I believe we need a common message on the necessity of preserving and enhancing the biological diversity of the the world, our continent, and the besieged states of Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, & California which are under threat by poor water planning, transportation policy dictated by special interests, undermining of environmental and health protection processes, and growing pollution. In addition to human aggravated climate change and what E. O. Wilson and Larry Harris have called fragmentation of insufficiently copious or interconnected refuges, our public trust of wildlife protection is seriously under threat. A threat from which many mammals and insects may never recover.
|Not unlike the Panda's of the bamboo forests in western China, the large wildlife of the world such as bears, elephants, and tigers are being extirpated. In California, Hawaii, Florida and the desert southwest, human populations smother the landscape needed to sustain us and consumption contaminates the capacity for the earth to assimilate these human demands.|
|Wildlife are the remote sentinels of our perilous encroachment on the remaining refuges for large predators and grazing herds. Even our food fisheries are at risk and are in decline from over-consumption by hungry appetites of a growing population.|
Because of an animal's need for an adequate range, the persistence of extensive and connected refuges must sustain keystone species and top level predators alike to remain viable. These refuges must have clean water and air to assure their resilience in nourishing bear, bird, amphibian and reptile populations so that we know our surroundings are healthy.
As a public trust the fisheries and wildlife of North America that reside in and visit this state deserve additional protection for a variety of scientific, ethical and aesthetic reasons. Because without our wildlife and fisheries we are blind to the impacts that human populations, consumption, and pollution have daily on the shrinking capacity of the Earth to sustain us. We destroy wildlife and wild lands at our own peril.
As all of you may know fire suppression, restrictive control burn policies, and under funded management practices have too often been inadequate to protect species such as the scrub jay, red cockaded woodpecker, or panther. Both the scrub jay and the red cockaded woodpecker benefit from fire, in that the vegetation they rely upon, sand scrub association and longleaf pine forests, respectively, grow better in a recurrent fire regime. These vegetational associations are damaged by fire suppression. Scrub jays need a good deal of territory, they mate for life and will encourage their young to leave the nest after a year or two to find more scrub to inhabit. Red cockaded woodpeckers need the older, mature longleaf pine forests for nesting and feeding. To a large extent the forest cover is the home of these species. Because these forests are relatively high ground and dry in Florida, they are uplands often most favored for clearing for development.
In a roundtable discussion of Federal wildlife law and the Endangered Species Act, (ESA) by interested conservation groups at Rollins College, in August 2003, I discovered a series of flaws in Florida's approach to placing species on a list, even with the best of intentions. I refer here to more than just an inherent problem in any list, inventory or process by which a rank order for convenience is equated with reality beyond the convenience of the researcher. Just as card catalogues do not reveal the significant works in any library, lists of species are a helpful, even a necessary, but not a sufficient means to identify a course of action. No what we all learned is that the International community and the national government have very different criteria than does the Florida agency entrusted with protecting our wildlife. The state's criteria for listing species is not the same as the national government's.
The discussion revealed the flaw between having state criteria that are significantly different from federal criteria. But more importantly our discussion of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) history and approach to this matter revealed a significant divergence between scientific methods and policy approaches. The listing of species into categories, by scientists of extremely endangered, endangered, etc. was done to alert specialists about what other criteria to look at beyond the population profile of a species to determine it likelihood of recovering, or failure to recover from further impacts, such as I stated above. This is a guide to specialists, as opposed to the federal criteria which were intended to guide practitioners in state and federal conservation agencies with respect to enhancing the prospects of a species rebounding from a threat. We have seen such a rebound in bald eagle populations, although with the banning of DDT and the fact that Florida is characterized by over 10% of its area as open water, the bird's population despite pollution increased.
The public needs and analogy to cut through a good deal of the technicalities that separate the IUCN approach from the Federal approach because they diverge -- but are complementary. I think wildlife protection requires a signaling system, not unlike the traffic signals we all either obey or ignore at our peril. Once a species is on anybody's list, the green light changes to amber, meaning to proceed with caution. Railroad regulations are stricter than motor vehicle violations, and an amber light means be prepared to slow down and as the light turns red, we must stop, for our own safety, if not for the safety of others.
I would suggest that red lights are for species whose populations will not recover, given current trends, unless we stop destructive intrusions into the habitat species require and start to pay attention to the details of a species habitat extent, the age of a population, their future range, current migratory patterns, and existing genetic variability, because isolation, loss of breeding grounds, and many other factors can negatively influence the health and morbidity of wild populations. The range for example of the Western Yew in Pacific Northwest rain forests is of critical importance for many of the forests game and non-game animals. The plant also has medicinal value for research in the fight against cancer.
Just because a signal light suggests that it is OK to proceed with caution does not preclude us from stopping if a pedestrian enters a crossing or a wagon rolls out before us. So too with the current argument over a rule adopted by the FF&GCC that permits the reclassification of creatures for whom the light is clearly red -- that is they are endangered or threatened under federal law and are critically endangered and endangered under international scientific nomenclature. We must proceed with caution when evaluating biologically significant species because, too little is known, past population trends a virtually unsubstantiated before 1970s (if then), and the loss of habitat in Florida, the degradation of our water quality and the fragmentation of our inherently isolated land use types or waterways, requires due diligence and careful attention to unforeseen and complicated details.
So when E. O. Wilson says that the stability and productivity of a natural area is enhanced by biological diversity, we must be willing to consider the impact of the parts, together, on the integrity of the whole living system. Wilson has argued for functional reasons of an environment we need to protect species. Economically the value to the world of endangered habitats and species is in the billions of dollars due to their scientific or medicinal importance. But in a wider sense the value of a species that we preserve is in what it says about our capacity to learn from our mistakes.
Otherwise, as the late Stephen J. Gould has pointed out in the loss of the limpet Lottia alveus, seems not to matter much in the big scheme of things, unless you look more closely. He refers to the eel grass (Zostera) limpet of the Eastern Atlantic, "this limpet lacked the flexibility of all other species associated with Zostera." He noted the last living specimens of the Atlantic variety were reported in 1933. This was because once the Zostera virtually disappeared from marine waters where the limpet thrived, the estuarine refuge for the eel grass did not prove to be a refuge for the limpet. The grass and the snail is but a parable of the problem of looking at data in isolation. The context for making a list or renaming the signals that nature is sending us about the health of an animals range or the morbidity and age grouping of a population is that species are being lost. Beautiful or ugly, living creatures are being extinguished in their ranges, or becoming extinct.
Gould concluded about the limpet, that in the oceans that were once believed to be an invulnerable place of refuge, this tiny snail perished when conditions, competition, and its prey's range was adversely affected by events. Gould's message is worth recalling, "How appropriate," he wrote, "then, as a warning against complacency, that a real version of this symbol (the Lottia living amidst the eel grasses of an enormously wide oceans) should be the first species to die in a realm of supposed invulnerability. The oceans are vast, or so it is believed and once we thought they were invulnerable to human damage. Sadly the oceans are sick, unhealthy from the press of civilization on their productive shores. Gould was prescient in his warning that the limpet, by its demise, alerted the trained observer to see past the veil of progress, promotion and positive thinking to the stark truth that species that live in the ocean, despite its covering seventy percent of the planet, can too go extinct.
The removal of a small bird from the endangered list -- a woodpecker that is nourished in old trees whose life cycles depend on fire for their rejuvenation and seed setting, may not seem like a huge matter. But having lost the Dusky Seaside Sparrow in Florida, we are as vulnerable to our mistakes in science and policy as we are to the decisions of Commissioners. As Gould said about the loss of a limpet, a meager "China man's hat," as children call the flattened cone shaped marine snail, its loss is a warning against complacency. It is an alarm warning us all whenever a species is lost that we are making the creation a little less enriched.
What should we take away from this recent decision to change the status of a rare bird on paper? What should you think when Ornithologists insist and the rest of us have a good hunch that the natural conditions remain as perilous as ever, if not more so? Is the bird in our way, can it be that important? Who will mourn the passing of our birds, fisheries, and wildlife, to take a thought from Thoreau's lamentation nearly two centuries ago for the fish blocked by the Billerica dam on the Merrimack River from feeding and spawning.
So the removal of the red cockaded woodpecker from the list of endangered species is not a testimony of its thriving among the many piney woods of Florida. It is not a sign of our improving science translated into better policy. No, the removal of the bird from enforced protection is a lapse in judgment, a retreat of the ignorant into further ignorance so that some allegedly higher good may prevail. What can be of greater good than the revival of species that hang by a thread? What is so important that the woods and the bird must give way? Although the analogy of the crossing light, to how we list species, is adequate to understand how serious the threat to our wildlife has become, from industrial, residential and commercial development, the light's are temporarily burned out–or just not working properly to protect us and the animals in the crossing. So slow down enough at this crossing light, the crossing of wildlife protection and human progress, so you can see, if not fully understand the loss.
Pine forests along the edges of a riparian glade beside the Steinhatchee River, Florida.
The loss of the bird species, or any species, is all of our losses because the pine woods on which this species of woodpecker depends for its very survival are nourished by symbiotic root fungi that allow the trees to sit atop of the places where water soaks back deeply into the sandy soil. Here in these forests is where our water originates–the piney woods and the sand pine scrubs–they are artesian prerequisites. No scrub or pine forest and we have no source for water. So next time you hear the sound of the woodpecker, if you do, in the forest, remember that the rat-a-tat-tat of the creature is really the sound of water capable of being trapped and secreted underground by the very vegetation that the bird needs to thrive.
The sounds of the birds tell us the health of the insects that dwell in the forest and these forests are the sources of the water we may
certainly need as well. Nourish the earth, or perish is not a bad rule by which we may wish to live together with our wildlife, fisheries and birds.
Biodiversity | Threats from global warming | Wildlife