The role of humans in species endangerment is not science fiction


The monarch butterfly joining the red list of endangered species and our state’s oil and gas operations probably need to change practices to help little prairie chickens recover reminds me of an episode of Star Trek.

The Enterprise, under the command of Captain Picard, navigates the Milky Way trying to do no harm. Deanna, then Riker, begin to have dreams and receive telepathic communications urging them to stop on a planet in the system they are approaching.

Picard is reluctant, but, after several trusted crew members recount moving dream scenes and desperate pleas that seem to suggest the planet’s population may soon be destroyed, agrees to stop.

They find the planet populated mostly by Doms, reasonably intelligent beings they can communicate with. The Doms don’t object to their visit, but reassure Picard they are fine and facing no impending disaster.

A curious fact is that to each Dom corresponds a Glebe. The Glebes exist to protect and serve the Doms, and can change shape at will. If a Dom child walks towards a cliff or other hazard, the Glebe will get in the way or develop hands and arms with which to grasp the child. If a Dom stops somewhere and wants to sit down, his Glebe immediately takes the shape of a comfortable seat and stays that way for as long as needed.

Initially, it’s not even clear if the Glebes are sentient beings or simply tools invented by the Doms that obey wordless commands. The Doms explain that the Glebes are living creatures that cannot speak, write, or reason. Glebes detects and responds to the needs of Doms. The Doms treat them in ways ranging from kindness and gratitude to recklessness and contempt. When a Dom is born, a Glebe appears. When a Dom dies, their Glebe disappears.

Eventually, the crew realizes that it was the Glebes who begged them telepathically. The smoke of a substance the Doms started smoking will eventually kill the Glebes. When Picard informs the Dom rulers of this danger, they ignore it.

Glebes are convenient non-entities that some Doms even consider an annoyance. However, it turns out that when a Glebe dies, its corresponding Dom dies. The Doms decide to give up the substance they enjoyed smoking.

This episode was never aired. At the time, I was watching Star Trek because of a teenager who never missed it. I designed the episode. I even sent for the “bible” which contained the full stories of all the characters, but I was a very busy lawyer. Then the series ended.

Monarchs remind me of this episode “almost”. We may not care much about the little prairie chicken; but we are rapidly losing bees and other pollinators, as well as birds and many species of trees. Trees, without particularly intending to help us, provide us with oxygen and contribute to the cooling of the planet, an essential element of our water/rain cycle. Bees, birds and insects are essential to much of what we consume. Despite all our science, the loss of these species could put us at risk. Even without this danger (and without our wonder at the variety and beauty of other creatures), what right do we have to wantonly destroy species?

But I’m an old man who mumbles under his breath, recalling the many lightning bugs of childhood. And protecting a butterfly or a bird seems almost quaint when we willfully ignore the stunted lives our descendants will suffer because of our reckless selfishness.

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Las Cruces resident Peter Goodman writes, takes pictures and occasionally practices law. His blog on contains additional information about this column.


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