Somehow I missed this on Earth Day, but here it is…note what Dan Botkin says about “drowning in information” but “sometimes the most basic information has not been gathered.”
Here’s a link and below are excerpts:
This year we will celebrate Earth Day for the 43rd time. Where have we come in those years in dealing with the environment, and how has Earth’s environment fared? I have been an ecological scientist since 1965, five years before the first Earth day. Many improvements have taken place in how the major nations deal with the environment. People the world over are much more aware of the environment, but ironically, some of the ways people think about it have not changed. There are still major gaps, concerns, confusions, and misunderstandings about ecology and the environment.
On the positive side, today in the United States we have strong environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency was created, and all the federal agencies that deal with land and water have major programs for environmental protection and improvement. Most states too have environmental protection departments under a variety of names. Non-governmental organizations, most of them small and little known in 1970, have grown into billion dollar enterprises, taken seriously by governments.
So why is it that after all this progress we have difficulty solving so many environmental problems? And why is there so much controversy about them? How could something that seems basically a set of scientific questions have been politicized and made into ideologies, to the point that each side in the environmental debates views the other side as immoral and worse? Why can’t we just engineer our planet like we do airplanes, cell phones, televisions, and automobiles? Why can’t the planet run as steadily and smoothly as the spinning blades of a hydroturbine as it produces electricity from one of our major dams?
We have lost touch with nature in a direct, personal sense: many of us are no longer deeply aware of nature, alert with all our senses. Although the word “environment” may be on our lips daily, few of us have the deep connection to nature that moved Cicero two millennia ago. Without that, environmental issues become abstracted, appearing as just another special interest with a backing politician, like Al Gore, telling us what to believe and whom to disapprove of.
Yes, environmental issues are so popular and affect so much of our lives and economy that many spokesmen have come forward. But some of those who claim to know the truth about it have no training or experience about it. They are today’s snake oil salesmen, feeding us phrases that capture our attention on whichever environmental position they champion. As a result, we ignore many of the key issues we should be thinking about. At the moment, we are captured by climate change, our current morality play. Meanwhile, our forests and fisheries suffer from too little attention and care. Invasive species hitch rides on our commercial jets, but we ignore these dangerous traveling companions.
Perversely, although our information about nature has increased greatly, we hold on to the dominant fundamental myth that nature is perfect, fixed, constant, unchanging, except when we tinker with it. Our major laws and policies and even many of our scientific premises assume this constancy. Meanwhile, nature in all its forms—climate, oceans, forests, individual species—has gone on changing, has always changed.
In every environmental issue I have worked on, I have been shocked to discover that although we are drowning in environmental information, some of the most basic and essential information has never been gathered. For instance, the state of Oregon passed a special bill to fund a study of the relative effects of forestry on salmon. I was asked to direct it and quickly discovered that the basic facts we needed in order to answer the question were unknown. Of the 23 rivers we were asked to study, salmon had been counted on only two. The state did not have a map of its forests. Logging permits were given by counties, which did not record the logging methods, area to be cut, or any other information necessary for an ecological assessment. All the blame for the decline in salmon was attributed to human actions though salmon live in perhaps the most changeable series of environments of any animal.
Does this matter? Such mistakes cost big money and lead to endless political and ideological debates without solving problems. As the leader of an environmental group in Oregon told me, “When the government said they could manage salmon, we thought that meant we could manage to have salmon.”
Unless we deepen our personal connection with nature, unless we get away from the folktales that dominate our beliefs about nature, unless we get involved and monitor what is around us, we will continue to see each environmental issue as just another political special interest and not know how to judge what is said, nor care deeply about it.
Wise words from Dan.. IMHO.
The bottom line: contact nature, think about it, feel it; seek facts, not slogans; understand science’s methods, not the catchphrases of its pseudo-spokespersons.
The curious connection between an invasive beetle that has destroyed over 100 million trees, and subsequent heart disease and pneumonia in the human populations nearby
Again, scientists are discovering things that mystics and poets have sensed for thousands of years.
From the Atlantic here, excerpt below.
Something else, less readily apparent, may have happened as well. When the U.S. Forest Service looked at mortality rates in counties affected by the emerald ash borer, they found increased mortality rates. Specifically, more people were dying of cardiovascular and lower respiratory tract illness — the first and third most common causes of death in the U.S. As the infestation took over in each of these places, the connection to poor health strengthened.
The “relationship between trees and human health,” as they put it, is convincingly strong. They controlled for as many other demographic factors as possible. And yet, they are unable to satisfactorily explain why this might be so.
In a literal sense, of course, the absence of trees would mean the near absence of oxygen — on the most basic level, we cannot survive without them. We know, too, that trees act as a natural filter, cleaning the air from pollutants, with measurable effects in urban areas. The Forest Service put a 3.8 billion dollar value on the air pollution annually removed by urban trees. In Washington D.C., trees remove nitrogen dioxide to an extent equivalent to taking 274,000 cars off the traffic-packed beltway, saving an estimated $51 million in annual pollution-related health care costs.
But a line of modern thought suggests that trees and other elements of natural environments might affect our health in more nuanced ways as well. Roger Ulrich demonstrated the power of having a connection with nature, however tenous, in his classic 1984 study with patients recovering from gall bladder removal surgery in a suburban Pennsylvania hospital. He manipulated the view from the convalescents’ windows so that half were able to gaze at nature while the others saw only a brick wall. Those with trees outside their window recovered faster, and requested fewer pain medications, than those with a “built” view. They even had slightly fewer surgical complications.
While researching a future post yesterday, I came across this in the Bend Bulletin
Bend Dog Attacked by Deer in Backyard.
Steven George, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Bend, said humans aren’t really in danger of an attack — but if there’s a reason, they can go after dogs.
“The deer don’t differentiate between whether it’s a domestic dog or coyote,” George said. “They see a dog as a predator to them. It’s something that wants to hurt them, or even kill them. And so they’re going to be fairly defensive, and they can be defensive to the point of being aggressive toward that animal.”
George said attacks like this aren’t an everyday occurrence, and happen maybe once a month. And, in in the fall, deer are less likely to be aggressive compared to the spring.
“This time of the year, it’s usually a buck that’s associated with any kind of attack, but not always,” George said. “In the spring, it’s more normal, typically, a doe or a doe with a fawn associated with it.”
George said the most important thing people can do is keep their dogs on a leash.
“Typically, 99 percent of the time, when a dog gets injured, it’s because it’s not leashed — and it takes off after the deer,” George said.
Then, serendipitously, Terry Seyden sent this article “America Gone Wild” from the Wall Street Journal. The article is by Jim Sterba and adapted from his book “Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds” to be published Nov. 13.
There’s a great photo in the article.
Below are some excerpts.
This year, Princeton, N.J., has hired sharpshooters to cull 250 deer from the town’s herd of 550 over the winter. The cost: $58,700. Columbia, S.C., is spending $1 million to rid its drainage systems of beavers and their dams. The 2009 “miracle on the Hudson,” when US Airways LCC -0.16% flight 1549 had to make an emergency landing after its engines ingested Canada geese, saved 155 passengers and crew, but the $60 million A320 Airbus was a complete loss. In the U.S., the total cost of wildlife damage to crops, landscaping and infrastructure now exceeds $28 billion a year ($1.5 billion from deer-vehicle crashes alone), according to Michael Conover of Utah State University, who monitors conflicts between people and wildlife.
There are several paragraphs about how trees have come back to the East.
The founders of the conservation movement would have been astonished to learn that by the 2000 Census, a majority of Americans lived not in cities or on working farms but in that vast doughnut of sprawl in between. They envisioned neither sprawl nor today’s conflicts between people and wildlife. The assertion by animal protectionists that these conflicts are our fault because we encroached on wildlife habitat is only half the story. As our population multiplies and spreads, many wild creatures encroach right back—even species thought to be people-shy, such as wild turkeys and coyotes. (In Chicago alone, there are an estimated 2,000 coyotes.)
Why? Our habitat is better than theirs. We offer plenty of food, water, shelter and protection. We plant grass, trees, shrubs and gardens, put out birdseed, mulch and garbage.
Sprawl supports a lot more critters than a people-free forest does. For many species, sprawl’s biological carrying capacity—the population limit the food and habitat can sustain—is far greater than a forest’s. Its ecological carrying capacity (the point at which a species adversely affects the habitat and the other animals and plants in it) isn’t necessarily greater. The rub for many species is what’s called social carrying capacity, which is subjective. It means the point at which the damage a creature does outweighs its benefits in the public mind. And that’s where many battles in today’s wildlife wars start.
What to do? Learn to live with them? Move them? Fool them into going away? Sterilize them? Kill them? For every option and every creature there is a constituency. We have bird lovers against cat lovers; people who would save beavers from cruel traps and people who would save yards and roads from beaver flooding; Bambi saviors versus forest and garden protectors.
Wildlife biologists say that we should be managing our ecosystems for the good of all inhabitants, including people. Many people don’t want to and don’t know how. We have forsaken not only our ancestors’ destructive ways but much of their hands-on nature know-how as well. Our knowledge of nature arrives on screens, where wild animals are often packaged to act like cuddly little people that our Earth Day instincts tell us to protect. Animal rights people say killing, culling, lethal management, “human-directed mortality” or whatever euphemism you choose is inhumane and simply creates a vacuum that more critters refill. By that logic, why pull garden weeds or trap basement rats
I really liked this article and it is right up our discussion alley and also about the East. It might be worth getting a temporary subscription for those who don’t get Greenwire. Fundamentally the story is about fire in Eastern forests. I could have quoted any part and it would be interesting but here is the last section. The author is Paul Voosen, E&E reporter.
Here’s a quote from early in the piece:
On a hot spring morning, foresters and scientists tromped through the charred understory of a burned patch of the Ozark National Forest. They had recently wrapped their work, dripping fire this way and that beneath an open canopy of oaks. Soon, they hoped, a succession of grasses would bloom in blackened soil, bathing in restored light.
The site is an atonement for the Forest Service’s past sins.
I think it’s kind of funny to think of a prescribed burn as “atonement for sins”… maybe it would be cheaper for the taxpayer for the Chief to just sign a confession ..or we could have an atonement ceremony and be done…
If there’s a model for a restored Eastern forest in Arkansas, it’s Buck Ridge.
An upward-sloping 29-acre woodland tucked in state wildlife land north of the Ozark National Forest, Buck Ridge is a gateway to the past. About 250 species of plant can be found in its understory, an astounding diversity. Through the year, each wave of grasses flowers taller than the last, chasing light. By midsummer, they are waist high; by the end of the year, the big bluestem grasses reach 6 feet high.
“Everything is adapted to work well in this system,” said Witsell, the botanist.
Possessing the rare ability to identify nearly any plant on sight, Witsell scrambled around the ridge like Darwin first alighting on the Galapagos. He listed off rare species that could only be found in a sun-drenched forest: Chapman’s purple top; Nuttall’s pleat leaf; snakeroot; all kinds of legumes; four different violets since leaving the car.
Above the grasses, the “swee-swee-swee” call of a redheaded woodpecker rang out.
Managing smoke is a continual challenge for prescribed burns, even in rural Arkansas. Plumes like this column, from a 1,400-acre burn of the Big Piney Ranger District in 2001, must be carefully monitored for dispersal and escapes. Photo by Steve Osborne.
“Those redheads are woodland birds,” said Steve Osborne, a retired Forest Service officer from Ozark National Forest. “You hear them all over the place right now. They’re here because of this treatment. I can tell you in the years past, I could go for months without seeing one of them in the national forest.”
For all its success, Buck Ridge’s restoration was not easy. The state has burned the ridge seven times in the past 15 years. Even then, the restoration did not truly take hold until a second tool was added: targeted herbicides. The dense pack of young trees did not easily give way, and so, in 2008, the forest managers injected herbicides into all the woody stems measuring from 1 to 10 inches in diameter.
From an ecological standpoint, the herbicides are not a problem, Witsell said.
“It’s a surgical approach,” he said. “You’re not spraying this from an airplane. You’re injecting it into the tree trunks. And it’s obviously not hurting the flora on the ground.”
But the hard truth scientists have found is that fire is often not enough to restore the forest. Most often, prescribed burns have to be combined with logging and herbicides, an active type of management that makes some environmentalists queasy. But perhaps it’s no surprise that such drastic steps are needed. Keeping fire out of the forest was itself a massive management choice, if one belatedly known.
“It’s been many years since fire was an active agent on our landscape,” said Nowacki, the Forest Service ecologist. “We’re dealing with decades here. And so it shouldn’t be surprising it might take decades to rehabilitate the forests.”
Indeed, much of the Forest Service’s interest in the historical fire conditions of the Eastern forest has been driven by the notion that logging can be ecologically justified. It’s the subtext for much of its financial support, Duke’s Christensen said. Even Abrams is studying how well harvesting and herbicide injections can take the place of fire.
For Christensen, efforts like Buck Ridge bring together larger questions of restoration. If humanity created and maintained these open, Eastern forests in the first place — if these are the first forests of the Anthropocene — then shouldn’t foresters actively choose the woodland they want, rather than using an arbitrary, uncertain historical baseline?
“It puts the burden on defining a restoration target on the managers themselves,” Christensen said. “They say, ‘I get to decide what’s going to be here in the future.’ Justifiably, public agencies are really uncomfortable with that. Do they even have the social license to do that?”
Despite sounding the alarm for 25 years, Penn State’s Abrams has doubts that much can be done to get the Eastern forest back to where he’d like, especially with fire. There’s too much settlement and too much land in private hands. Liability is a huge concern for those rare escaped fires. Climate change could make it difficult for the trees to survive.
A threshold has been passed. The oak and pine forest will never be what it was.
“I would like to see increased used of burning in the East for these fire-adapted forest types,” Abrams said. “But I realize we’re never going to have the extent of burning that we [had] before European settlement.”
What will survive are pockets, traces of humanity’s original sway over nature.
Standing near the top of Buck Ridge, where the post oaks spread their limbs wide, their girth a sign of the savannah forest this was and is again, Anderson, the hustling fire coordinator, stopped to survey his team’s work. This is an ecosystem that hasn’t been seen since the American Indians hunted in Buck Ridge, since the early settlers, he said.
And yet, in the soil, the seeds waited, returning in full bloom.
“It all says, ‘Yes, yes, yes. We want more of this,’” he said.
I wonder who is saying “we want more of this”; not sure there is a Nature, nor does She speak with one voice. Back to Christensen’s point, the future will bring tough decisions about what we (people) want or don’t want. Best discussed (dare I say it?) collaboratively, IMHO.
Oil for Trees: Does the Land and Water Conservation Fund Offer a Devil’s Bargain? Essay by Char Miller
Here is an essay by Char Miller on the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Here’s a quote
Talk about a Devil’s Bargain.
By their very nature, such deals are unbalanced at best. It’s helpful to remember, then, that there is nothing clean about energy production. To drill or frack is to disrupt. To pump or dig is to pull apart. To dam up is to submerge. To clearcut is to splinter.
Even to capture the sun’s rays or harness the wind is to bulldoze ecosystems or flatten habitats.
Once developed, refined, or converted — dirty processes each — these fuels must be distributed. Doing so through pipelines, along transportation routes, or over the electric grid is to generate additional harms, environmental and human. Whenever we turn a key; power up a laptop, I-Pad, or smart phone; or fire up a generator, we despoil.
I have been behind in blogging due to developing a close personal relationship with the health care industry due to a family health issue. Tonight, as I went home to post this, I exited the parking structure at the Temple of Medicine to see a chopper coming in to the Emergency Room. Sorry, I don’t see the “despoiling,” or feel that the folks that used those gallons of fuel that helped to save a life are guilty. Nor the people who use radiation, or potentially polluting chemicals, or disposable needles to heal other people.
I do believe that we need to do our communal best to develop technologies and make choices that sustain our people and the environment.
In the words of NEPA, in 1969, (my italics)
The purposes of this Act are: To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man (oh, well, it was 1969!) and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation; and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality.
There is no doubt in my mind (despite the lyrics to a song in the musical “Avenue Q”) that the devices that allow folks to participate in the world wide web do “stimulate the health and welfare of humankind.” So what kind of energy might do both, “prevent or eliminate damage” and “stimulate the health and welfare?”
A couple of months ago, a world atlas from the 40′s. was circulating around our office. One of the categories about each country was “natural resources”. In the past, I remember it used to be a good thing for a country to have natural resources, but it seems like now they are to be protected and if a country needs to use them, they should be imported from other countries. Since it seems like people not using resources at all (at least in this astral plane ) is fairly impossible.
Bruce Ward, in an op-ed in today’s Denver Post, asks the same question, but just about trees and wood.
Here’s the link.
Guest Commentary: Harvesting, replanting best way to a healthy forest
Posted: 04/28/2012 01:00:00 AM MDT
By Bruce Ward
The smoke is gone, but the fear remains.
We have lived in Denver’s “wildland urban interface” for decades because of our love of Colorado’s beauty, but now the yearly “fire watch” causes us pause as we hold our breath, hoping the forest around us doesn’t burn.
The most recent fire — the Lower North Fork — claimed three lives, destroyed or damaged 23 homes and charred more than 1,400 acres.
The obvious question is: “Who is to blame?” Yet we should also ask: “Why are we suffering such fire catastrophes?”
The good news: We reduce or prevent future fires by promoting forest health. The bad news: We may have to give up the easy answers of either blaming one person for “setting” each fire; and there is nothing we can do to prevent these fires. Understanding the cause and addressing it give us the ability to stop tragic fires.
We need to stop thinking trees live forever. Like all living things, they have finite life spans. This radical idea of recognizing the cycle of life means forest health is contingent on new trees. This requires us to challenge our belief that cutting trees is not “environmental” or “green.” The old ethos of “let nature take its course” and “in 500 years, the Earth will have healed itself” must be seen as flawed.
The problem has roots from when the West was being settled and clear- cutting was considered expedient and necessary. We were more focused on creating a civilized West. The unintended consequence of endless fire suppression is now manifesting itself.
Native Americans commonly set fires every spring, knowing it kept the trees and animals within the areas stronger. They saw fire as a tool used extensively before the white man’s encroachment and restrictions.
The documented excesses of tree harvesting without environmental limits in the 19th and 20th centuries created a culture that reacted by believing that cutting any tree was sacrilege, using products made from trees wasteful and uneducated.
People then believed that tree-killers should feel guilty about their role in hastening the destruction of our planet.
We know many trees in nature would have life spans not much longer than the longest living human, yet we protect geriatric trees whose very nature is turning them toward fire and replacement. We can see the effects all around us as nature pushes to return to a balance allowing new trees to replace the old.
The time has come to dispel that well-intentioned but wrong environmentalist mantra that forbids killing trees and realize that interfering with nature is what creates the problem.
Now is the time to embrace a new environmentalist culture that embraces planting new trees; that enjoys wood products from local sources because they come from renewable resources; provide jobs to rural economies; and most important brings our environment back into balance.
Undersecretary of Agriculture Harris Sherman asked me to help increase awareness of the mountain pine beetle epidemic and engage the private sector in finding solutions to deal with millions of acres of pine trees dying and turning brown — our own potential “Katrina of the West.”
I reached out to stakeholders who shared views on the complexity and unprecedented magnitude of the epidemic. I found caring citizens who were using Rocky Mountain Blue Stain wood, a community of environmentalists, lumbermen, builders, lumber yards, pellet mills, and furniture-makers, all working together to take our blue wood and turn it into products that would help the forest heal.
But even these efforts struggle against the mistaken belief that using wood is somehow bad.
The time is now to change decades of outmoded public perception that the only good forestry goal is to let our forests age, and realize how sustainable forestry is married to utilizing wood products in order to plant and grow new trees.
Bruce Ward is the founder of Choose Outdoors and a White House Champion of Change for Rural America. He lives in Pine.
Meanwhile, a colleague ran across this highly green (and expensive) car which advertises that it uses “, and rescued wood trim retrieved from the 2007 firestorm in Orange County, California.” I guess one person’s “rescue” is another person’s “salvage.” The whole question of “when it’s OK to use wood” seems to be worthy of further exploration; it has a variety of social, philosophical and environmental implications that we could potentially parse out.
A very kind editor at High Country News worked with me to improve the “virgin forests” post below. One good thing about this blog is that it helps folks work on our writing.
Here’s the HCN version..
and the original version.
One of the commenters wrote that the piece was “inflammatory.” That may be an honor for someone who mostly writes emails and briefing papers so inoffensive that the interns reading them as part of a litigation record probably need extra caffeine jolts to stay awake .
Thanks to Sharon for posting the article about Peter Kareiva’s research and thoughts, which recently appeared on Greenwire, as well as linking to Conservation in the Anthropocene, written by Kareiva, together with Robert Lalasz and Michelle Marvier. The comments section quickly filled up with some great perspectives. Regular commenter “TreeC123″ highlighted the fact that the Breakthrough Journal invited Kierán Suckling, with the Center for Biological Diversity, to provide a response to the piece by Kareiva et al titled Conservation in the Real World. Below are snips:
Had the article been published a century ago, the author’s decision to frame the environmental movement through a critique of Emerson (1803-1882), Hawthorne (1804-1864), Thoreau (1817-1862) and Muir (1838-1914) might have made sense. But alleged weaknesses of these dead white men is an entirely inadequate anchor for an essay that bills itself as a rethinking of contemporary environmentalism. Indeed, the only 20th century environmentalist mentioned in the essay is the novelist and essayist Ed Abbey. It is frankly bizarre that Kareiva et al.’s depiction of environmentalists is not based on NRDC, the Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Environment America, 350.org, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, or indeed, any environmental group at all.
Bizarre, but necessary: Kareiva et al.’s “conservationist” straw man would have fallen to pieces had they attempted to base it on the ongoing work of actual conservation groups.
Consider their take on wilderness. The straw man is constructed by telling us (without reference to an actual conservation group, of course) that “the wilderness ideal presupposes that there are parts of the world untouched by humankind.” Then the authors smugly knock it down with the shocking revelation that “The wilderness so beloved by conservationists — places ‘untrammeled by man’ — never existed.”
Do Kareiva et al. expect readers to believe that conservation groups are unaware that American Indians and native Alaskans lived in huge swaths of what are now designated wilderness areas? Or that they mysteriously failed to see the cows, sheep, bridges, fences, fire towers, fire suppression and/or mining claims within the majority of the proposed wilderness areas they have so painstakingly walked, mapped, camped in, photographed, and advocated for? It is not environmentalists who are naïve about wilderness; it is Kareiva et al. who are naïve about environmentalists. Environmental groups have little interest in the “wilderness ideal” because it has no legal, political or biological relevance when it comes to creating or managing wilderness areas. They simply want to bring the greatest protections possible to the lands which have been the least degraded….
At a time when conservationists need honest, hard-headed reassessment of what works and what needs changing, Kareiva et al. offer little more than exaggerations, straw-man arguments and a forced optimism that too often crosses the line into denial. There are plenty of real biodiversity recovery stories to tell, but to learn from them, we have to take off the blinders of sweeping generalizations and pay attention to the details and complexities of real-world conservation work. That’s the breakthrough we need to survive the Anthropocene.
This was circulating around at work today…
From E&E News here..
This is enough to give you a flavor.
ARLINGTON, Va. — Peter Kareiva had come to answer for his truths.
Settling at the head of a long table ringed by young researchers new to the policy world, Kareiva, chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental organization, cracked open a beer. After a long day mentoring at the group’s headquarters, an eight-story box nestled in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, he was ready for some sparring.
The scientists had read Kareiva’s recent essay, which takes environmentalists to task. The data couldn’t bear out their piety, he wrote. Nature is often resilient, not fragile. There is no wilderness unspoiled by man. Thoreau was a townie. Conservation, by many measures, is failing. If it is to survive, it has to change.
Inducted last year into the National Academy of Sciences, Kareiva continues to teach part-time at Santa Clara University. Photo by Dave Lauridsen. Courtesy of the Nature Conservancy (TNC).
Many around the table were unconvinced. Some were disturbed.
How could this be coming from the Nature Conservancy?
“We love the horror story,” Kareiva said. He was dressed in New Balance running shoes, a purple sweater and rumpled tan trousers. “We just love it. The environmental movement has loved it. That, I think, is … [a] strategy failure. And it’s actually not supported by science.”
This is not some vague hypothesis, he added to murmurs. He’s seen it in the data.
“The message [has been that] humans degrade and destroy and really crucify the natural environment, and woe is me,” he said. “The reality is humans degrade and destroy and crucify the natural environment — and 80 percent of the time it recovers pretty well, and 20 percent of the time it doesn’t.”
One of the visitors, Lisa Hayward, an ecologist working on invasive-species policy at the U.S. Geological Survey, spoke up. How can that be so? “I feel that does not represent the consensus of the ecological community,” she said.
“I’m certain that it doesn’t represent the consensus of the ecological community,” Kareiva shot back, with a smile and flash in his eyes. A circle of nervous laughter swayed around the room. “I’m absolutely certain of that! Wait two years.”
Kareiva has never feared following the data, or dragging others with him. Already a respected ecologist, for the past decade he has shoved the Nature Conservancy toward a new environmentalism. The old ways aren’t working. Inch by inch, for better or worse, conservation must, he says, enter the Anthropocene Epoch — the Age of Man.
For most of the conservancy’s history, the old way meant one thing: buying and protecting land from human development, through any means necessary. “Saving the Last Great Places on Earth,” the old Nature Conservancy motto went. And it worked. Backed by wealthy donors and corporate deals, the conservancy has long been one of the largest landowners in the United States. Worldwide, it has protected more than 119 million acres.
But not all of its trends point up.
The average age of a conservancy member is 65. The average age of a new member is 62. Each year, those numbers creep upward. Only 5 percent of the group’s 1 million members are younger than 40. Among the “conservation minded” — basically, Americans who have tried recycling — only 8 percent recognize the group. Inspiration doesn’t cut it anymore. Love of nature is receding. The ’60s aren’t coming back.
It’s a problem confronting all large conservation groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Quietly, these massive funds — nicknamed the BINGOs, for “big nongovernmental organizations” — have utterly revamped their missions, trumpeting conservation for the good it does people, rather than the other way around. “Biodiversity” is out; “clean air” is in.
“In fact, if anything, this is becoming the new orthodoxy,” said Steve McCormick, the Nature Conservancy’s former president. “It’s widespread. Conservation International changed its mission, and it’s one that Peter Kareiva could have crafted.”
For these groups, it’s a matter of survival. But for ecologists like Kareiva, it’s science.
The conservation ethic that has driven these groups — the protection of pristine wild lands and charismatic species into perpetuity — has unraveled at both ends. American Indians dramatically altered the environment for thousands of years, paleontologists have found; even before then, climate shifts followed the planet’s wobbles. And in the future, no land will be spared man’s touch, thanks to human-induced global warming.
The desire to return to a steady-state baseline, before European settlement or human influence, will never work, these scientists say. Many species won’t be saved; some that are saved will not thrive, lingering in a managed existence like the California condor. There is no return to Eden. Population will rise. Triage is coming.
“Conservation is at a crossroads,” said John Wiens, who served with Kareiva as a lead scientist at the conservancy for several years before joining the nonprofit PRBO Conservation Science. “That’s where we are. And we’re likely to be there for some time.”
Kareiva was not the first to see the crossroads. But unlike those of many writers and scientists, his message has come from the inside. And there is every reason to suspect the movement will push back, said Stewart Brand, the environmentalist best known as the editor of Whole Earth Catalog.
“To be the first going somewhat public with this kind of critique from [inside] an organization framework, it’s not only pioneering and important, but brave,” Brand said. “He’s a guy who’s risking his job.”
Here are the last paragraphs:
Ecosystem services are no panacea, though, said Wiens, the former conservancy scientist. It’s a recipe that can easily miss the nonmonetary values of the environment. And it won’t necessarily help managers make the hard choices on what species to save. How will this triage be decided? There are no tools, no paradigm, that can do that yet.
“We don’t have, right now, the framework to think through those cost-benefit calculations,” Wiens said. “And I think that’s partly because people have been avoiding this notion of triage.”
For now, at conservation and ecology conferences, many young scientists speak exactly like Kareiva, said Marvier, his former postdoc. These are the future conservation managers and agency leaders. A generational dynamic is being played out. Kareiva’s team seems to be winning. Team Biodiversity may soon leave the court.
Back at the conservancy’s headquarters, meeting with the young scientists, Kareiva had finished his beer, an India pale ale from Heavy Seas-branded Loose Cannon. It was a good talk. There would be many more like it. Move conservation into working landscapes like farms, he had said. Value nature’s services. Let go of the ideal. And bring in a base beyond affluent, educated whites. Let Thoreau go.
“Broaden the constituency to those loggers,” he said.
Long before this blog, I became irritated by an email at work and wrote the following response about “virgin” forests. I attempted to get it published as an op-ed by Journal of Forestry, but they (wisely) demurred, both because it could have been written better, and it’s a bit out of the box, and perhaps, offensive.
I’m not going to pick on our invited poster, Mark, who first brought it up, but I have difficulty believing that the Park Service actually has an index of “virgin” attributes. Here is Fenwood’s related comment.
DEFINING THE VIRGIN FOREST
I would like to point out that the term “virgin” forests may not be the best term to use for a variety of reasons. At least not from my perspective, that of an evolutionary biologist who happens to be a human female. The use of the term in the human context seems to presume that the virgin forest state is somehow preferable to other states. While virginity is a trait that might be desirable for males to look for in females in terms of evolution (ensuring paternity), it is quite the opposite for females (no fun, no children). One could argue that it is a vestige of a patriarchal society that focuses on the desirability of virginity (usually only for females). If virginity were such a great deal for both genders, Homo sapiens would have died out a long time ago.
When the two genders come together it is the fountain of much of the physical and spiritual creativity of our species, and leads to the miracle of new persons. It is a sacred act. To call a forest with minimum human intervention “virgin” seems to assume that equally creative and sacred acts are not likely to come from humans relating to the forest, and that there are not mutually positive things that could come from such a relationship. I don’t agree with that underlying assumption and with the fact that it is disguised and not open to question simply by the use of the term and analogy to“virgin.”
I think the words that we use can circumscribe the possibilities we see, and are important to dialogue and mutual understanding, which is why I have taken the time to point this out. I also have a hard time with the term “rape” (to describe) human intervention in forests, as the key difference between the sacred act mentioned above and “rape” is mutual concurrence. At this point in human and forest development, I am not sure we can listen to the forests and hear them say, “No.” Using that term for forests that can’t say no seems to me that it demeans the term itself, which should remain powerful and specific to the deep violation (a desecration of the above sacred act) that it was originally intended to convey. Since castration is generally thought to be a bad thing regardless of whether it is voluntary or not, I suggest that each person who feels the urge to use sexual analogies for destructive acts by humans on the land substitute the term “castration” for “rape” at least half the time. As in “this timber sale will ultimately continue the Forest Service’s castrate and run policies.”
Because many of the founders and leaders of our professions and sciences were men, and lived in a patriarchal society, I believe we have a responsibility to question the words they used and the worldview that those words convey.
Finally there is the question of how much human intervention would cause a forest to be “deflowered.” Just air pollution? People picking mushrooms? A campground? People having camped there once twenty years ago? Thinning stands of trees? The occurrence of chestnut blight? This is another place where the analogy would break down. In virginity, from the standpoint of biology, it either is or it isn’t (this is a family blog so if we discuss this aspect further perhaps we should use code words), and the middle ground, if any is the land of lawyers, not biologists. In people’s relations with forests, the middle ground is basically all we have to talk about since humans have affected climate, pollution, species introductions, and essentially no forest on the planet exists today without any of these influences.
If you or your agency feel an overwhelming urge to use sexual analogies in dealing with natural resource issues, my advice is- first, push yourself away from the keyboard and then, take a cold shower.