Archive for the ‘conservation’ Category

We visited a rescue facility in northwest Arkansas in April.

In just a few days, barring a last-minute deal, we in the States will be plunged into the horrors of sequestration. Er..uh..what exactly is sequestration? Is it worse than a blizzard? Well, I don’t know, but I reckon it’s something along the lines of what they call “austerity” on the other side of the Atlantic. “Austerity”, roughly translated into the language of US politics, means “spending cuts”. There may be some tightening of interest rates and whatnot thrown in, but basically austerity means spending cuts.

Hollande, France’s new “leftist” leader, complains that austerity measures inhibit economic growth and calls on the European Union to loosen its grip on Greece’s economy.

Standard & Poor’s just downgraded the UK’s credit rating because the British economy isn’t growing (actually, it’s contracting) and austerity measures are still being implemented. The Labour Party blames the austerity measures for stifling economic growth.

On this side of the pond, the US economy also contracted in the last quarter. The Republicans complain that rampant spending is stifling growth. How can that be? Well, it’s actually tax increases that they’re worried about. But a larger budget increases the pressure to raise taxes, so the Republicans want spending cuts.

Once again we’re working under the assumption that perpetual growth is possible, desirable, and necessary. Instead, we should be planning for ecological sustainability and economic stability. We need to live within our means–reduce our footprint and balance the budget.

We are currently under water rationing in Shawnee. For instance, our household is only allowed to use water outside on Tuesdays and Fridays, and only before 10 am or after 6 pm. We are told that the lake levels are fine, and the limitation is rather the capacity of the water treatment plant.

There are two questions one might ask about this situation. One would be “Why did the City of Shawnee contemplate building a sports facility on the other side of the highway if the water treatment plant needs to be upgraded?” On the other hand, “Why do the citizens of Shawnee need treated water to spray on their lawns?”

We should all have rainwater collection systems on our houses. I had one at the last house I inhabited, but haven’t put one in here. I have no interest in watering my lawn (then I’d have to mow it!), but I would like to water my vegetable garden. It rained tonight; I should have had my buckets out!

The US Fish and Wildlife Service now says that logging is good for northern Spotted Owls. Yes, you heard that right–the bird that is loggers love to hate for shutting down timber operations in old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest will actually benefit from resumption of logging. This is a common theme. When legal action by Heartwood shut down logging in National Forests across the midwest and northeast over threats to the Indiana bat, the Forest Service planned a timber sale (Buzzard’s Roost) to benefit Indiana bats.

US Fish and Wildlife Service 2012. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; Revised critical habitat for the northern Spotted Owl. Federal Register 77:14062-14165, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC,, accessed 17 April 2012.

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of making a rule to limit the amount of carbon pollution from new power plants. The press release states that it will be possible for natural gas and even coal plants to meet the standards. To meet the standard, a gas plant simply has to be efficient enough to produce at least one megawatt-hour for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted. Now coal is basically carbon, so how is it possible to burn coal without emitting carbon? The answer is that a power plant can capture the carbon dioxide and store it somewhere. Forever.

According to the press release, “Even without today’s action, the power plants that are currently projected to be built going forward would already comply with the standard. As a result, EPA does not project additional cost for industry to comply with this standard.”

So the proposed rule does nothing. Nevertheless, the National Audubon Society is urging its members to write the EPA to demand that it enforce the rule it’s making.

I’m sure I’m simplifying the situation, because I have not read the whole 257-page proposed rule.

The Department of the Interior has just released new guidelines for wind energy development to avoid and mitigate harm to birds and bird populations. The National Audubon Society paints a rosy picture, but the American Bird Conservancy wants mandatory regulations instead.

Audubon press release

ABC press release

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) does not ignore the challenges we face as the global human population passes 7 billion, but does stress optimism in their 2011 State of the World Population (UNFPA, 2011). Positive thinking can be helpful, but the UNFPA is unfortunately stuck in the mindset of perpetual economic growth. We must acknowledge that global economic growth is inherently unsustainable if we are to understand the nature of the challenges we confront. Throughout the report there is the underlying assumption that economic growth is always the fundamental goal, even in industrialized nations. There is, however, a hint of the problem in the section on environmental issues tucked at the end. The problem, one expert notes, is not growing population but growing levels of consumption. Economic growth, if we fill in the dots, means an increase in consumption.

UNFPA, 2011. State of the World 2011, United Nations Population Fund,, accessed 31 October 2011.

Zheng and coworkers (2011) report that rates of deforestation currently exceed rates of afforestation in all regions of the continuous United States of America (USA). Their analysis indicates that forest disturbance is associated with reductions in carbon sinks. Thus we may conclude that forest policy in the USA is exacerbating anthropogenic climate change. Climate change, in turn, feeds back to affect the frequency and scale of forest disturbances that contribute to deforestation and destabilize forestry-dependent economies (Keskitalo et al.,2011).

Keskitalo and coworkers (2011) argue that forestry sectors need to adapt to environmental change and economic change concurrently. We need to recognize that these changes are aspects of the same phenomenon, the inherently unsustainable nature of expanding economies.

Literature cited

Keskitalo, E. Carina H.; Nicole Klenk; Ryan Bullock; Andrea L. Smith; and Dawn R. Bazely 2011. Preparing for and responding to disturbance: Examples from the forest sector in Sweden and Canada. Forests 2:505-524, doi: 10.3390/f2020505

Zheng, Daolan; Linda S. Heath; Mark J. Ducey; and James E. Smith 2011. Carbon changes in conterminous US forests associated with growth and major disturbances: 1992-2001. Environmental Research Letters 6:1 014012 doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/6/1/014012,, accessed 3 April 2011.

Sanderson and Huron (2011) note the importance of urban biodiversity conservation. They argue that conservation is important in cities because, increasingly, that is where most people live. Sanderson and Huron provide two competing axioms on which to base conservation priorities. If the goal is to preserve nature intact, then conservation efforts should be concentrated in the wildest places. If the goal is to “restore the human relationship to nature”, then conservation efforts should be concentrated in cities.

The principle goal of conservation biology is clearly to conserve biodiversity. However, humans are part of biodiversity. Furthermore, conserving ecological relationships is necessary for biodiversity conservation and a worthy goal in itself. So we may consider restoring the human relationship to nature to be part of conservation, or at least part of restoration ecology.

But what is the human relationship to nature? Certainly humans interact with nature as much or more than ever, considering the scale of current anthropogenic impacts. In terms of human experience, however, humans are increasingly buffered from the real world by computer screens and paved ground. Urban life makes it especially challenging to feel connection to the natural world. Nevertheless, the interaction of urban humans with ecosystems extends far from cities. As Sanderson and Huron note, energy and materials are sourced from distant places in order for cities to function as they do.

So what aspects of human relationship to nature do we wish to restore? The psychological and spiritual understanding of nature is important to restore, for its own intrinsic value as well as for how our understanding of our relationship to our world affects biodiversity conservation. Perhaps there is something more concrete that we need to restore, a sustainable human relationship to nature. A sustainable relationship would be a set of interactions between humans and the Earth that does not undermine its ability to persist. However, one may argue that human interaction with nature has never been sustainable. If it had been, we would not be where we are today. So we must create, not restore, a sustainable relationship with nature.

Literature Cited

Sanderson, Eric W.; and Amanda Huron. 2011. Conservation in the City. Conservation Biology 25:421-423. DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2011.01683.x