In the jargon of the conservation Establishment, use of wildlife is divided into two categories, consumptive and nonconsumptive. Consumptive users are hunters, fishers, trappers and exterminators, those who one way or another do in beasts for pleasure or profit. The nonconsumptives are bird watchers, photographers and squirrel feeders who have found ways to get kicks out of animals without killing them, at least not directly and immediately. This distinction may be meaningful elsewhere, but not on the Leeward Archipelago, where a seal poacher or a turtle hunter would be bad but no worse than a nature lover with mustard seeds in his binocular case. If it is to remain what it is, this place has no practical, economic or esthetic use to either the consumptive or nonconsumptive factions.
The uses of unusable things of this sort are not to be found in the physical but the metaphysical world. The Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge is useful because it instructs us in subjects, ignorance of which constitutes a deadly peril. We have become accustomed in recent years to seeing portraits of our planet snapped from hundreds of thousands of miles out in the universe. From these vantage points the Earth resembles as much as anything else a small island in the sea of space. In terms of fragility and vulnerability, East Island is to the Earth as the Earth is to the heavens. We should keep East Island, with its birds, seals and turtles, to constantly remind us of this situation, of the need to live carefully in our own isolated world.
The Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge is useful, too, because it calls attention to elements of human behavior which, when honored, would seem closely related to the future prospects of our species. There is abundant evidence as to the darker, bloodier side of our nature, countless memorials to our greed, lust and mindless predaciousness. Yet we are also capable of compassion, restraint and biological altruism. Maintaining a useless island sanctuary for useless creatures we will never see is a magnificent monument to these most hopeful traits.