Being on the road has been an incredible experience. It has allowed us to discover places we didn’t know existed. Since leaving Ontario two weeks ago, we’ve broken the office cycle and started creating a new one. Make breakfast, explore, find somewhere to eat lunch, explore some more, find a place to sleep, pitch the tent, and make dinner before it gets dark – it’s almost a survival ritual. For the first time since leaving, we journeyed into the wilderness and lost all cell phone service – an occurrence that is more and more rare. Where was this magical place? Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, a 400,000 acre forest and swamp in southern Georgia that Ben’s aunt Cathy recommended we explore.
Not too many people were out at this time of year, and even less were camping in tents, but as we were travelling south, it was our warmest stop yet. We spent two nights at Okefenokee (camping in Stephen C. Taylor State Park which is within the Refuge) and enjoyed a two-hour boat tour with one of the Park‘s naturalists. She had only been working there a few months, probably fresh from finishing grad school, but her enthusiasm and deep love for the land she worked (and lived) on was contagious. I was a little hesitant about taking a boat tour and was thinking instead about renting a canoe, but I’m happy we did. It provided for an amazing learning experience. The worker knew the names of all the birds, plants, and animals we encountered. She knew what made them special and could identify, without hesitation, their small quirks.
I had never experienced a swamp before Okefenokee and I definitely had some preconceived notions about what it would look like, but nothing could have prepared me for this magical world surrounded by cypress and oak trees, lili pads, and white tailed deer.
When we left, Ben and I talked a lot about the importance of wildlife refuges and preserved habitats, especially in the context of capitalism and rabid environmental destruction driven by for-profit resource extraction industries. Driving into the swamp, we passed the biggest landfill I’ve ever seen, and huge tracts of severely clear-cut forest. The only other vehicles on the road seemed to be the trucks loaded down with logs that regularly zoomed by or the trucks loaded with garbage. But the refuge was like entering another planet completely. Everything was alive and beautiful.
Here are a few reasons why wildlife refuges, national parks, and nature preservations are important:
- They provide refuge for many species that wouldn’t have a chance surviving the assault of capitalist resource extraction.
- They are sites for important scientific study and for the growth of knowledge.
- They provide a critical baseline for what the natural evolution of the environment should be.
- They allow and promote biodiversity.
- They are an education tool, especially for those who have only known altered environments (cities, suburbs, etc.) and show that environments under capitalism are not the only or preferred reality.
- They preserve the environment and let nature be nature.
- They are a defence against extractive and profit-driven industries who would otherwise have claimed and demolished these areas.
On the boat, we spoke with the worker about the landfill and the deforestation happening outside of the swamp. She said that there were tensions with the community around the Park because many are hunters (some poachers) who take pride in capturing and killing the alligators and black bears that inhabit the area. Later on, and hearing about what’s happening at the National Park in Oregon, there are some similarities. The individuals who object to the government cordoning off and protecting pieces of nature believe that any land not owned by another individual should (in a very libertarian view) be free for anyone to do whatever they want with. Whatever frustrations we may have with governments, the national parks services in both the United States and Canada, environmentally and scientifically speaking, do critically important and beneficial work.