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Re: [CALBIRDS] habitat politics

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  • Nathaniel Wander
    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
    Message 1 of 3 , Nov 1 12:25 PM
      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.

      Nathaniel Wander
      San Francisco

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