During the “environmental awakening” of the late 1960s, concerned and caring young people became distraught over the obvious abuses of our natural world, abuses that had already led to extinctions. Abuses that threatened many more.
We put a stop to it. Or so we thought.
The environmental movement was born then. While “hippies” and wannabes marched, protested and complained, scientists and conservationists rolled up their sleeves to save habitats and restore the creatures that depended on them. Oddly (or so it seemed to some folks) many species that were hunted — wood ducks, turkeys, elk, pronghorns, grizzlies and cougars — roared back. Many un-hunted species such as Kirtland’s warblers, spotted owls and neo-tropical songbirds continued to decline. Obviously, the issue was habitat. But that was then.
This is now. And it’s worse. Much worse.
The easy conservation gains of yesterday are over. This new crises is a much more serious one. Or perhaps it’s just an acceleration of the old one. Today, instead of just losing big, obvious critters like moose and condors, we’re seeing the rapid and massive destruction of small, often ignored species like honeybees, bats, frogs, orioles and salamanders. For some of these creatures, the problem remains the age-old one of disappearing habitats. No matter how fervently Americans insist we are conservationists and wildlife lovers, when push comes to shove, we’re all too ready to shove wildlife right off the map in order to enjoy a new highway, shopping mall, golf course, reservoir, oil field, smart phone or housing project.
But bats and bees and frogs aren’t disappearing just because of habitat loss. They’re dying in protected places like National Wildlife Refuges and Parks. Amphibians as a group in the United States are falling away at a rate of 3.7 percent a year according to scientists at the U.S. Geologic Services. Seriously-threatened ones are dying-off at 11.6 percent annually. In 40 years or less they’ll be gone. Regardless where they live.
Honeybee colonies seem to be crashing everywhere, too. Bats in caves across the land are being wiped out by white-nose syndrome. West-Nile virus destroys sage grouse, blue jays and other birds. Sage grouse have hit such low numbers that they’re proposed for listing as an endangered species, joining several native grouse that have declined before them. Lesser prairie chickens, Columbian sharptailed grouse, mountain plovers, spotted owls, golden eagles, Steller’s eiders, golden-cheeked warblers — the list is long and growing longer. Meanwhile, house cats have been proven to kill upwards of 3 BILLION birds and 20 BILLION small mammals each year. No calls for reductions in house cat numbers from animal lovers. Instead they raise millions to “save” feral cats. Meanwhile, our cars flatten hundreds of millions more animals each year. Even our environmentally friendly wind turbines generating non-polluting energy are smacking birds out of the skies.
Recent research suggests spotted owls may be succumbing to rat poisons spread around illicit marijuana fields in public forests in northern California, perhaps by laid-back, peace-loving “hippies or their acolytes. Potato farmers are known to have poisoned sage grouse with chemicals used to combat potato insect pests. Fish farmers kill fish-eating birds. Grape growers kill deer, rodents and birds that threaten vineyards. Genetically engineered crops with “built-in” pesticides may be killing honeybees and other “good” insects.
Most of us read such news with alarm, then forget all about it as we go about the challenges of keeping ourselves and families fed and housed. But ignoring these ominous signs is both foolish and dangerous. The shrill alarms of environmental extremists may have dangerously desensitized us to some very real threats, threats that could lead to a huge collapse in Nature’s interconnected system that keeps us all healthy.
Whitetails and turkeys may be nowhere near declining — yet. But when the very basic, bottom of the pyramid of life shows the dramatic stress we’re now witnessing, something is wrong. Something extremely serious is wrong.
And it’s up to us to fix it.
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