Book Review: My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales, Kate Bernheimer, ed. (2010)

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Something for everyone!

four out of five stars

Charmingly eclectic and oftentimes macabre, the forty stories found in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me reimagine, remix, and retell well-worn fairy tales from around the globe – including many of your childhood favorites (the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen make numerous appearances). Whether you’re a connoisseur of fairy tales like editor/contributor Kate Bernheimer or a newbie whose knowledge of fairy tales comes primarily from Disney films (guilty as charged!), there’s much to savor in this collection…as long as you come bearing an open mind and a wicked sense of humor, that is!

The fairy tales that make up My Mother She Killed Me run the gamut: while some retain their original European Middle Age settings, others are pulled into the present and updated for modern audiences. Some retellings are somewhat faithful and easily recognizable, whereas others are inspired, directly or otherwise, by a number of sources. All are what you might call “adult” in nature – but then weren’t all of the best fairy tales originally intended for mature audiences?

Naturally, some of the pieces in this collection are more enjoyable than others – and everyone’s likely to have their own favorites – but nearly all are at least mildly entertaining. The anthology begins on a strong note with “Baba Iaga and the Pelican Child,” an unexpectedly animal-friendly tale in which author Joy Williams casts John James Audubon (of the Audubon Society fame) as a mass murdering villain. (It’s true! The founder of a wildlife “conservation” society slaughtered free-living birds by the thousands! Not especially shocking, since conservationists consider nonhuman animals “resources” to be harvested or hoarded, depending on the circumstances – as opposed to the sentient, self-interested creatures they really are.) By far my favorite of the bunch, it had me in tears by story’s end.

Unfortunately, “Baba Iaga” is the only story I’d describe as espousing an animal-friendly message. Which is fine, really; I didn’t expect this to be a vegan-minded collection. The early “score” just got my hopes up, is all. There’s plenty more to love in My Mother She Killed Me!

Among other noteworthy pieces are:

* “Ever After” (Kim Addonizio) – Set in the present day, seven little people have gathered together in a loft to await the manifestation of their Snow White, so foretold in the remnants of a book found by the group’s spiritual leader, “Doc.” (“This is the true story… of seven strangers… picked to live in a house…work together and have their lives taped… to find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting real…”)

* “The Wild Swans” (Michael Cunningham) and “Halfway People” (Karen Joy Fowler) – Two tales inspired by Hans Chistian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans” – one, short and sweet; the other, lovely and lingering.

* “The Mermaid in the Tree” (Timothy Schaffert) – A young couple’s lives are profoundly changed when the boy, on the eve of proposing to his childhood sweetheart, rescues a mermaid from drowning among the garbage of Mudpuddle Beach.

* “Snow White, Rose Red” (Lydia Millet) – A homeless and downtrodden man is saved by two girls, rich and privileged sisters – and is able to return the favor when their abusive father threatens the family.

* “What the Conch Shell Sings When the Body is Gone” (Katherine Vaz) – A bittersweet story about loving, aging, and dying, “The Conch Shell” will leave you in tears. And possibly reevaluating some of your life choices.

The only story I flat out disliked is “A Bucket of Warm Spit”; the repetitive, heavily accented (even caricatured) language renders it virtually unreadable. Truth be told, I couldn’t get past the second page.

Quite possibly, the greater your knowledge of fairy tales – their history, origins, and the like – the more you’ll get more out of this collection. That said, My Mother She Killed Me is suitable for novices too – and just might compel you to go back and read (or reread) some of the originals. I know my wishlist grew by leaps and bounds as I worked my way through the stories!

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Oh, Jayne.
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(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote me hopeful if you’re so inclined!)

John James Audubon, murderer of children.

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

I started this post on my birthday, but it was shelved shortly thereafter when Jayne, always with the excellent timing, ate my book. $7 and a used copy later, and I’m back in business!

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So this is pretty cool. The very first piece in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales casts John James Audubon (yes, that John James Audubon) as the story’s villain: the embodiment of evil, Audubon is a mass murderer of birds – and a child-killer, to boot (the titular pelican child is but one of his many countless victims).

Joy Williams, the author of “Baba Iaga and the Pelican Child,” explains the origins of her story:

When I was doing some research for a book on the Florida Keys some twenty years ago, I discovered that John James Audubon, despite his revered status, was a great slaughterer of birds. (Perhaps everyone was aware of this.) He killed tirelessly for pleasurable sport and would wipe out entire mangrove islands of its inhabitants because…well, because I guess it was easy once he got started. I do hope the curse of history will catch up with him. Perhaps Baba Iaga will be the great facilitator in that regard.

By story’s end, the anti-hero has taken to the skies, shining a magical lamp on everyone she meets, illuminating that which they’d rather not see – namely, the “humanity” present in all animals, not just those of the human variety:

[…] Baba Iaga continued to fly through the skies in her mortar, navigating with her pestle. But instead of a broom, she carried the lamp that illuminated the things people did not know or were reluctant or refused to understand. And she would lower the lamp over a person and they would see how extraordinary were the birds and beasts of the world, and that they should be valued for their bright and beautiful and mysterious selves and not willfully harmed for they were more precious than castles or the golden rocks dug out from the earth. [More so, actually. – ed.]

But she could reach only a few people each day with the lamp.

Once, seven people experienced its light but usually it was far less. It would take thousands of years, tens of thousands perhaps, to reach all the human beings with the light.

Baba Iaga came home one evening – so tired – and she gathered her little family around her, the pelican child and the dog and the cat and said, My dear ones, I still have magic and power unrealized. Do you wish to become human beings, for some think you are under a hellish spell. Do you want to become human? The dog and the cat spoke. The pelican child had not spoken since the day of her return.

The dog and the cat said – well, I won’t tell you what they said.

But I will tell you this: I cried.

The Dangerous World of Butterflies: More dangerous for butterflies than for humans.

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

On Wednesday, journalist Peter Laufer appeared on The Daily Show in order to discuss his newest book, The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists. While the material might seem rather lighthearted – especially in comparison to his previous subjects, which include neo-Nazism, illegal immigration and the Iraq war – the illegal butterfly trade is nothing to scoff at, as he explains:
 

 
Naturally, even the so-called “butterfly huggers” (e.g., the North American Butterfly Association, the International Butterfly Breeders Association) view butterflies as a collection or a part of nature or ecology as opposed to the many individual beings that they are. Or, put another way, butterfly conservation is more about environmental protection than animal rights – or even welfare. Even so, The Dangerous World of Butterflies sounds like an interesting read, since butterfly collecting isn’t normally a “hobby” that’s equated with danger (nor are butterflies the first group of animals to come to mind when one thinks of wildlife “poaching”).

During the interview, Jon wonders why one might want to collect butterflies, due to their short life spans of a week or two. According to Wiki, this is a bit of a misconception:

It is a popular belief that butterflies have very short life spans. However, butterflies in their adult stage can live from a week to nearly a year depending on the species. Many species have long larval life stages while others can remain dormant in their pupal or egg stages and thereby survive winters.

Butterflies may have one or more broods per year. The number of generations per year varies from temperate to tropical regions with tropical regions showing a trend towards multivoltinism.

Not that the butterfly’s life span really matters – for, as Laufer explains, it’s not the aim of collectors to house a population of living butterflies. Rather, collectors view butterflies as objects to be exhibited, much like artwork. In this way, the appeal of “owning” the corpse of a butterfly belonging to a protected or endangered species is much like that of owning a stolen piece of art.

As morbid as this attitude is, I’m not sure it’s all that different from that of butterfly conservations, who view their objects of admiration as pieces of a whole, cogs to be manipulated and controlled in order to achieve a desired result. A thousand Schaus Swallowtails, for example, aren’t significant as a thousand living beings, but as representatives of an endangered butterfly species. To conservationists, the beings are all interchangeable members of a species, much as their corpses are interchangeable pieces of valuables and artwork to poachers and collectors.

(More below the fold…)

Meow.

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

American Bird Conservancy kicks its May BirdWire off with the following ominous blurb:

ABC Video Highlights Damage to Birds from Trap, Neuter, Release Programs

American Bird Conservancy has produced a new, short video “Trap, Neuter, and Release: Bad for Cats, Disaster for Birds.” Each year, feral and free-roaming cats kill hundreds of millions of our nation’s birds, putting additional pressure on the populations of many species that are in decline.

Trap, Neuter, and Release (TNR) programs catch feral cats, neuter them, and then release them back to their colonies, which are subsequently maintained by volunteers. In theory, cat colonies managed under TNR will diminish over time through attrition, and eventually disappear. In practice this is not the case.

View the video here.

(If you have difficulty viewing the high-definition version, please click here.)

Here’s the video, along with its description on You Tube:

Each year free-roaming and feral cats kill hundreds of million of birds in the United States. One controversial solution to deal with the feral cat problem is trap, neuter and release. However, evidence is growing that this method is not eliminating the cat colonies or the predation of birds and other wildlife. There are other problems created by feral cats as well including threats to human health, and public nuisance issues. For more information see American Bird Conservancy’s website at http://www.abcbirds.org

(If you can’t view the video, you can read more about ABC’s speciesist views vis-à-vis free-roaming cats here.)

Though I’m not sufficiently educated on the issue to offer a counter to ABC’s assertions* (except to say that the birds with which ABC is so concerned have no greater right to life than their predators, the domestic and feral cats; but the guardians of domestic cats should most definitely keep them indoors, both for their own safety, and that of wildlife), I have to wonder whether ABC also advocates a vegetarian or vegan diet for Westerners. After all, meat consumption is a major contributor to climate change – which in turn is “the greatest threat to birds and other wildlife in human history.” (So says the Audubon Society, another organization that, inexplicably, engages in omni indulgence, if not outright apologism.) Most likely, ABC stands to save more birds by persuading their fellow Americans to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet – or even just eating less of the stuff.

And yet.

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

And also, I’d love to hear Laura “Trap, Neuter and Find a Home” Reynold’s** ideas for rehoming all these feral cats when 1) most are not properly socialized to live indoors, with humans (they’re essentially wild animals, hello!); and 2) while between six and eight million cats and dogs enter U.S. shelters every year, only half leave alive. Seriously, what a stupid, uninformed thing to say.

One final thought: humans constitute a massive threat to wildlife. Unrivaled, perhaps. Remember, we’re the cause of climate change, “the greatest threat to birds and other wildlife in human history.”

….

* Luckily, the HSUS and Alley Cat Allies are. For a rebuttal of ABC’s video, start with their websites.

** Of the Tropical Audubon Society; quoted from an interview in ABC’s video.

(More below the fold…)

Irreplaceable Alert: YOU can be part of the exhibit!

Monday, March 9th, 2009

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Irreplaceable Wild – info [at] irreplaceablewild.org
Date: Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 4:43 PM
Subject: Send us your photo

Irreplaceable Alert: YOU can be part of the exhibit!

Take Part in a Photo Petition to Congress

Looking for a new way to get involved and help support wildlife at risk from global warming? Join the Irreplaceable Photo Petition!

We will be turning photos of YOU (caring members of the public) into a collective mosaic of a polar bear, the iconic image of wildlife struggling in a warming world, and presenting it to Congress to bring attention to this important cause.

Your photo can help support at-risk wildlife and be part of the Irreplaceable exhibit!

* Want to participate? Send (email) us your photo here: photomosaic [at] irreplaceablewild.org! (Make sure to include your name and state in the email).

The Irreplaceable: Wildlife in a Warming World campaign is dedicated to educating policymakers and the public about the impacts of global warming on wildlife through the beauty and power of images, combined with the inspiration and knowledge from science, religion, and conservation law.

Over the last year, the exhibit has traveled all over the country, and thousands of you have been inspired by these stunning photographs to take action and get involved.

Now it’s your turn to become part of the exhibit! We need thousands of people to donate their personal photographs to a unique “photo petition,” which will be delivered to our policymakers asking them to take steps to protect wildlife imperiled by global warming. The finished mosaic will be presented in May to Congress in Washington, DC, and displayed on the Irreplaceable website.

Thanks for your support, and your photos!

-Irreplaceable: Wildlife in a Warming World
www.irreplaceablewild.org

(More below the fold…)

Making the National Landscape Conservation System permanent.

Monday, April 7th, 2008

UPDATE, 4/15/08, via the National Wildlife Federation (NWF):

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to approve the National Landscape Conservation System Act by a vote of 278-140! This Conservation System protects wildlife in 26 million acres of majestic landscapes and watersheds across the America. We could not have succeeded without your support!

Interested in learning more about the areas included in the National Landscape Conservation System?

Please visit http://www.conservationsystem.org

Stay tuned, as we now expect the bill to go to the Senate for their consideration.

My rep voted NO. Gawd, sometimes living in the stick sux.

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With a Congressional vote coming up this Wednesday, Drew at The Wilderness Society asked me to ask you to contact your rep and urge them to grant permanent protection to the National Landscape Conservation System.

Just what is the the National Landscape Conservation System, you ask?

In June 2000, the National Landscape Conservation System – the most innovative American land system created in the last 40 years – was established to protect the crown jewels of the public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The 26 million-acre Conservation System includes more than 800 individual units: 15 National Monuments, 13 National Conservation Areas, Steens Mountain Cooperative Management Protection Area in Oregon, Headwaters Forest Reserve in northern California, 38 Wild and Scenic Rivers, 183 Wilderness Areas, more than 5,100 miles of National Scenic and Historic Trails, and 604 Wilderness Study Areas.

The mission of the National Landscape Conservation System is to “conserve, protect, and restore these nationally significant landscapes that have outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations.”

The Conservation System offers the spectacular qualities of the National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges. But the System represents an innovative shift from conventional management: protecting large landscapes-entire ecosystems and archaeological communities-not small, isolated tracts surrounded by development. Arizona’s Agua Fria National Monument contains hundreds of archaeological structures and sites; to understand the story these sites tell, the monument includes surrounding lands where their inhabitants traded, hunted, and farmed. Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument encompasses 800,000 acres, including parts of the watershed of the Grand Canyon.

The National Landscape Conservation System Act (HR 2016), which moves to the House floor on April 9th, will if passed formally establish the proposed Conservation System. You can take action and urge your rep to vote yes on HR 2016 here.

To learn more, visit http://www.conservationsystem.org – or check out this nifty video intro from The Wilderness Society:

And be sure to spread the word!

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IDA Writing Alert: Breeding elephants doesn’t protect them

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: In Defense of Animals – takeaction [at] idausa.org
Date: Nov 1, 2007 11:20 AM
Subject: Writing Alert: Breeding elephants doesn’t protect them

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette printed an opinion piece about the Pittsburgh Zoo’s new elephant breeding facility. Please write a letter to the editor thanking them for publishing the piece and addressing the zoo conservation myth. Send letters to letters [at] post-gazette.com.

Read “Breeding elephants doesn’t protect them” online.

Breeding elephants doesn’t protect them

Zoos like those in Pittsburgh should help preserve the animals’ native habitat instead

Wednesday, October 31, 2007
By Marianne Bessey

During this month’s ground-breaking ceremony at the Pittsburgh zoo’s proposed elephant breeding facility in Somerset Country, lots of lip service was paid to “conservation.” It is without question that elephants, endangered in Asia and threatened in Africa, desperately need help. But will spending millions of dollars on breeding a handful of elephants actually help elephants — or just the zoo’s bottom line?

(More below the fold…)

A Modest Porpoisal

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

“Stephen suggests that by eating endangered animals we can prevent their extinction.”

Amazingly, antis use this same argument to defend their meals of BBQ and fried chicken. Because, like, if no one cared enough to eat cows and chicks, they’d go extinct. So it’s really a philanthropic vs. a convenience thing. Seriously. You cannot make this shit up.

Videos in this post

The Colbert Report, Tuesday, July 24, 2007
The Word – Modest Porpoisal
Stephen suggests that by eating endangered animals we can prevent their extinction. (4:09)

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Greenpeace: Speak Up for Steller Sea Lions

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Via Greenpeace:

Speak Up for Steller Sea Lions

Endangered Steller sea lions are fighting to survive in the waters of the Bering Sea, Alaska. They’re in a battle with factory trawlers, who are snatching up fish and tearing up ocean habitats that Stellers depend on for survival. Without enough food and ocean safe havens, the Steller sea lion population has declined dramatically. While the sea lions fight off starvation, the government is dragging its feet on implementing Endangered Species Act protections.

Take Action >> Tell the government to give maximum protection to these magnificent creatures.

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Finally, some good news from Hawaii!

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

In case you haven’t yet heard:

Bush Plans Vast Protected Sea Area in Hawaii

President Bush will create the world’s largest protected marine area today, designating as a national monument a 1,200-mile-long chain of small Hawaiian islands and surrounding waters and reefs that are home to a spectacular array of sea life, senior administration officials said last night.

In his second use of the 100-year old National Antiquities Act, which empowers the president to protect important cultural or geological resources instantly, Mr. Bush will enact a suite of strict rules for the area, including a five-year phasing out of commercial and sport fishing, officials said.

The chain of largely uninhabited atolls, seamounts, reefs and shoals, which sweeps northwest from the big islands of Hawaii, is called the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and is home to some 7,000 species of marine life, including endangered green sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals and millions of breeding seabirds.

Before you vow to vote Republican in ’08, it’s worth noting that this doesn’t necessarily indicate a turning for Bush and his disastrous enviro policies:

Some environmentalists noted yesterday that the extra protection was an easy call for the administration, in part because there was little significant opposition in Hawaii or Washington. The move could also help the re-election prospects of Linda Lingle, Hawaii’s Republican governor, who last fall banned commercial activities in state waters in the area and endorsed the federal sanctuary plan.

They noted that there were only eight commercial fishing boats licensed to fish in the remote islands, and that rising fuel costs had made such trips less and less profitable.

Even so, it’s something to celebrate.

Go read the whole article via The New York Times.

UPDATE: MoJo blogger Bradford Plumer has a spot-on take of this story:

Gotcha. Fishermen don’t really care about this sanctuary, not much harm was being done to the reefs anyway, so Bush may as well go ahead and protect the damn thing, especially since he can now claim that he has “accomplished the single largest act of environmental conservation in history.” Our hero. Well, it’s good news regardless, although there are countless other reefs and coastal regions that still need actual protection. What are the odds of Bush acting on those? No, let’s not answer that.

While I’m certainly not falling for Bush’s green posturing, it’s still good (i.e., in a lukewarm kinda way) news nonetheless – at least one marine area is receiving federal protection, even if it isn’t currently in need of it. Could it be better? Sure. But with Bush at the helm, it could most definitely be worse.

Center for Biological Diversity: Predator Poisoning and Killing Planned In Wilderness Areas

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

From the Center for Biological Diversity:

Predator Poisoning and Killing Planned In Wilderness Areas

The U.S. Forest Service just announced plans to relax rules that govern “predator control” in federal Wilderness areas and Research Natural Areas of our National Forests. The move would greatly expand the ways that wolves, coyotes, cougars, bears, foxes and other predators can be killed in these areas, and it signals a very disturbing shift in the way our public land is managed.

The proposed rule would permit aerial gunning and motorized vehicles in Wilderness areas to trap and kill predators and meet nebulous “wildlife management” objectives, which would be created by industry-driven “collaborative groups.” The rule would also allow notoriously dangerous “M-44” cyanide guns to be used in Wilderness areas, even though these devises have accidentally killed thousands of family pets and non-targeted wildlife. Please take a minute to write the Forest Service and demand that it reverse this disastrous plan – and instead put its energy and resources towards ensuring these animals continue to grace the wild.

To learn more, click here.

To take action, click here.

Wilderness Society WILDALERT: Critical Areas of Kenai Peninsula Would be Open to Snowmobiles Under Proposal

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

The following is an excerpt from the latest Wilderness Society action alert.

To take action, click here.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: The Wilderness Society – action [at] tws [dot] org
Date: Jun 6, 2006 2:44 PM
Subject: WILDALERT: Critical Areas of Kenai Peninsula Would be Open to Snowmobiles Under Proposal

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* WILDALERT — Tuesday, June 6, 2006
* Brought to you by The Wilderness Society

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PROPOSAL PERMANENTLY OPENS CRITICAL AREAS OF KENAI PENINSULA TO SNOWMOBILES
Demand balanced management for the Kenai!

At 5.5 million acres, the Chugach National Forest in southcentral Alaska is the nation’s second largest. One of its best-known wonders is the Kenai Peninsula, rich in natural beauty, fish and wildlife. The U.S. Forest is developing a winter use plan for the area that could surrender 85 percent of it to snowmobile use. We need your help to prevent that.

The Forest Service is taking public comments through Monday, June 12, on a draft winter use plan for the Kenai. Its favored approach would exchange natural quiet and wildlife protection for the roar of snowmobiles. Please ask the agency to designate the Kenai’s most sensitive areas off-limits to motorized use.

Click here to send that message immediately:
http://action.wilderness.org/campaign/Kenai/

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WHAT’S AT STAKE

The Chugach National Forest is part of the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. It contains some of the richest salmon spawning streams in America, tidewater glaciers, towering peaks. The Kenai Peninsula is a fabled part of it.

The Kenai is a remarkable microcosm of Alaska, boasting rainforest, glaciers, alpine tundra, coastal estuaries, bays, inlets and coves. Its wildlife is a virtual catalog of Alaskan fauna: both black and brown bears, moose, caribou, mountain goats, Dall sheep, wolves, lynx, wolverine and five species of salmon. The Kenai and Russian Rivers support the biggest recreational fishery in Alaska.

Already, the Kenai’s precious wilderness resources are under threat from helicopter skiing, intensive snowmobiling and other motorized uses. These uses damage habitats, disrupt wildlife and utterly destroy wilderness character.

TILTING THE BALANCE

Today, over 70 percent of the Kenai planning area is open to snowmobile use. Through its Kenai Winter Access Plan, the agency is mapping out how it will manage or regulate winter use. The operative word here is “access.” Among three alternatives the agency has offered the public for comment, the one it prefers would throw open most of the area to snow machine use and only a scant 15 percent of the area would be permanently closed to snow machine use. The proposed alternative is disappointing, short-sighted and imbalanced.

A much better choice is Alternative 1. It comes closest to balancing motorized recreation with wildlife protection and natural values. It is precisely in winter that wildlife most need sanctuary from disruptive motorized intrusions, for it is in winter that wildlife species need to conserve as much energy as possible in order to survive and eventually produce young. With a few improvements, Alternative 1 could significantly reduce impacts to wildlife and wilderness character and provide much more balanced recreational opportunities.

Only by designating large areas of the Kenai as off-limits to non- motorized use can the Forest Service preserve natural quiet and wilderness quality recreational opportunities, as well as the extraordinary wildlife habitats of this exceptional place. It will also be critical for the agency to permanently close to both helicopter skiing and snow machine use the spectacular and still-pristine Snow River unit and the southern half of the Ptarmigan/Grant unit. None of that will happen unless we weigh in on the winter access plan.

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PLEASE ACT TODAY TO HELP US DEFEND THE KENAI!

The Kenai’s magnificence belongs to all Americans and we have now a valuable opportunity to help shape its future. Click here and urge the Forest Service to choose balance and protection over rampant motorized use on the Kenai.

[…]

If you received this message from a friend, you can sign up for the The Wilderness Society Center here.

[end excerpt]