Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is it Worth One Bird?

One of my newer favorite things to do is listen to the podcast "Radiolab." It's a science podcast, not specific to natural history, but I'll plug it anyway because, well, it's awesome. I keep thinking about one story I listened to recently about an endangered bird called the Kirtland's warbler. You should go listen to the story here:

For those of you who don't have the time or came up with some other excuse to skip the homework I'll quickly summarize. The warbler is very endangered partly because it nests in trees that need fires. Thanks primarily to Smokey the Bear the amount of forest fires has drastically been reduced in the US. Unfortunately, fires are an incredibly important part of forest ecology. So you have this endangered species which, by law, the DCR is required protect. How do you protect a species which relies on fires? Well, you have to set fires. One day a fire goes out of control, it creates a whole lot of damage and kills a DCR employee. The reporter basically asks the question: is it worth one bird?

The comments on the page I've linked to are also very interesting and take the question a little bit further, I think.

It also reminded me of a book I read (most of) called Out of Eden by a guy named Alan Burdick. It deals with management of invasive species and the author takes a somewhat controversial stance: that essentially we do too much, we worry too much, we waste effort that could be best spent elsewhere. I'm not sure. It's worth at least borrowing it from your library. The only reason I didn't get all the way through it is that I felt each case study was too similar and Burdick's musings were, likewise, too similar.

So I just wanted all you readers to think about these things. I spend a lot of time at my job talking about endangered species. I think it's important to consider what's actually happening on the ground. How are these things actually managed? Are we being overly cautious? Will there be an ecological collapse? Should we always err on the side of safe rather than sorry? And how do we make people care about species besides the charismatic whales and turtles? I clearly don't have answers to any of these questions but I think it's important for us to think about.

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