Thursday, May 28, 2009

Connections between auctions, wildlife and the land

This afternoon I went to an auction. Not really a big deal but I don’t go to many auctions. When we first moved to North Dakota we frequented quite a few of them that first autumn and the following spring, all with the intent of getting some of the “stuff” we needed to get started with our new home. We played it pretty close to the chest and always went with a list of what we wanted and how much we would pay. Usually that worked out fairly well for us except for the time we went to an auction where the main item to be sold was a Sixties era cedar wood boat. I wanted that boat and got into a bidding war and the price was up to a couple of grand when the guy who was bidding against me walked over and told me that I didn’t have enough money to outbid him. I stayed with it for another hundred then dropped out. Now, I am glad I did. That boat would have been a deeper hole in the water than the boat I’ve got!

There was something that bothered me about this auction—what people were paying. There were some very nice antiques sold at this auction but they sold dirt cheap. I wasn’t interested in antiques but I did have four items on my list and all of them are for my office. I also knew what I was willing to pay providing the quality was there. When I arrived I walked around and checked the items I was interested in, wrote down what I would be willing to pay and then did some shopping, mostly in the boxes of used books. That was a bust.

When the bidding started my first item was a nearly new color TV to replace the little B&W TV in my office. I had finally gotten tired of trying to figure out the weather maps in shades of gray and wanted a color TV. In store price for a like model TV is $200. My cost at the auction was $5. I was feeling pleased and a little surprised but I figured most people had been frightened off by the digital thing and didn’t realize that if they are using cable it doesn’t matter.

My next item was an office cabinet with an enclosed safe. The condition was excellent and it was what I wanted. I dropped out of the bidding for it after a few bids because I realized the guy I was bidding against was more determined than I was willing to deal with. When I dropped out he got it at a steal. I wasn’t worried, there was a nearly new desk that retails for $400 and I wanted to try and snag it because I am remodeling my office, opening up wall space for books and getting rid of this wall desk I cobbled together.

I never open a bid on anything and when the auctioneer tried to start the bidding at $100 I was ready to pack it in, except no one opened. He tried $75 and still no takers. He dropped to $50, then $25 and finally $10. I raised my hand and he tried to get the bid up to $15 for the desk. He couldn’t even get anyone to raise the bid to $11. I had my desk and I was happy with the price but feeling a little guilty. The auction was the selling of someone’s life history and it was going for a song. The only other thing I bought was a box of nice wine glasses for $1. At past auctions I’ve seen a box of quality wine glasses sell for $50. I doubt that at the end of the day the auction brought in a full $15,000. A lifetime of living in that farm house and it was only worth that much? Something is wrong. One of the auctioneers told me that this year sales are off more than he had ever expected. "People don't have the cash to buy," he said.

On the way home I passed by something else that troubled me and suddenly the prices at the auction made sense—land that had once been in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was being put to the plow. I stopped and watched the tractor go over the field and I was expecting to see some grouse flush from in front of the tractor but I guess the birds were already gone and looking for a new home. An auction that didn’t bring any money after a lifetime and a CRP field being returned to the till may not seem connected but they are—both are symptoms of an economy in trouble and those troubles are still upsetting homes—human and wildlife. We don’t think about the economy hurting wildlife except for the loss in revenue for wildlife agencies but there is another cost, one that is unseen, and it is in the wetlands and the grasslands where the wildlife is being uprooted by peoples' need to try and salvage something out of this mess. Something for us to think about the next time we read about the recovery finally starting.

PS I also saw lots and lots of nesting ducks including a half-dozen pair of redheads. That is good. glg


Chas S. Clifton said...

I think the connection between the low auction prices and the CRP being plowed up is dead-on.

Word verification: DEDNESTO. What happens to the birds on the CRP.

Galen Geer said...

Or should it be mortuus nidus? Maybe mortuusnest?

What about the rush to drain the wetlands?

I'm not buying into the "economy is starting to recover" bull. I think we've got a long pull ahead and we're going to see a serious impact on some of the nation's wildlife. glg

Scampwalker said...

A well written, sad, but true post. I remember my dad taking me to a ton of farmstead auctions in Nebraska back in the 70s, and it hasn't changed since then.
As for the economy... who cares if it gets better or worse? We've already leveraged our kids' grandkids' future, haven't we?