The new frontier
By Maureen Foley 03/29/2007
Ventura County is at a new frontier. Manifest Destiny has finally run its ill-conceived course, and the human inhabitants of the area find themselves surrounded with concrete, buildings and cars. Gone are many of the area’s natural wonders and scenic vistas. The dangers and brutalities of the old frontier (attacks by wild animals, diseases without cures and violent clashes in a lawless state) are now overshadowed by the contemporary brutalities of capitalism-invoked class wars, homelessness, racist anti-immigrant hate speech and traffic. In the past, survival depended on controlling one’s environment. Now, in the new frontier, survival will depend on finding a balance between the needs of people and the needs of the natural ecosystem.
The idea of preserving the natural landscape runs contrary to the ideas of California’s pioneering founders. During the first great (American) expansion west, pioneers, miners, drifters, immigrants and other brave souls headed towards the Pacific in search of prosperity, propelled by the naive idea that God gave them the right to conquer the Western states. Now, Ventura County is the last stop for the out-dated ideas related to Manifest Destiny. The question to ask now is: How has that notion of a God-given right to Western land permeated the Ventura County we know today? Was the West “won,” as the history books tell us? Or, was Manifest Destiny just a convenient way to justify oppressive domination of minorities and an excuse to destroy the natural ecosystem, all in the name of “Progress”?
One thing is certain. The West is no longer the same place of natural beauty it was when Native Americans inhabited the nooks and crannies of the local landscape. The Chumash (and other native peoples) were the victims of accidental genocide. (Sickened by diseases brought to them by the Spanish missionaries, the majority of the Chumash people were extinguished in 20 years after living in the area peacefully for nearly 20,000 years.) Grizzly bears are now extinct in California. Native flora and fauna are threatened by invasive non-native plants. The ocean waters are polluted by tainted river run-off and boat fuels. New housing developments are encroaching further and further into wild backcountry, pushing the creatures living there out of their homes. Rich landowners successfully exploited California, claiming it in the name of God and their country, ignoring the careful balance struck between the native people and nature for thousands of years.
While all of these signs paint a desolate picture, there are also indications that some elements of the natural ecosystem in Ventura County are still thriving and finding ways to adapt to human civilization. Coyotes still actively roam the county in small packs, howling as the train whistles by. Bald eagles have returned to the Channel Islands and are raising their young there. (To see a live video feed of the bald eagle’s nest, visit chil.vcoe.org/eagle_cam.htm and click on Nest Cam.) Along busy roads, native California poppies appear like rays of sunlight along the asphalt. And even more encouraging are signs that humans are beginning to find ways to live with their natural environments.
In a reversal of long-held American imperialist notions of man needing to conquer and tame its territory (an extension of the Adam and Eve myth), Ventura County’s people are now learning to live with and among the area’s native creatures and plants. According to an article by Zeke Barlow, called “Water Issue Pits Toad Against Trout,” in the March 27 Ventura County Star, fishermen and local officials are trying to find a way to balance the different water needs of the endangered arroyo toad with that of the steelhead trout. The Star also reported that some residents in the area are being issued air horns to keep marauding coyotes away from their pets. (In the old days, a shot gun would have done the job.) Many area residents are environmentalists who see it as their duty to protect and preserve the local resources.
The key to survival in the new frontier is balance. Humans must limit and control their activities in response to the needs of their animal and plant neighbors. Ventura County officials must find ways to continue maintaining or restoring creek and river watersheds. More money must be allocated so that ocean water testing can take place during the entire year, to ensure that serious toxins are not damaging the ecosystem (and making surfers and swimmers sick.) The basic natural resources (water and air) must be preserved and protected. Instead of Manifest Destiny, the people in the county should work towards creating Manifest Beauty, by maintaining the natural environment without destroying it further.