THE LONE RANGER AN ENVIRONMENTALIST?
recently got around to watching Disneys rendition of the Lone
Ranger and Johnny Depps bizarre interpretation of what Tonto was
like. Not the way I remember either of these iconic fictional heroes
from comic books and radio programs from childhood. Nonetheless, in
the modern movie the masked hero remains a symbol of justice, fighting
with his trusty sidekick for the rights of the downtrodden and vulnerable.
The movie reminded me of a column I wrote a few years ago in which I
noted that the Lone Rangers early environmental attitudes would
gain him little hero status today. I also noted that he was not alone
in his outlook on ecology.
to the original stories, the Lone Ranger was no stranger to buffalo
killing. In one episode in 1944, the famous radio show featured the
masked man in a scene involving the shooting of a dozen buffalo with
absolutely no remorse. The Lone Ranger and Tonto stampeded a buffalo
herd so that some Easterners could see how Buffalo Bill
Cody shot them from horseback. Later in the same show, prairie dogs
were the victims in a shooting contest. The targets were the little
heads that popped up from burrows in a prairie dog town, making the
contest a bit more difficult than if they had used tobacco tins or whiskey
a majority of people today would view these as senseless acts. But half
a century or more ago, environmental attitudes about eliminating wild
animals without regard for long-term consequences were different. The
idea of potentially eradicating some species seemed to bother few people.
And this attitude was not confined to the general public or to the Lone
Ranger and Tonto. The scientific community was also a culprit.
As a youngster
in the 1950s, I was a member of a field crew from Tulane University
that explored southern rivers in search of undescribed turtles. In the
scientific literature of the era are studies based on hundreds or thousands
of turtles killed and dissected. Why? To determine what they ate. Or
how many internal parasites they had. Or how many eggs a female was
carrying. Today, some of the species of river turtles we collected from
rivers in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana are officially recognized
as endangered species. Did we remove too many?
example of scientific zeal is the case of the southeastern flatwoods
salamanders. I once checked the records of a single university museum
that has 207 preserved flatwoods salamanders in its collection. Many
were females with eggs that were collected in the 1970s. Conservationists
debate about the environmental causes of the disappearance of the rare
amphibians, now officially protected under the Endangered Species Act,
but removing countless breeding females certainly did not help.
actions sound like environmental desecrations. But a few decades ago
they were not viewed as such. People were not meaner back then; they
just didnt know any better. They were not aware that so many of
the species everyone took for granted were disappearing. Plenty of river
turtles, prairie dogs, and flatwoods salamanders were to be found by
anyone who cared to look in the right places. How was anyone to know
that one day the very existence of these and many other species would
soon be threatened?
always be cautions before applying todays standards to yesterdays
attitudes--environmental or otherwise. And I doubt that many of the
turtle dissectors, salamander collectors, and prairie dog shooters who
are still around are doing the same thing today. More likely, they are
taking a stand against further depletion of unsustainable natural resources.
Likewise, I imagine if the Lone Ranger and Tonto were riding today,
they would still be fighting for justice and the rights of the downtrodden
and vulnerable. But their definition of who was included among the downtrodden
and vulnerable, of who and what needed protecting would almost
certainly include natural habitats and the native species that inhabit
them. Hi-yo, Silver, away!
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