Friday, July 25, 2008

Where the Wild Things Were

As if New Orleans (remember New Orleans, that American city we never made too much effort to help or repair? Their newspaper just had its first restaurant review in over three years, population’s down a third, jobs are unfilled because people can’t afford the rent which is up 46%, and only about 1/5 of public transportation is running. But let’s fix up Iraq, shall we?) doesn’t have enough problems, there’s now a 100 mile long oil spill stretching from downtown to the Gulf of Mexico. Oil is still leaking from the ship collision and is expected to take weeks to clean up. People are trying to protect the Delta National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of the river. The path I once walked along the Mississippi is mostly deserted because of the smell, and I imagine the aroma of cafe au lait and beignets isn’t the most powerful one at the Cafe du Monde right now.

The deadly and unexplained white nose syndrome which is killing off thousands of bats in the northeast continues to spread and has now been reported in Maine.

There’s a member of the Araneidae family, possibly the male Larinioides cornuta, more commonly known as a big-ass spider, with a lovely web connected to the bricks just outside my bedroom window. The cat watches from the windowsill, hoping to pick up new predator tricks.

The title for this post came from the title of a book by William Stolzenburg which I recently skimmed, subtitled Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators. Hmm, I thought, there’s something I can sink my teeth into, but I only grazed because I was a bit put off by his somewhat florid writing style in the early going. However, there are many fascinating stories throughout the book of what happens to an ecosystem when the top predator is removed or returned. The most well-known and widespread examples involve animals such as wolves, cougars, deer, and elk, and places like Yellowstone, but do you know about the connections between kelp forests, urchins, sea otters, and whales or what happens when you remove starfish from a rock?

I strongly recommend everyone read at least the epilogue which in a few pages sums up the most important lessons and questions on the subject. One of the very interesting points is how the bar gets lowered with each human generation—what I see now as a natural area destroyed since my childhood is likely to be the good old days for today’s young. At least for the decreasing percentage of the young who still pay any attention to the natural world.

We know so little yet so casually destroy the strands of the webs. What a better world it might be if forty years ago, instead of worrying about the domino theory in Southeast Asia, we’d been worried about the domino effect in our own country and neighborhoods. Today, it’s probably too late to choose between coexistence and extinction.

Naturalist George Schaller is quoted, “I suspect most people in the world could not care less if all large predators vanish. There are a few of us who think they are beautiful, interesting, essential to natural ecological processes, and part of our natural heritage worth preserving, but we are a distinct minority anywhere.”


Stephanie said...

Nausea overcame me when I first read about the oil spill the other day.

I just bought five new animal-related books the other day, to add to the impossible pile of unread books I already have, so I won't be buying this one anytime soon, but I'll add it to the list.

A distinct minority indeed.

greentangle said...

I mostly read library books these days. I'm still working on getting rid of my own piles of unread books, so let me know if you'd like me to ship you some. :)