A message from Jessica Howell-Edwards
Humans will continue to face one disaster after another until we change our fundamental relationship with nature.
The Earth is a complex matrix of living and inorganic systems interacting to maintain a balance.
We have been provided a self-perpetuating system of sustainability, despite arguments about how it began — but we seem to lack the stewardship and discipline to manage it properly.
Wild Cumberland’s mission to protect the wilderness and native ecology of Cumberland Island is symbolic of what needs to be done on a much broader scale: it is time to speak up, take action, and protect our resources.
I believe it is our individual responsibility to hold decision-makers accountable to the ideals and systems that we believe in.
I also believe it is our individual actions that will make a difference in restoring the natural order of our world.
During this time, I hope we are all challenged to rethink everything we take for granted – and take drastic action moving forward.
Wild Cumberland founder Carol Ruckdeschel, a self-taught biologist, naturalist, environmental activist, and author who has lived on the island for over 40 years and the subject of the book,“Untamed” by Will Harlan (Grove Atlantic, 2014), shared some of what has allowed her to stand for what she believes and reflections on the current global situation.
An Interview with Carol Ruckdeschel,
Founder of Wild Cumberland:
Q: What inspired/motivates you to live primarily off the land and minimize your ecological footprint?
A: I was fortunate to be able to immerse myself in nature from a very young age; I am grateful for that. I believe it shaped who I am. My lifestyle is simply common sense and a respect for all living things. I truly believe that everything in nature is tried and true.
Q: Do you believe that a destruction of biodiversity has contributed to the conditions for new viruses and diseases, such as COVID-19?
A: Human protoplasm has out-competed many, many species and certainly altered the natural biodiversity by sheer numbers. Viruses are inevitable with a naturally unsustainable population such as ours.
We must rethink the way we live in totality.
Q: Do you believe Mother Nature is striking back, or taking revenge?
A: The health of the planet and humankind are one and the same. If we do not acknowledge that, it is to our peril…Mother Nature doesn’t strike back. Revenge is not a part of her repertoire, but when we make really foolish mistakes, she corrects us.
Q: Have you seen a difference in the ecology of the island since the COVID-19 shutdown? Many cities have shown images of animals lying in roadways, etc. in the absence of human or vehicular traffic.
A: Of course the scale of traffic on the island is exponentially lower than the mainland.
However, since the shutdown, I estimate the vehicular traffic load on Cumberland to be down more than 95%.
The ‘normal’ vehicle traffic includes 1-4 Greyfield tours a day; 2 NPS tours; residents; NPS rangers, maintenance crews & fire personnel; and hiking campers.
Since the COVID-19 shutdown, the fire crew has burned up the roads, but residents have been requested to ‘shelter in place’ on their own properties. Air traffic is starkly missing and the ‘silence’ is noticeably more pronounced, day and night, without the constant drone of distant jets.
The night sky is profoundly starker, with the industries of the mainland severely curtailed, the Milky Way has become extraordinarily bright.
There is no doubt the ecology of CI has been affected.
Q: Are you concerned that COVID-19 could infiltrate the Cumberland Island ecosystem?
A: No. It will be everywhere.
Q: What changes can individuals make to have the greatest impact on protecting / restoring our environment?
A: Think of MOTHER Earth and treat her with reverence…
Reducing our reproduction rate is the greatest, most obvious change we can make to that end.
Comprehensive ecological and evolutionary education would compliment that success.
Q: Much of your life’s work has been dedicated to the interconnectedness of species – specifically on Cumberland Island. In fact, you’ve referred to it as your ‘duty’ previously. How is the interconnectedness of species crucial to understanding the dynamics of this pandemic?
A: It is all about US. If we all understood the intrinsic interconnectivity (scientifically known as ‘Ecology’), this pandemic would have caught none of us by surprise.
Q: How can we share the value of Wilderness and the importance of its role in our society ?
A: Many people simply do not understand its importance or have not experienced the true interconnection of our natural systems. We’ve destroyed most of them.
It now takes great effort for most Americans to experience the healing powers of wilderness.
Most importantly, we should teach ecology – starting in pre-K. We must continue our stewardship of the Wilderness and demand the National Park Service does so also.
Q: How can digital tools and other innovations aid in the mission of WIld Cumberland?
A: The “wild” must be “wild.” We must restore our forests, invest in the management of protected areas, and strive to maintain naturally functioning systems.
Keep in mind, between 25-50 percent of pharmaceutical products are derived from genetic resources…again, it’s an intrinsic connectivity that we must understand.
Q: There is a difference between ownership and stewardship; your life’s work has been mired in both the erosion of private ownership and citizen stewardship. Is there a lesson there, for us, in the midst of this crisis?
A: The 1964 Wilderness Act was created to preserve some of ‘Mother Nature’. The NPS, representing the citizens of the United States, is legally required to protect the part of Cumberland Island which is Wilderness from manipulation.
They do the opposite: it has been thirty-eight (38) years since the NPS designed portions of CI ‘Wilderness’ — and they have yet to put forth a required WMP (Wilderness Management Plan). Citizen stewardship, in this regard, has failed.
Again, comprehensive ecological education is key. The current human presence on this planet is simply unsustainable: Mother Nature will fix it if we don’t.
The current pandemic is just another warning shot across the bow of exploding humanity.