Cornwall Creek Flooding is many things; fundamentally, “natural” is not one of them. In general, I find the sentiment that the natural world ought to be left natural, very agreeable. Ideally, we should co-exist with nature - every aspect of it - and carefully measure our actions by the impact they’ll have on the environment around us. Ideally. This is, however, not the case, and has not been for most of human history. I feel as though this is an exciting time to be alive. The world over, we see this paradigm shift in how we think about, treat and exploit the natural world, and take precautions to understand better the impact we have on it, or act to fix the damage we have done…sometimes both. This flooding is evidence of the era in which we acted in our own interest, rarely, if ever, pausing to consider how what we were about to do might affect the future. The “here and now” was all that mattered. Again, in general, I find the ideology that when and where we can, to the betterment of the natural world, we should undo this damage. My question in relation to Cornwall Creek Flooding then becomes, what is it about the dam’s eradication that causes an overall, positive effect? What is the quantifiable, real benefit to the natural world? I believe there is none, and I will share why I feel that way.
First, I want to address the concept of natural, and how we arrive at the conclusion that Cornwall Creek Flooding is unnatural. At face value, yes, the dam and earthen embankment are man-made, which in turn is suggestive that the flooding itself is therefore man made and unnatural. However, what is it specifically about the flooding as it exists today that is such an aberration of nature? For nearly 60 years this body of water has existed, ostensibly in a very harmonious and symbiotic manner with the “natural” world around it. For me it begs the question, at what point should something unnatural be revered as natural with respect to this newfound human desire to save nature, and the environment itself? I contend that to the wildlife that’s lived in, or near this body of water for more than half a century, that this flooding is as natural as the air they breathe, the wildlife care not that the dam nor the embankment were man-made. Is not the safeguarding of our natural world, particularly its inhabitants, the most important aspect of our efforts to safeguard and protect anything at all? This is arguably more a question of morality and virtue than anything else. If in our fight to save the natural world, our definition of what natural is lends itself to the annihilation of the very thing we are attempting to protect, including the life that it supports, perhaps we ought to consider how we define what it means to be natural. Cornwall Creek Flooding, save the physical dam and embankment, is in and of itself no more or less of a natural phenomenon worthy of human protection than any other body of water in our state. I suggest that in our conquest to right the wrongs of our past as it relates to the historic reshaping of our natural world, that we take our fight to the future; learning from the past and using it to guide our choices as we move forward. Cornwall Creek Flooding is a very fortunate consequence of human activity that is deserving our protection. It matters very little to the life that calls this place home, how we define it. Their inability to express disdain over the annihilation of this place is no reason to exclude that from our decision-making process. I would argue that defining a place such as Cornwall Creek Flooding, as unnatural, and choosing to be okay with its annihilation because of that, is more aligned with our blighted history relative to natural resources and doing with it that which we please; often the thing that is easiest and most convenient regardless of the life it displaces or destroys. If what humanity has done historically to add value to our natural world in essence negates its naturalness, and is a wrongdoing deserving of correction…will we move forward from here then, and begin the process of correcting some of the much more significant human aberrations of our natural world? Purge the Great Lakes of the salmon which were planted by the DNR, end the clearcutting of our forests for profit by the DNR, or stop the reshaping of forestry to better align with the DNR’s current plans and objectives? While the DNR may own the dam and the flooding, they do not own the definition of natural, and they certainly do not act in a manner that suggests their own definition of natural is concrete, as evidenced by what they choose to protect or annihilate in their conservation efforts. In my opinion, they are very much guilty of adapting what it means to be natural or not, and adjusting what is and is not an acceptable amount of human influence over nature as they see fit, and often in support of what they want. This is unacceptable. The State of Michigan and the DNR collectively can protect and preserve Cornwall Creek Flooding. The question isn’t funding. Rather, it’s whether the flooding fits today’s malleable definition of natural, and determining based on that whether it's worthy of preservation. In 2019 it did fit this definition, and the flooding hasn’t changed since.
I urge anyone reading this to contemplate the true impact of the current plan set forth by the DNR. Consider carefully the real benefit to our natural world that the dam and embankment be eradicated, and for what; to reclaim the former, unaltered and natural state of our natural resources? Who is the beneficiary of that in this specific situation? With or without the flooding, the same volume of water flowing into it today will flow through the void later when its gone, and will add to the Pigeon River the same volume of water it has for 66 years. In essence, nothing changes. There is no tangible, appreciable benefit to the eradication of the dam and the embankment to any person or entity other than the State of Michigan and the DNR. The benefit being that they cut costs or save money at the expense of annihilating Cornwall Creek Flooding, most of the life within its waters, and displacing the multitudes of wildlife that has for more than half a century known and depended on this flooding as its home. There is a better path forward - a path which doesn't result in the eradication of an ecosystem, of an abundant and healthy fishery and the displacement of countless species of wildlife which find sanctuary here. We are on the precipice of a defining moment in our history. A moment to test what we have learned about our past and how we apply that to our future. With absolutely no appreciable benefit to eradicating the dam, and truly understanding that the only measurable impact its eradication has is the senseless annihilation of a precious, self-sustaining and prospering ecosystem; the issue at hand becomes larger than saving Cornwall Creek Flooding and evolves to one of greater significance. Have we learned the lesson we say we have from our past, or will we continue down the path of appending a dollar value to resources, leading to the systemic destruction and irreversible damage of our natural world, hoping that it will outlast our greed. If we keep putting off the responsibility to be better now than we have been in the past, we will invariably reach the point that there will be nothing left for future generations to be better about.
Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think. Feel free to share this message and as always, thank you for joining the Cornwall Conversation.