Enviros and marchers and bears, oh my! Our friends to the north are nothing if not thorough. In preparation for the upcoming G8 Economic Summit in Alberta next month, security planners there are doing everything in their power to create a safe and sanitized donut of security for the head honchos of the industrialized world. Leaving nothing to chance, Canadian wildlife officials are tossing their hats in the ring with plans to trap and radio collar all the grizzlies they can rustle up in the Kananaskis Country Provincial Recreation Area, a 2,500 square-mile wilderness area surrounding the summit site. (G8 critics argue that this location was chosen precisely for its remoteness and easy defensibility from demonstrators.) The San Francisco Chronicle reports that wildlife biologists with Alberta’s Department of Sustainable Resource and Development fear that heavily armed security personnel, unfamiliar with North America’s largest land predator, may inadvertently mistake the big bruins for troublemakers or terrorists and open fire, or else get mauled during security sweeps (and other routine calls of nature) in the surrounding backcountry.
Needless to say, some griz biologists are calling the plan paranoid, overkill, and just plain bizarre, arguing that the measure needlessly traumatizes bears at a time when they’re hungry, thin and just emerging from their dens. Still, Canadian wildlife officials say that the radio collars will yield years of valuable data on Alberta’s already dwindling grizzly population. But with only one recorded mauling death in Kananaskis in the last century, the odds of a grizzly mauling George Bush or Tony Blair are less than those of having a vending machine tip over on them, which, incidentally, killed about a dozen people in North America in the last decade. No word yet on whether security personnel will be on the alert for Sasquatch or Mr. Salty.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Commonwealth: Steps are being taken in England this week to ameliorate the public standing of another much-maligned (but somewhat less glamorous) member of the wild kingdom. May 20 through the 26 has been declared Be Nice to Nettles Week by a loose federation of conservation groups working together to educate the public about the many uses of the stinging nettle, Urtica dioica.
Nettles have a pretty bad reputation wherever they grow, which is just about everywhere, including Montana. And why shouldn’t they? The hardy annual herb flourishes between bony-shin and tender-inner-thigh height on the average human adult and boasts an admirable survival strategy: The stems of the plant are covered with hollow hairs than inject formic acid into exposed skin that brushes up against them from a sac at the base of each hair. Be nice to nettles? Like hell!
But nettles are also very beneficial for humans and other animals. The plant is home to several species of moth and butterfly that depend on it for shelter. Its fibers can be used to make cloth up to 50 times more durable than cotton. And nettles are very nutritious, even tasty—once the venom has been inactivated by drying or cooking.
Besides, Europe and America got off pretty easy with Urtica dioica. There are species of nettle in Java that can incapacitate and even kill a grown man with their sting. So praise creation and pass the calamine lotion. Find out more about Be Nice to Nettles Week at www.nettles.org.uk