Re: [CALBIRDS] habitat politics
- I think it's important to keep in mind what these fires mean in real terms.
Even people on this list have lamented the "loss" of treasured birding
sites. These sites have not been lost; they've been altered temporarily.
Granted, they will not return to pre-fire conditions in our lifetimes, but
this is all part of a natural process. Don't we all get excited by seeing
new birds in old places? These burn areas will be chock-full of new birds
for years to come. Dick Hutto at Montana is convinced that even
"catastrophic" fires are an essential part of most forest ecosystems; his
studies show higher abundance and diversity in post-burn sites and some
species are almost obligate burn specialists.
It's much harder to garner public support for shrub and grassland habitats
than treed ones. Apparently, even birders have fallen into this trap.
While the loss of human life and property is lamentable, these fires are an
ecological disaster ONLY if they provide fuel for developers.
----- Original Message -----
To: <email@example.com>; <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Thursday, October 30, 2003 10:00 AM
Subject: [CALBIRDS] habitat politics
> Even before the fires of Southern California fall to natural control by
> and rain, already we have political precipitation from those who would
> blame everything on the conservation community. Please see link below to
> article posted today by "the weekly Standard," by a "contributing editor,"
> Hugh Hewitt, who casually mentions that "as a lawyer representing
> landowners," in the past he was angered and frustrated by agencies
attempting to put a
> rein on development at the cost of some habitat and species preservation.
> Don't worry. You have only begun to hear this sort of critique, at all
> levels ascending to the halls of Congress. Be prepared!
> Alan Birnbaum
> Fresno, CA
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- As an ecological anthropologist (someone who studies the interactive
effects of socio-cultural and environmental processes), I'd say it's not so
simple as birders who refuse to accept variation or change vs. natural
systems that thrive on or even demand them. Periodic fires may be an
historical part of these ecological systems--even a necessity for some
species to reproduce--but the intensity of some of these fires, stoked by
decades of deliberate fire suppression, far exceed the parameters under
which these systems evolved or to which member communities
adapted. Quantitative changes can become qualitative ones, and this might
not be the first time that humans in N. America added the extra little push
that sent whole ecosystems right over the edge.
Some pre-historians and paleo-ecologists hypothesize, for example, that
aboriginal hunters at the end of the last ice age created just enough
additional pressures to push the already stressed N. American megafauna
right off the map, taking lots of other animals and plants with them. Not
the least interesting of these to birders would have been Teratornis
merriami, a giant condor of possibly 12-foot wingspan (as suggested by
specimens recovered from the La Brea tarpits), which could well have been
the N. American Indians "Thunderbird." Again, global warming would have
been the background stressor to which human ingenuity added an extra oomph.
That's for long term changes: simply put, there's little to guarantee that
severely overstressed systems will return to anything like their historic
parameters, no matter how many generations of birders wait them
out. Long-term stressors are compounded by short-term ones as
well. Humans have "de-natured," i.e., deforested, appropriated limited
water supplies, paved so much of these environments, that there are limited
refuges to which burned out species can retire to rebuild their populations
or wait out the re-building of their food sources. Because of their
mobility, many birds may have an easier time of reaching refuge than less
mobile species, still. If enough links in the web are permanently broken
or fundamentally altered, there's no telling what ecological communities
will eventually repopulate the burns.
Life is remarkably tenacious. Something will survive/return. The north
face of Mount St Helens is literally "living proof" of that. But
what? Admittedly the redistribution of carbon as a result of even the
worst of the S. California fires doesn't come close to that of the
Triassic-Jurassic Transition, but I doubt there are many dinosaur watchers
out there still holding their breath. Likely any survivors have long since
evolved into birders.
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