Wolves and Fools

Frank Leslie’s Boy’s & Girl’s Weekly, March 2, 1867

Most in the conservation world know nearly by heart Aldo Leopold’s “Thinking Like a Moment,” featuring what Bill McKibben called “the key Damascan Road story of American environmental conversion.” The pioneer of game management-cum-wildlife ecology recalls when he “was young…and full of trigger-itch,” reflecting:

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen edible bush and seeding browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

Taking nothing away from Leopold, I was delighted nonetheless to discover the following passage—similarly prescient about conservation biology and ecological niches —in Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man, published (and set!) on this day in 1857. The narrator, surveying the St. Louis waterfront, spots a

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[who] hawked , in the thick of the throng, the lives of Meason, the bandit of Ohio, Murrel, the pirate of the Mississippi, and the brothers Harpe, the Thugs of the Green River county, in Kentucky—creatures, with others of the sort, one and all exterminated at the time, and for the most part, like the hunted generations of wolves in the same regions, leaving comparatively few successors; which would seem cause for unalloyed gratulations, and is so to all except those who think that in new countries, where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.

Posted by Brian on April 1st, 2010 • • Comments Off
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New Year News Roundup

  • Happy New Year, the UN has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity.
  • On Monday, a ban on red snapper fishing went into effect. Surprise, the fishermen are not happy. The decline is estimated to be about 97% in 60 years.
  • The sea lions of Fisherman’s wharf, who showed up after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and whose disappearance was causing some consternation, have been found off Oregon, where there’s better fishing in an apparent El Niño year.
  • SEED magazine interviews Paul Ehrlich. “I don’t think I’ve seen a single scientific review of something I’ve written that says, ‘this is wrong.’”
  • Fantastic / superb essay on the great discrepancy between predicted and observed extinctions.
  • How did Obama do environmentally? Good not great. From the Conservation Maven, reminding me once again how similar ‘conservation’ and ‘conservative’ look.
Posted by Tim on January 6th, 2010 • • Comments Off
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Extinction

The Guardian goes in search of the

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lost species of the decade and finds a bunch of “probably extincts” and “extincts in the wild.” Extinction is hard.

Posted by Tim on November 10th, 2009 • • Comments Off
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Posted by Tim on October 1st, 2009 • • Comments Off
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News Roundup

  • Himalayas proving to be a hotspot for describing new species.
  • A roundup of the recent SCB conference in China, from CI.
  • The amazing impact of a city abandoned 900 years ago on crops grown in drought conditions, today. So, the next time somebody tells you there’s no such thing as wilderness, that human’s impact on the land lasts longer than you could imagine, BELIEVE IT.It’s true in America, too, where old American Indian middens still have higher levels of non-native plants.
  • Extinctions can be correlated with genetic history. Not surprising, but interesting.
Posted by Tim on August 10th, 2009 • • Comments Off
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News Roundup

  • The UNEP-WCMC has released their first annual report (pdf, French+Spanish also available) on the state of the world’s protected areas. They’re also conducting a survey from users to improve future reports.
  • Andy Revkin wonders if satellites and supercomputers fit in a stimulus bill. I’m not sure what the problem is. It’s a stimulus bill, which means we’re trying to spend money. Lots of it. And funding things that are useful is a great way to spend money. Meanwhile, the Defenders of Wildlife run down some of the other green jobs that’ll be funded in the bill (habitat restoration, visitor center restoration, etc.)
  • And speaking of Andy Revkin, he, too, is wondering about science advocacy. But I think we are on opposite sides of the issue. As one commenter notes: “In short, we all have the right to be people or citizens even if we are “scientists”, as long as we make it clear when we are being what.” In fact, I believe that scientists are held to a much higher standard for advocacy than any other class of citizens. As though science were the only field in which The Truth can be known, so while fudging numbers in other policy arenas may be acceptable, in the scientific world it’s verboten. We should have the same standard as everybody else — ideally, that would raise the burden of proof for everybody else, but in the short term, I think it’s imperative that we actually lower the standard for scientist “pundits.” Anyway, the comments section on the Dot Earth blog is (uniquely) insightful and worthwhile reading.
  • President Correa of Ecuador still hasn’t decided whether to offer oil leases in Yasuni National Park. Yasuni is a biodiversity and oil hotspot, and as discussed previously, Correa is looking to make up some of the money that his government would’ve earned from the leases.
  • Buck Denton reviews the recent news that a species, extinct since 2000, has been cloned. The first cloned individual died shortly after birth.
Posted by Tim on February 2nd, 2009 • • Comments Off
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News Roundup

  • Conservation Biologist is one of the ten best green jobs.
  • Watch what happens to Britain’s electric and water grid after East Enders (award-winning evening soap opera) ends. 1 million tea kettles go on within 5 minutes, that’s what happens. Seems a little strange (or perhaps an exaggeration) that such an important operation isn’t carried out by computers
  • William Laurance weighs in on the claim that extinction in tropical rainforests isn’t going to be as bad as predicted.
  • Despite the conflict, Virunga’s gorilla population appears to be doing okay.
  • CI is offering free software for mapping hotspots, or something.
  • Here’s a nice article on Santiago Espinosa, a grad student at UF-Gainesville and WCS Research Fellow, and his camera traps in Yasuni NP.
  • Salazar’s saying he’ll review midnight regulations from the Bush administration’s Interior Department.
Posted by Tim on January 28th, 2009 • • Comments Off
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News Roundup

  • ESA Blawg goes deep on how the Bush administration is handling re-writing the rules on ESA. “Bottom line: It remains to be seen whether President Bush and Secretary Kempthorne choose to spend their final days, and reputation, pushing through a set of doomed Endangered Species Act regulations that are opposed by the people, and probably the Courts and Congress as well.”
  • Let me just say that $10 million is a perfectly acceptable price for a woolly mammoth, and that, frankly, the NY Times’ editorial board is just engaging in that time-honored tradition of lily-livered liberal hand-wringing by even considering it a bad idea. Talk about a bail-out for biodiversity! Let’s see… $700 billion for the Trouble Species Recovery Program, $10 million / extinct species… that’s 70,000 organisms brought back to life! The passenger pigeon, the dodo, the Lord God bird, tiny horses, saber-toothed tigers, neanderthals, the hobbit. Oh, to be king.
Posted by Tim on November 24th, 2008 • • 1 comment
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News Roundup

  • Curious about where current theory stands on the origin of the uneven distribution of biodiversity? Here’s some pop science from Seed for you.
  • Is the Fish & Wildlife Service discouraging public comments*? ESA Blawg is on the case!
  • There are about 30 Amur Leopards left in the world. Somebody got a photograph of one of them with a kill.
  • IUCN has released a report (pdf) during the WCC this week that suggests that, out of 17,000 species analyzed, about 7,000 are at risk of extinction from climate change. The report is nice to read, and nice to look at it. It does not appear to address the fact that all the species on earth today have, through their ancestors, survived billions of years of climate change: that is, there’s no room for adaptation/evolution. I’m not, by any means, optimistic about the future of our planet’s biodiversity, but the idea that none of these species will be able to adapt to new environmental conditions is nonsense. We don’t know enough to say how, or which ones, will do so, but it’s just not presented in this report. To paraphrase one noted ecologist at my fair university, “Our ability to predict where and how extinctions will occur is very soon going to be surpassed by our ability to observe them.”
  • Government officials in Sumatra have agreed to try to protect its forests. Yeah, those forests, the ones that under current deforestation rates (and subsequent peat burning) are contributing the equivalent of about 50% of Australia’s carbon emissions.

*(Yes)

Posted by Tim on October 9th, 2008 • • 1 comment
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News Roundup

  • WWF and the People’s Bank of China have released a report, Towards Sustainable Development: Reform and (the) Future of China’s Banking Industry. In it, they suggest that commercial banks in China use their regulatory powers to drive sustainable development.
  • Twelve fish species have gone extinct in a lake near Istanbul due to pollution.
  • Even if you recycle 100% of your waste (my fair city’s goal), a couple of airplane trips a year will completely wipe out any carbon gains you may have made. A new report shakes a finger at all you environuts who think you can make a difference: those most environmentally oriented tend not to recognize the true cost of all their actions. Tsk tsk. [Note: To you Americans, when they say "rubbish," they mean "trash." As in "stereotyping people by saying 'there is this middle class environmentalism where being green is part of the desired image. But another part of the desired image is to fly off skiing twice a year' is complete rubbish."]
  • Over at ConservationBytes, Corey Bradshaw’s introduced a new feature today: “Spotlights,” in which he focuses on conservation luminaries, starting with Norman “Hotspots” Myers. If you want more from Dr. Myers, there’s an extensive interview with him over at YT.
  • Finally, if you don’t already read “The Big Picture,” (rss) the Boston Globe’s captivating blog of high res photojournalism, you ought to take a look. A few days ago they featured some beautiful pictures of India (scroll down for the tiger jumping off a boat in the Sunderbans, the pair of turtles and the astounding tiger dance).
Posted by Tim on September 24th, 2008 • • Comments Off
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