Monday, March 17, 2014

Conservation/Restoration in the 21st Century: More Complex and Critical than Ever

Blogging is a funny and interesting thing. One thing that I have noticed is that when you plug into a community of like-minded bloggers that overlap in subject matter an interesting phenomena occurs where a type of hive mind, or congruence of ideas develops. It is almost like some type of subconscious  meta-brain is at work creating a general thrust of thought in a significant direction. I have experienced this on my paleontology themed blog Antediluvian Salad several times and a similar event occurred with regards to conservation/restoration efforts spurred on by two blogs I follow closely.

The first blog is one that, if you follow this blog, you no doubt know of: Heidi Perryman's Martinez Beavers- the veritable CNN of all things beaver. The post I have in mind is from several days ago entitled Save-Everythings, Save-Somes and Save-Ours. A very interesting post and one that touches upon a lot of crucial issues in contemporary conservation/restoration work. Starting with a critique on how certain groups misunderstand/misapply beaver devices/trapping Heidi dovetails into a discussion on the difference between Save-Ours, Save-Somes, and Save-Everythings and how her group has transitioned between these different groups in her beaver saga. At first she was a Save-Ours, concerned with the Martinez beavers. When this group was safe she transitioned to more of Save-Some until now she calls herself "a hugger who has learned to camouflage herself as a Save-Some." Of the three groups, Heidi maintains, it is the Save-Everythings that face the most stony path- they face a daunting challenge, ridiculed for the most part and said to be "disconnected" from the real world. Scientists and professional wildlife/forestry agents will almost unanimously align themselves with the Save-Some line of thought for fear of the Hugger label. A particular telling example Heidi recounts when a colleague sent Heidi video of a beaver dam being blown up and Heidi responded emotionally to which said colleague replied "that I should be able to laugh at these things. I shouldn't act so upset or people would accuse me of being a hugger." 

As a little ironic aside, the disparaging phrase of hugger derived from the phrase tree-hugger, popularized as an insult to old-growth redwood activists, is maybe not applicable towards beaver defenders. Because beaver, you know, are chopping down all those beautiful trees remember (wink, wink)?

The other post is one from Rick Merill's Coyotes, Wolves and Cougars...... forever! blog- a very prolific blog emphasizing predator rewilding/conservation in North America. Rick wrote a very telling and illuminating piece on conservation but be forewarned the second part of the piece is very disturbing and graphic: link. The first half of the post is timeline of some of the major milestones in conservation law for this country- largely bipartisan and largely popular when enacted. The second half of the post details an undercover probe into the coyote/wolf derby of Salmon, Idaho. Posing as hunters in the competition themselves the writers document a community beset with predator eradication, xenophobia, racism, gun-worship, anti-government, anti-liberal, and anti-HUGGER sentiment is brought to light. The community as a whole appears complicit in illegal hunting and trapping, as well as killing wild canids as painfully as possible. The ironically titled, Idaho for wildlife, sponsors the event and booooy do they have a dozy of a website, essentially just a shill for predator eradication with loads of self-citations and just bologna.

Here are some depressing excerpts:

Hunting for food is one thing, and in some cases
 hunting helps to keep overabundant species like
 deer in ecological check. But the reason we have too
 many deer in the US in the first place is simple: the
steady decline of big predators like the mountain lion
 and—you guessed it—the wolf. The fact is that we
 need wolves in ecosystems. So why a killing contest
 to rid the land of them?
After digging into the wolf-hate literature featured on
 Idaho for Wildlife’s website, I wondered whether the
 residents of Salmon were looking to kill wolves out
 of spite. They hated these creatures, and I wanted
 to understand why.
Besides killing wolves, one of the group’s core
 missions, according to its website, is to “fight against
 all legal and legislative attempts by the animal rights
 and anti-gun organizations who are attempting to take
 away our rights and freedoms under the Constitution
of the United States of America.” The website also
suggested that media coverage of the event was
not welcome. The only way I’d be able to properly
 report on the derby, I figured, was to go undercover
 as a competing hunter. So I showed up in Salmon
 a few days before the event, paid the $20 sign-up
 fee, and officially became part of the slaughter.
Going further into the belly of the beast that is the Salmon predator derby:

“Gut-shoot every goddamn last one of them wolves,”
 Cal told us. He wished a similar fate on “tree huggers,”
 who, in Cal’s view, mostly live in New York City.
“You know what I’d like to see? Take the wolves
 and plant ’em in Central Park, ’cause they impose
 it on us to have these goddamn wolves! Bullshit!
 It’s said a wolf won’t attack you. Well, goddamn,
 these tree huggers don’t know what. I want wolves
to eat them goddamn tree huggers. Maybe they’ll
 learn something!”

We all raised a glass to the tree huggers’ getting
 their due. I fought the urge to tell Cal that I live in
New York part-time, and that in college Natalie
trained as an arborist and had actually hugged
trees for a living. Her brother, who is 31 and
studying to be a lawyer in Boise, Idaho, had warned
 me about the risks of going undercover when I
 broached the idea over the phone. As a representative
for the nonprofit Western Watersheds Project, which
has lobbied for wolf protections, he’d attended numerous
public meetings about “wolf management” in communities
 like Salmon. “Salmon is the belly of the beast,” he told
me. “There is not a more hostile place. It’s Mordor.”
Brian’s former boss at the Western Watersheds Project,
 executive director Jon Marvel, has received death threats
 for speaking out in favor of wolves and against the
 powerful livestock industry. Many pro-wolf activists
across the American West, especially those who have
 publicly opposed the ranching industry, have reported
similar threats and acts of aggression—tires slashed,
 homes vandalized, windows busted out with bricks in t
he night. Idaho for Wildlife’s opinion on the situation is
made clear on its website: “Excess predator’s [sic
] and environmentalists should go first!”

Despite the "overpopulation" of wolves in Idaho not a single wolf was killed and only one seen in the derby, 21 coyotes killed. And with the delisting of wolves in several states peer reviewed science has been critical of this decision.
Now with these two blog posts in mind I want to go a little further. Beaver and wolf are both emblematic and native species to much of North America. Although one is a predator and one is a herbivore they both play pivotal roles in the ecology and landscape to which they are native. Both have attributes of a keystone species. They are both territorial and will expand into new territories when capacity is met. Both species have been largely exterminated from large areas of their former range. And both species are rife with accounts of pseudo-science, half-truths, and assertion science. And both species spell out some of the significant battle-lines drawn in how North America approaches its wildlife and wildlands.
What is most interesting to me is how the wolf has become a symbol of government over reach. How frustration on how this county is run, the role of government, is making a pariah out of recovering wolves. It is not too hard to imagine how beaver restoration can befall a similar fate.
And it is here that I want to go back to the Perryman post on what level of conservation do you support. Are you a middle of the roader Save-Some or do you want to take up the difficult task of Save-Everythings? 
Let us look at this question from the perspective of watershed health, specifically the beleaguered watersheds of California and specifically southern California which is our main subject. Hammered by diversions, dams, invasive species, agricultural and urban withdrawals, runoff and pollution- it is hard to call the damage done to these watersheds "middle of the road". Following from this, I argue, the solution to rehabbing these systems should not be "middle of the road" and therefore befitting more of a Save-Everything approach than a Save-Some approach. If we take the southern steelhead as a proxy for the health of the watershed, and these populations are conservatively 1% of their former population- then a middle of the road Save-Some approach is clearly not appropriate to this level of devastation. 
The point of a Save-Everything mindset is not that you will actually, you know, save everything. We will probably never see the historic level of steelhead, 10,000 or more strong, in our rivers. We will probably lose some species that are very near to extinction or extirpation- no matter how hard we strive for restoration. My point is that a middle of the road, Save-Some approach, is not doing the job and has not done the job in our watersheds. Unfortunately, for fear of being called a name- a Hugger -people in the know, people who know the science- DFW, game wardens, even conservationists - are always a little tentative to get too radicalized and go to the Save-Everything camp. Big business is always going to find it's voice. Politicians- depending on who they are trying to appeal to -are always going to find their voice. Will restoration ecology/conservation find it's voice? Will it take a back seat to other interests or insist on riding shot-gun?
Business and industry come and go. Money comes into a place and moves on. Look at Detroit. But if you let significant economic interests lay siege to the lifeblood of any landscape- it's water -then after that industry moves on, and they always do, now you are left both jobless and with a poisoned landscape. 

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing!As we move forward into the 21st century two things are going to remain true: With an ever increasing human population and an ever decreasing supply of open land and natural resources, wildlife conservation is a growing and serious problem. An issue of such far reaching and, in many cases, irreversible consequences.