and "Support the protection of important bird habitat."?

How does this square with the fact that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 168 times in 2011 to undercut clean air and water laws while blocking efforts to limit global warming, protect public lands, and guard against future oil spills? For some, birding may be a passionate personal interest, but perhaps narrower in its ethical magnitude and moral scope. Facts and figures that show one particular political party promotes legislation that adversely affects the welfare of birds may be conveniently dismissed, but the cognitive dissonance some must mentally forge is, in my opinion, an impressive feat of dispassionate hypocrisy.

© 2012 Mike McDowell

Disclaimer: The views, opinions, or positions by the blog author are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of Eagle Optics.


  1. A friend pointed out that the political dynamic for voters and support of a particular political party is more complex than this particular issue. Of course he's right. For many voters a candidate's mere mention of his or her position on the abortion issue is enough to remove them from contention. Environment be damned should a politician be pro-choice!

    Mike M.

  2. Well-stated Mike! In my opinion I'm not sure Dave Freriks is as much a birder as he is a photographer. This fall I witnessed a "birder" demonstrating some borderline ethics to get photos of the Inca Dove and was told by another birder the photographer in question was DF. While I can't be certain of this photographer's identity since I've not met DF, this may in part explain his disconnect with environmental conservation. He's actually a photographer pretending to be a birder. On the other hand, I am not dismissing the role of his apparent cognitive deficits in his above cited remarks. As for the many other birders who support politicians that legislate unfavorably against birds and conservation, I can only say, "Shame-shame-shame!"

  3. Some extremely broad, unthinking, statements here. How about some details and proof instead of hysterical ranting. I'm always astounded by opponents to U S oil drilling who claim that U S oil companies will harm "mother earth". So, they believe that Mexican, Brazilian, Chinese, Cuban, and Russian technology is better for the environment? Oh, and those Brazilian oil companies, flush with U S tax dollars will do a better job than they've done with gold mining operations! Darn Conservatives! Brilliant, mindless sheep you are!

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    Commenter’s assumption: I’m opposed to all US oil drilling.

    My actual position: I’m opposed to drilling for oil in the ANWR because the potential damage it could cause to the breeding grounds of nearly one hundred bird species. Oil and other chemical spills are so common place in Alaska that there’s an online database you can access to review the thousands of accidents by the Division of Spill Prevention and Response. This doesn’t mean I’m opposed to all domestic drilling.

    The Straw Man Fallacy takes the form:

    1. Person A has position X.
    2. Person B disregards certain key points of X and instead presents the superficially similar position Y. Thus, Y is a resulting distorted version of X

    Commenter’s assumption: I believe other countries have better and safer technologies for oil drilling than the US.

    My actual position: Some countries actually do have better environmental standards and records than the US, but none that the commenter mentioned. However, the commenter’s argument is that if I am opposed to US technologies for drilling, then I must be a proponent of the technologies used by the particular countries he mentions.

    The False Dilemma Fallacy takes the form:

    1. Either claim X is true or claim Y is true (when X and Y could both be false).
    2. Claim Y is false.
    3. Therefore claim X is true.

    You have failed to make a cogent counter-argument.

    Mike M.

  5. Dave Freriks said wildlife has survived and will again. He is of course right, especially if you include among "wildlife" cockroaches, rats, and other species that benefit from the many ways humans degrade wild habitat. Meanwhile, we know that not ALL wildlife does survive. It was in Babcock, Wisconsin, that the very last wild Passenger Pigeon was shot. One would think that people who treasure the wild birds of Wisconsin (or at least make their living by exploiting them) would have a longer view of how important protecting them is.