An Urgent New Years Request
by Ro Wauer
As the new year closes in, I have considered a number of requests that I might make to my readers. These have included everything from personal savings to saving the planet. And in spite of our economic situation that extends far beyond our own household, city, state and country, my most urgent concern is the preservation of our natural environment. Most naturalist type folks agree that we are losing much of our natural environment because of habitat loss that includes the majority of the plants and animals that live there. Those losses mostly are the result of poorly planned developments, excessive use of biocides, and the careless introduction of exotic species.
An amazing number of folks respond to that concern by asking “What’s all the fuss? So we lose a few wild animals or even a few species?” Well, first and foremost, human beings are part of nature, no matter how well we insulate ourselves. We live in a world in which everything, at least in some subtle way, is interconnected to everything else. Like the strands of a giant web, a weakened or broken strand will continue to decline in strength and usability. Mankind is part of the matrix, not apart from it. Our long-tern existence depends upon a healthy, viable environment. “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me.”
Our most threatened natural resources include our freshwater streams, ponds and lakes; bays and estuaries; prairies; and our forests. Tropical forests are at greatest risk because they contain the highest diversity of plants and animals known to mankind, many of which have not even been identified, and some of those may eventually be the solution to the prevention of the common cold and cancer. But it is projected that we will lose between five and fifteen percent of the world’s species by 2020, approximately 50 to 120 species per day. It has been estimated that three-fourths of the world’s bird species are declining in population or threatened with extinction. About 1,000 bird species (more than 11 percent) are at risk of extinction, while about 70 percent or 6,300 species are in decline. For instance, duck populations in the prairie pothole regions of the central United States and southern Canada have dropped more than 30 percent since 1955.
Frogs and salamanders are even more susceptible to pollution, and they too are declining worldwide. These amphibians, as well as many of our declining Neotropical migrant birds, are like the proverbial canary in the mine. Their declines are a warning that something is dreadfully wrong. But like the accelerating rate of cancer in the human population, we allow lobbyists and advertisers to blind us about the real causes. And America’s Endangered Species Act is so under attack that its value for protecting the myriad of declining species, including those that are part of our most important warning system, is likely to come under the influence of those who care more about the value of the dollar than they do about their own children’s health and survival. If present trends continue, we can expect an annual rate of loss as high as 50,000 species by the year 2020.
The fundamental need as we enter a new year with a new Administration in Washington is to speak out in support of our natural resources. We must not let the recent decay of our environmental laws and regulations continue. It is time we as a carrying people speak out in support of our native plants and animals.
It was Theodore Roosevelt who wrote: “The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life.” And William Hornaday wrote: “The wild things of this earth are not ours to do with as we please. They have been given to us in trust, and we must account for them to the generations which will come after us and audit our accounts.” And finally: “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees…” Revelations 7:3.