Playing By The Rules With Our Natural Neighbors

by Dana Kester-McCabe

I am really lucky to live near Assateague Island National Seashore. And, we are lucky to have the rules that help protect this natural treasure.

My latest visit to this barrier island was like most of them. I got some nice photographs and had some much needed time playing on the beach, and of course communing with nature.

The trip revealed all the usual wildlife sightings for this time of year: the famous wild Assateague ponies (who are technically horses), brown pelicans, and increasing numbers of tourists. Yes tourists are part of the wildlife. And, they are in fact the reason that such wild places have a few civilizing rules to follow.

For example, there is a park rule asking people to keep away from turtle nests, and to be careful when we “share” the road with them. So, when I saw this turtle getting ready to take a walk into traffic, I stopped my car to move him to safety. Ordinarily I know we shouldn’t interfere with little guys like this, but I am pretty sure I was following the rules. Once I sent him on his way I kept a respectful distance to take a quick picture.

At least ten feet away. That is another rule. That is how far we human types are supposed to stay from the ponies. From time to time someone gets hurt when they try to treat Assateague like a petting zoo apparently need to be protected from themselves.

In fact there is a “pony patrol” of volunteers who shoo the horses out of the road and away from cars. Their mission is to educate tourists about safe ways to interact with the ponies. We really don’t need to get that close to enjoy them. And there is actually a double risk when people feed them from their cars. Our food makes these animals sick. And, imagine the head of a big scary biting monster trapped in your car eating popcorn out of your lap. Yikes!

This time of year I also enjoy what I like to call: The Brown Pelican Air Show. It is playing all summer long; featuring several pelican flocks, who can be seen fishing just beyond the surf, thrilling beach goers with dramatic headlong dives into the ocean. Pelicans have really come back after a long period of decline. They had almost reached extinction because of the use of certain pesticides which are now banned.

There are some who think these park rules and environmental laws are silly. Maybe they just don’t care. Such scoffing attitudes lead to reckless behavior which threatens wildlife. Really these regulations help us to value and protect our natural neighbors and in the long run, ourselves. We are lucky to have laws that sustain a diverse and healthy environment and beautiful natural communities like Assateague.

When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
~ Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac