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Mother Knows Best

Curbing species extinction with age-old wisdom -- learning to share



If only it were as simple as Mom's favorite advice: Share.

From the time we are young we're taught to share, and as individuals with other select humans, some of us do it right. But as a species, humans are failing miserably at sharing the planet with other animals, indeed with all living things.

The news is bad: While the Earth is always and has always been in a state of flux, and species extinction is a naturally occurring historic phenomenon, in recent years the rate of species loss is estimated to be 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than natural rates. Habitat destruction is widely regarded as a leading cause of this higher rate of species extinction and it is almost unanimously accepted that one species, Homo sapiens, is responsible for the eradication of countless others.

Bottom line: The prospects are gloomy if we don't start sharing the planet with nonhuman species more wholeheartedly and thoughtfully, and right away.

Scientists don't all agree on how we've gotten to this tenuous situation, but most concur that something must be done and that sharing is of the essence. And though different camps of biologists propose different solutions, all urge that we begin now to try to curb the rate of species extinction while securing a future for ourselves and our co-habitants on planet Earth.

Environmentalists like Dave Foreman of the Wildlands Project, contend that we can assure species survival by setting aside large core habitat areas that are roadless and unimpeded by human activities -- better known as wilderness -- and by taking these wilderness core areas, creating buffer zones around them that are safe for wildlife and providing corridors for passage of wildlife over large areas of the continents. That is the basic gist of Foreman's chosen field of conservation biology (first set forth by scientist Michael Soule, now retired in Paonia, Colo.).

Others, like Michael Rosenzweig of the University of Arizona, while lauding the work of conservation ecologists, argue that a more direct approach is necessary and might yield more immediate results. Rosenzweig, an evolutionary biologist, proposes that humans learn to share our habitats, whether urban, semi-urban or rural, deliberately with other species. His ideas are encapsulated in a field of evolutionary biology he calls "reconciliation ecology."

Both men agree that the problem is urgent, but both find hope in scientifically based solutions. And both agree that Mom was right: We've got to learn to share.

Rewilding the American West

Dave Foreman is best known as the founder of Earth First! though he separated from that organization in 1990 when he became disenchanted with some of the more radical acts of civil disobedience that were taking place in the name of saving the planet.

Since then Foreman has distinguished himself as one of the most dynamic spokespersons for the concept of "rewilding" or preserving and restoring huge chunks of wilderness, reintroducing species that have been displaced and creating movement corridors over large areas. Foreman is chairman of the Wildlands Project and publisher of Wild Earth, an environmental journal. He has served as a member of the national board of directors of the Sierra Club and is the author of the novel The Lobo Outback Funeral Home and the book Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. In 1998, Audubon magazine named him one of the 100 Champions of Conservation of the 20th century. An avid backpacker, canoeist, fly fisherman and hunter, he lives in Albuquerque where he is proud to call himself a "fifth generation New Mexican."

Next week, Foreman will deliver the Timothy Linnemann Memorial Lecture at Colorado College where he will discuss "Rewilding North America."

Rewilding, says Foreman, started with a theory based on research from around the world that showed when large carnivores are removed from ecosystems, things start to unravel.

"The great experiment on that is Yellowstone National Park," he said, "where wolves and mountain lions were exterminated by the Park Service around the middle of the [20th] century.

"Wolves were reintroduced in 1995. By that time, elk behavior had changed so much -- the forests were overgrazed, aspen had died off, willows were disappearing from the ecosystem -- so that when wolves came back, elk stopped loafing in large herds and moved about more. Now we're seeing willows build up along streams, aspen growing -- there's really solid evidence for all of this."

Foreman's vision is huge -- a connected corridor of wild lands all the way from Mexico to the Yukon. In southern Arizona and New Mexico, into northern Mexico, the Sky Island Wildlands Project has already been largely established, and plans are currently being drawn for three connecting regions -- the New Mexico highlands; the Southern Rockies, our home stomping ground; and Heart of the West, which includes Yellowstone. Together these regions of carefully mapped, restored and protected areas will form a continuous land mass that will provide sufficient habitat for large mammals like bear, wolves, wolverines and lynx and all the plant and animal species that their presence supports.

"What those large carnivores need are big, core protected areas where they're secure, and they need connectivity between areas for reproduction," Foreman explained.

They also need a minimum baseline population that can procreate in order to survive.

"A small population is more vulnerable to extinction by chance occurrence," he said. "If you only have 10 animals, something like a fire or a natural disaster that could have no impact on, say, 5,000 could actually wipe out a species. And with an isolated population comes loss of vitality and reproductive problems. Michael Soule (father of conservation biology) tried to develop a minimum population viability formula -- he came up with a rough figure of 500 breeding females.

"You can take that and ask: What is the range for a pack of wolves, how big of a space do they need? Then multiply that to figure out what you need for 500 breeding females. You come up with some huge spaces that are needed, bigger than the entire Yellowstone ecosystem. We don't have a core area large enough, so you need [to create] linkages."

Foreman acknowledges obstacles to the Wildlands Projects "megalinkage" approach, but he contends that the project is possible if enough people become concerned about the continued loss of habitat for wildlife and the biggest challenge of all -- species extinction.

"Our dilemma is that in some ways we're doing much better; people know more now than they used to, there's a public acknowledgement that the Earth is in trouble," he said. "But overall, things are really, really bad. The Bush administration's policies are leading to further fragmentation of wild lands [by allowing private corporations and government more access to public lands for energy exploration and excavation].

"The fundamental issue is the massive extinction of species, the biggest since the dinosaurs became extinct. The magnitude of the extinction crisis was not recognized by scientists until the 1970s. By 1980, the information was out there."

The news is so alarming, says Foreman, that it's hard for people to think about or comprehend.

"The issue is so horrifying, particularly knowing that we are the ones responsible for it," he said. "People get turned off by doom and gloom. Some conservation groups don't even talk about it. And yet it continues. We continue to find out that its worse than we even imagined. What's happening in the ocean now, [the phenomenally rapid disappearance of species], is like the killing off of the bison in the 1800s."

Colorado, says Foreman, could end up in the same situation as the Appalachians in the eastern United States -- fragmented by networks of roads, industry and residential developments -- if large wilderness areas are not protected. The West, he says, currently has enough open space, enough wild lands that, if left alone, mountain lions, wolves, wolverines and lynx could get around well except for a few major barriers.

"I-70 in Colorado, for example is a huge problem," he said, but not one that can't be solved. "Forest service researchers have done a lot of work identifying major barriers to mobility for species, figuring out what kinds of things help them get over those barriers. Take Banff National Park, for instance. The trans-Canada highway, a huge highway, goes through there. They built an overpass for wildlife, basically a culvert covered with dirt. A set camera has observed bears, bighorn sheep and other animals using it to cross over."

Living with wildlife

Michael Rosenzweig lauds the work of Foreman and the Wildlands Project, but says it's not enough.

"The other tactics are not to be abandoned. This is not a replacement, it's a complement," he said of his idea of creating human habitat that deliberately and systematically invites cohabitation with wildlife. "We're looking at the amount of land that is involved, where we all work and live, compared to the amount available for restoration or preservation. In making a fair estimate of the portion of money spent for ecology, I'd hope that a huge percentage of it would go to reconciliation ecology, which concerns itself with 95 percent of the land.

"There still will be a large number of species -- we don't know how many, probably 25 percent or so, that just can't get along with us or that we just can't tolerate in our daily lives, and they're going to need those reserves. We're going to have to learn how to make strategies as complementary as possible. We're going to have to continue to manage smarter and smarter and smarter."

We can and should set aside land for wildlife, says Rosenzweig, but preserving wild land a patch at a time won't make humans an integral part of nature and won't solve the problem of man's isolation from other species. Instead, Rosenzweig advocates "reconciliation," or learning to deliberately design and reinvent our human habitats -- the places where we work and live -- to accommodate wildlife.

"About seven or eight years ago, I was writing graduate level textbooks about species diversity and I went into a blue funk for a long time," he said. "I thought there was absolutely no hope. But finally I thought, 'Wait a second. Maybe there is a way.'"

Rosenzweig began to study cases of intentional human habitats that proved to be mutually beneficial to wildlife, "hundreds of millions of years of evidence."

"The strangest thing was that people were doing it successfully (coming up with ideas for mutually beneficial human habitat), but they were apologizing for it because it wasn't the wilderness, you see, and because it wasn't the wilderness there was probably something wrong with it," he said. "What was a theory in 1997 became a lot of experience of a lot of people, a lot of places around the world."

Rosenzweig's basic ideas about reconciliation ecology have recently been published in his book, Win-Win Ecology: How the Earth's Species Can Survive in the Midst of Human Enterprise (Oxford University Press,2003). Filled with examples of species cooperative habitats like the rooftop gardens of Berlin and the managed-for-coffee forests of the Maya in Tamaupilas, Mexico, Win-Win Ecology outlines a system of cohabitation that will discourage government micromanagement while encouraging personal responsibility and will bridge the gap between humans and nonhuman species.

Rosenzweig cites cases of mutually beneficial habitats, created by man, all over the world, like massive wetlands in northwest India in the middle of the desert. "They were put there by a mogul emperor who liked to hunt ducks," he said. "It's a great example of deliberate habitat creation."

Reconciliation ecology, says Rosenzweig, could teach us to live side by side with nonhuman species: "The species we live with will resensitize us to her delights and addict us to her bounty. They will spur us on. We will wonder why we ever could have settled for less, or fooled ourselves into believing that 'less' could satisfy us and nurture us and give us fair value," he says in Win-Win Ecology.

"We have adapted to concrete, expect noxious fumes and anticipate not seeing much around us except for sparrows and a few house plants. Degrading our environment causes us to expect less of it. But improving our environment will cause us to expect more. In a world full of diversity, we will stop settling for less."

Learning to share

Dave Foreman is heartened by much of the good environmental work that is going on now, and by the public's desire to solve pressing environmental problems. But humans, he says, agreeing with Michael Rosenzweig in theory, must reach a point where they no longer see nature and the problems of species extinction as mere abstractions -- a common problem due to lack of exposure to wildlife.

Foreman says that in order to save the wilderness, people must learn to appreciate the wild.

"I think you tend to behave differently in a wilderness that has large carnivores in it," he said of his own experience as a hunter, "even though they aren't dangerous the way people think. Dogs kill more people each year in the U.S. than large carnivores. But it does add something to the experience. When I go elk hunting in the Gila Wilderness, knowing that there are a couple of wolf packs back there, it just enhances my experience exponentially. There are hunters who don't want anybody or anything to take their elk. But let's face it; we learned to hunt from wolves tens of thousands of years ago."

While Foreman's vision of paradise resides in wilderness, Michael Rosenzweig's resides in the possibilities of his own back yard.

"How do we overcome all the problems? We're going to have to do it with great patience and understanding of the complexity of the problems," he said. We're going to have to learn about ourselves.

"We don't have a clue what we like when it comes to landscapes. If it looks wild or unkempt, we're just not going to like it on private property. We're going to have to get ready with scientifically based landscaping plans that can be chosen out of a book like wallpaper. And right now, we don't understand ourselves what we like [enough] to put that book together."

Both men agree that what humans need most fundamentally to involve themselves in efforts to preserve wilderness, to save species or to live side by side with wildlife is the simple human commodity of hope.

"The problem is so big that people just throw up their hands in hopelessness," said Foreman. "A really important part of the Wildlands Project is that we want to offer a vision that's bold, scientifically achievable, practically credible and hopeful. Hopefulness is a big part of that.

"While certainly a great deal of the United States is going to be domesticated, we need to pay attention to these wild places that are left. We need to keep large areas open and wild. It's not necessarily easy, but the Western U.S. is a place where we can do it.

"The basic question is: How can we learn to live on Earth without destroying it?"

Mapping the Southern Rockies Wildlands

Jen Clanahan is a scientist in Boulder working on the Wildlands Project for the Southern Rockies region, using various methods to map out the areas most critical for biodiversity.

Conservation biologists have found that what we have created to date are secluded islands of habitat that aren't enough to support species diversity, explains Clanahan. "What we're trying to do is to create a healthy species habitat. And that requires connectivity."

Imagine a fire that goes through a core habitat, for example. Animals need to be able to move to other areas safely without getting shot or run over on the highway, says Clanahan.

"We're hoping to have the New Mexico Highlands, the Southern Rockies and the Heart of the West plans all come out at the same time this summer," she said. "At that time, we're also coming out with a list of the most threatened [wildlife] corridors."

Assisting Clanahan and others in the effort to create a Southern Rockies Wildlands Project master plan is Jean Smith of the Upper Arkansas/South Platte Project. Smith maps roadless areas in the Southern Rockies and much of her work will appear in the plan due out in May. Of particular interest to her are large core areas that still remain largely roadless.

"The Front Range Roadless Area -- its north end is approximately opposite Castle Rock -- is a large, low elevation roadless area on the east edge of the national forest; the western edge is the Rampart Range motorized recreation area," said Smith. "This is one of the last areas on lower elevations on the eastern edge of the forest."

Smith explains that most remaining roadless areas are at high elevations in the Rockies, but not all species thrive at those elevations, making the low-lying roadless areas essential corridors for certain wildlife.

Pikes Peak, she points out, has good ecological value and a large amount of the mountain remains roadless. And abutting the Peak is the Beaver Creek wilderness area that is included in wilderness legislation proposed by Reps. Diana DeGette and Mark Udall. Farther south, Smith has mapped areas of the Wet Mountain range that remain largely roadless.

"The challenge now is to hook them up," she said. "You've got the Pike National Forest coming down to the Beaver Creek area, then you've got this big gap around the Arkansas River of private land, state land, some BLM land. We'll be working with land trusts, with conservation-minded ranchers there who want to manage their land for wildlife. The San Isabel Foundation in Westcliffe is working hard with landowners in the Wet Mountain Valley to create land trusts with landowners so that their land is not turned into subdivisions."

More immediately, says Smith, the challenge is to get wilderness designation to give some of these areas permanent protection.

"With the current congressional strategy, she adds, "that isn't going to happen tomorrow."

Last Friday, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, formerly attorney general of Colorado, told Congress that her department planned to halt all reviews of its Western land holdings for new wilderness protection, and that only areas identified by 1991 by the Bureau of Land Management as having wilderness characteristics would qualify for protection. That means that lands currently being managed by the BLM to preserve wilderness characteristics can now be used according to previous land-use plans, including mining and recreation.

What it means immediately for the proposed Beaver Creek wilderness area is unclear at this time.

Regarding roadless areas and the larger vision of the Southern Rockies Wildlands Project, Smith remains patient and philosophical.

"This is a very broad vision, a long-term vision," she said, "but at least for me, it's the sort of thing that keeps me motivated, doing my little piece."

Local events for the Earth

Saturday, April 19: Rock 'n' Walk Earth Day Celebration, Garden of the Gods Visitor Center, 1805 North 30th St. 3K or 5K walk through the Garden of the Gods. Registration form can be printed from Admission is $5 to $7. All-day Earth Day celebration from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Garden includes guided nature walks, American Indian dancers, a birds of prey demonstration, music, bird watching and activities for children. Park cleanup efforts begin at 9 a.m. For more, call 219-0108.

Saturday, April 19: MountainFilm Festival on Tour, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale St., featuring films from the Telluride MountainFilm Festival, 2002. Pre-film reception at 6 p.m., films begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $22 at the door. Films include Oscar-winning director Frederic Back's The Mighty River and winner of Best of MountainFilm 2001 Mzima: Haunt of the Riverhorse, along with three short films.

Monday, April 21: "AgriCULTURE: We Are What We Eat," potluck dinner and seminar, Bemis Great Hall, The Colorado College, 5-8 p.m. Permaculture experts from New Mexico will talk about how traditional, Native American and local agriculture can nourish ourselves, the community and the Earth. Bring a dish to share. For more information, call Emily Wright, 389-7558.

Tuesday, April 22: "Colorado College Campus and Community: Sustainability Initiatives," an event to showcase environmental endeavors of the community with an organic picnic, live music, speakers and organization information booths, feature remarks by CC President Richard Celeste. Noon to 3 p.m. at the Worner Student Center Quad, corner of Cascade and Cache La Poudre.

Thursday, April 24: Tres Rios Farmers Co-op Lunch and Delivery, 12:30 to 2 p.m., Worner Student Center Quad, Colorado College. Join the local community supported agriculture cooperative for lunch and learn more about the program. For more information, call Emily Wright, 389-7558.

Saturday, April 26: BETTR (Better Environment Through Technology Recycling) Residential Electronics Collection Event. Sponsored by the Clean Air Campaign, the BETTR program and local companies, this is a collection opportunity for our community to recycle computers, monitors, large office equipment, printers, cell phones, keyboards, mice, ink/toner cartridges, software, TVs and VCRs. Collection will be at the Briargate Wal-Mart, 8250 Razorback Road, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Volunteers needed. No microwaves accepted. For more information, call Steve Blanchard at 633-4343, Ext. 204, or click the BETTR link at

Sunday, April 27: Earth Day Hike, Squirrel Creek Loop, Mountain Park Environmental Center, 9161 Mountain Park Road, Beulah. Cost is $3; hike begins at 10 a.m. Call 719/485-4444 to register.

Thursday, May 1: "Dam Law and Damn Dam: Politics, Water Waste and Ecological Change at Glen Canyon Dam," a lecture by F.R. Pamp, executive director of Glen Canyon Institute on the history of the dam, the legal structure governing its operations, environmental and other costs of building and maintaining the dam, and the case for decommissioning it. 7:30 p.m., Bemis Great Hall, The Colorado College.

Saturday, May 10: "Herbal Thymes," the first annual herb festival of the Pikes Peak Herb Association with 30 booths, crafts, food, herbal products, demonstrations and speakers, First Congregational Church, 20 East St. Vrain at Tejon Street. Activities are both outside and inside, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. rain or shine. Contact: Steffany Neuschaefer, 719/495-4367 or email: or>

Saturday and Sunday, May 10 and 11: Desert Canyon Farm, a certified organic farm in Cañon City will hold a Spring Farm Festival and Open House, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Plant sale will include herbs, ethnic and heirloom vegetables, xeric perennials, strawberry plants and containers. Free plant workshops, garden crafts, books and strolls in the garden. Located at 1270 Field Ave., Cañon City; call 719/275-0651. No pets allowed.

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