Lawmaker Unintentionally Highlights Importance of Men in Family Planning

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Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Pa.) got media traction recently when he proposed requiring vasectomies for men once they hit age 40, or after their third child, whichever came first.

The idea was intended as parody, but unfortunately the joke was buried at the end of a series of tweets and wasn’t clarified until a few days later. While Rabb failed in whatever point he was trying to make about abortion restrictions, he further failed by using the legislative process simply for a PR stunt.

But there were two positive unintended consequence of his bad faith proposal. First, whether parody or not, putting out the idea highlighted the potential of extremism in government mandates, which can run counter to the essential core value of educated self-determination. Second, it showed how essential men – half the population – are to family planning.

Vasectomies are not a topic for polite dinner conversation, but a few years ago I was with a group of committed environmentalists when several of the older men started talking about theirs in some detail. They remained acutely attuned to the overpopulation piece of conservation and environmental degradation, even as the broad green movement abdicated responsibility in discussing overpopulation as integral to these issues. Appropriateness of the discussion over a plate of pasta aside, I thought, well, hey, they’re proud of their commitment to doing their part to limit population growth. That’s a good thing.

They are just a small sample. Every day men across the world step up to their role in family planning. Thanks to work begun in 2013, there’s now a world vasectomy project that gained momentum with the documentary film, “The Vasectomist,” by Jonathan Stack, which featured urologist and vasectomy advocate Doug Stein. The two cofounded the World Vasectomy Day (WVD) nonprofit project to educate men and women about vasectomies. WVD works with health organizations to build sustainable and scalable programs, and now includes partners and allies in more than 30 countries, making it the largest male-focused sexual and reproductive health movement ever, according to their website.

The WVD project has put together a substantial team that includes medical, sexual and reproductive health advisors. The group provides training, offers lectures, conducts pop-up clinics and otherwise inspires men’s participation in family planning in many ways including through the “Responsible Men’s Health Club,” supporting more than 80,000 vasectomies worldwide since 2013. World Vasectomy Day is now a multi-day event scheduled this year for November 13 to 20.

Among the organizations and policymakers who work on family planning issues, the focus traditionally has been on educating girls and women. When this happens, the thinking goes, marriage and childbirth are delayed. Additional focus has been on ensuring access to health care and contraception for females, which includes the discussion on the importance of spacing of children, for the health of the mother and the child. WVD’s work has done much to broaden the dialogue, placing emphasis on the value men bring to family planning. Other groups increasingly are doing more to bring men into the loop.

The global development and advocacy organization Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW) educates, trains and connects youth with each other in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. DSW writes of men’s essential role in improving reproductive rights in Africa, noting that “men’s general knowledge and opinions on major factors such as the ideal family size, spacing between births and contraceptive methods used have a significant influence on women’s own preferences and attitudes.”

In Niger, where contraception rates are low, and maternal mortality rates and illiteracy are high, men in the Schools for Husbands program meet to talk about reproductive health situations within their communities and seek solutions working with health personnel. Practical solutions to problems solved by the men in Schools for Husbands included building a home for a midwife and constructing a proper toilet when women said the lack of one was a reason they didn’t go to the maternity facility. Overall, the use of family planning services tripled, according to the United Nations Population Fund. The setup provides the men an opportunity to look at maternal health differently and is a way to help change attitudes and actions.

One more example of men coming to the table for family planning comes from the Population Media Center (PMC), founded by Bill Ryerson more than 20 years ago. PMC develops entertaining programming to encourage positive changes in behavior relating to women’s rights, education of girls and responsible parenting that emphasizes good communications between wives and husbands about their families. PMC has documented success, helping more than 500 million people in 50 countries.

So, Rep. Rabb, thanks for putting men back in the equation on family planning. Millions of men are stepping up to do their part. Through continued focus on education and noncoercive measures, and lending support to organizations such as WVD and PMC, millions more will be encouraged and educated on making good choices for their partners and families.

Copyright 2021 Maria Fotopoulos, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Maria Fotopoulos writes about the connection between overpopulation and biodiversity loss. Contact her on FB @BetheChangeforAnimals and [email protected]

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Building Bridges for Kids to Value Wildlife

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Children love learning, and it’s undeniable that great ideas and principles shared at a young age can impact the path of a child for a lifetime. A coloring book I had as a child about America’s national parks instilled a desire to visit all of our country’s parks – a goal still in process – and was the seed for a commitment to keeping wild things wild.

There’s my anecdotal story, and there’s the science. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine states, “Early childhood is a time when developmental changes are happening that can have profound and lasting consequences for a child’s future. Studies have shown that much more is going on cognitively, socially, and emotionally in young children than previously known. Even in their earliest years, children are starting to learn about their world in sophisticated ways.”

So my wish for learning-loving children – if I had a magic wand – would be to ensure there was more emphasis in school curriculum about the essential value of the natural world and biodiversity to engender a love and appreciation for the world’s wildlife, and the role each species plays in keeping Earth in balance.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, between 1970 and 2014, 60 percent of birds, fish, mammals and reptiles were wiped out, a threat to civilization, experts say. Given that shocking statistic, and the implications of it, the role of biodiversity should be core curriculum material.

In addition to emphasizing the importance of our wild world in public school curriculum, wildlife organizations have a critical role in developing programs that reach youth. As a small example, the American Prairie Reserve, which is working to create the largest nature reserve in the contiguous United States, offers a downloadable coloring book for ages 12 and up. With designs created by artist Erica Freese, a long-time supporter of the nonprofit, the book brings the prairie to life with intricate drawings to color of bison, prairie dogs and more from the grasslands of Montana. While nonprofits can push out this type of material in a variety of ways to a young audience, teachers, parents and kids can actively seek out this sort of information too.

Books open imagination and worlds to young readers and, short of making the actual physical journey, reading is a way to travel to the wild spots, a way to see the animals and the great natural world and a way to plant the seeds of inspiration – what can I do to make the world a better place?

Panthera, a nonprofit committed to the conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species and their ecosystems, compiled a list of great children’s books for wild cat-loving young readers. Among them: “A Boy and a Jaguar,” “The World Belongs to Animals” and “One Day on our Blue Planet … in the Savannah.” Again, educators and parents need only to seek out these resources to engage their students and children in wildlife discussion.

Additionally, recently in print is “Cougar Crossing – How Hollywood’s Celebrity Cougar Helped Build a Bridge for City Wildlife.” Written by Southern Californian Meeg Pincus, this children’s book is the true story of P-22, the mountain lion who survived crossing two of the busiest, multiple-lane U.S. highways. While P-22 escaped his birthplace, the Santa Monica Mountains, which are essentially cut off for cougars and other animals to migrate and find mates, he ended up on yet another “island,” Griffith Park. The world-famous location, home to the Griffith Observatory, encompasses an area that’s 17 times smaller than what the average cougar ranges.

P-22’s plight shows a major failing in our approach to wildlife. We’ve worked to preserve areas – parks, reserves and preserves – but we’ve missed the importance of interconnectivity. Wildlife needs to be able to move. The story of this adventurous cougar has generated worldwide interest and has been a driver of the movement to build a wildlife bridge over the 101 Freeway in Southern California to facilitate wildlife movement.

What great grist for inspiring children – the future biologists, land use directors, city planners, conservationists, wildlife managers, environmental scientists and legislators – to think about how we can have a world that works for our wildlife and how interconnectivity needs to be considered.

“Children are our future” is an oft-repeated line that rings true. Let’s do more to ensure that our children have the educational underpinnings to understanding how essential all wild things are for all of us and our one planet.

Maria Fotopoulos writes about the connection between overpopulation and biodiversity loss. Contact her on FB @BetheChangeforAnimals.

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Grizzly Bears in Our Oldest National Park are Not Safe

“The National Parks do not suffice as a means of perpetuating the larger carnivores; witness the precarious status of the grizzly bear.” These words were published in 1949 in Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County ALMANAC,” which influenced the modern environmental movement. Seventy years later, the insight remains true.

Last year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone area from protection under the Endangered Species Act. When listed in 1975 as threatened with extinction, there were only 136. By 2014, an estimated 757 grizzly bears lived in the park area; today numbers are below 700. Removing protections for the grizzly when numbers are just in three digits – and in decline – seems counterintuitive.

Now, Wyoming has said grizzlies who leave the park can be baited and killed in a hunt that will permit the destruction of up to 22 bears – visions of not so mild-mannered Minnesota dentist cum trophy hunter killer Walter Palmer, who lured a lion out of a protected park, come to mind.

Since about 2000, grizzly deaths have increased significantly, according to Grizzly Times, which describes mortality “far in excess of anything that can be explained by changes in population size,” and states, “Hunters have emerged as the leading cause of grizzly bear mortality.” In addition to being shot by hunters, reportedly in self-defense, bears lose their lives to automobiles and wildlife agencies, who deliver lethal punishment for bears killing livestock or looking for food in the wrong place.

This is probably not surprising. David J. Mattson and Troy Merrill in a study for Northern Arizona University wrote: “Grizzly bears in the contiguous United States die primarily because humans kill them. This is true now and has apparently been true since widespread contact with European settlers began in the mid-1800s.”

While the National Park Service states that the park’s grizzly population is recovered, and the park may have reached its capacity for bear residents, they acknowledge that not all agree. Among them are conservationists, Indian tribes, activists and concerned citizens. To make a determination of success based on a small region that a species inhabits, as numbers are dropping, on its face seems neither scientific nor holistic. An animal population does not flourish in a vacuum.

The very habitat on which they’re dependent may also be problematic. According to the Mattson-Merrill study, the “apparent robustness” of the ecosystem of the Yellowstone grizzly “is deceptive.” Yellowstone’s grizzlies are highly dependent on whitebark pine seeds, and the continued existence of whitebark pine is in question, under attack by beetles, disease, wildfires and climate change.

If that’s not enough to call out Wyoming on its unconscionable decision, add in that grizzly bears are among the slowest reproducing land mammals. They start families between the ages of,three and eight, and have small litters, with long spacing between litters.

Further, there aren’t populations of grizzly bears spread out across the United States. Today a mere 1,500 grizzly bears remain in the lower 48, in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Between the U.S. and Canada, grizzly bears now live in half of their historical range.

Leopold wrote that when he first saw the West, in 1909, “there were grizzlies in every major mountain mass.” But by the time he penned “A Sand County Almanac,” only four decades later, 5,000 of the 6,000 grizzlies, per official reports, were in Alaska. “Only five states have any at all,” he wrote. “There seems to be a tacit assumption that if grizzlies survive in Canada and Alaska, that is good enough. It is not good enough for me.”

Those in positions to protect grizzlies, ensuring they survive and thrive, appear, based on choices made, to have the least interest in doing so. This includes the National Park Service – they can’t abdicate responsibility at park borders.

This is not to criticize the committed conservationists who number in the tens of thousands working as park employees and volunteers. However, NPS operates under the Department of the Interior, and Secretary Ryan Zinke has shown repeatedly that he places many interests above wildlife. In fact, the Department of the Interior website ranks stewardship next-to-the-last on the stated priorities list.

Governmental organizations with biodiversity responsibilities must prioritize the best care of wildlife – that’s an obvious public expectation. This includes looking at how to extend the grizzly range and develop a system of connectivity that will ensure the long-term survival of Ursus arctos horribilis, not leave the grizzly limited to Yellowstone and assuredly an uncertain future. Ideas Leopold put forth nearly 70 years ago.

Maria Fotopoulos writes about the connection between overpopulation and biodiversity loss. Contact her on F–@BetheChangeforAnimals and [email protected]

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