Helping Wildlife Survive the Sixth Mass Extinction

Preserving Critical Habitats Will Help More Wildlife Survive

This morning, an article by Andrew Suggitt (How wildlife will keep cool. . . .) made me think again about refugia. Earlier, I concluded that unlike ice ages, global warming would leave no refugia in which pockets of wildlife would survive. I was picturing a pervasive atmospheric impact instead of a discontinuous physical impact by tongues of glacial ice. I was wrong. The best habitats for wildlife, the ones along streams, in deep shaded canyons, and those in areas of diverse topography will sustain more wildlife as climate changes. Preserving those habitats is an essential goal for wildlife conservation.

Rick Turley. Approaching Wind River Canyon.

Unfortunately, the best habitats for wildlife are the most desirable for humans. Worldwide, farming and home construction have destroyed the richest valley-floor habitats, and roads have filled the floors of canyons and narrow valleys. In the arid region where I live, livestock graze along rare desert streams and around lakes and marshes.

Preserving critical habitats is not a new idea. Conservation organizations have programs that identify and urge protection of important habitats. The National Audubon Society, for instance, has initiated the Climate Strongholds program that focuses on the needs of individual species. The program has strong citizen-scientist opportunities for participation. Read about it here.

Most wildlife species will be lost over the next few decades and centuries, but it will be possible to prevent some of the losses through preservation of critical habitats. As changing weather patterns force governments to respond to the climate emergency, nature conservation advocates must work hard to explain the critical role nature plays in human survival and to convince governments to protect the best wildlife habitats.

Half for Nature

Current climate projections suggest that global carrying capacity will drastically decline over the next few centuries. Human civilization as we know and imagine it now will not survive. Once the Earth’s energy budget stabilizes, people can begin to rebuild cities and networks and evolution can begin to rebuild natural plant and animal diversity. It no longer seems logical to advocate Half for Nature. There will be no half that could sustain the natural communities and diversity we have now. “Half” was never a practical goal anyway. In this blog post, I’ve advocated for the “Best” for nature. I hope that is a practical goal. There could be masses of people jammed into cool mountain canyons, but it could be trees and animals instead.

The Time is Growing Short

GR:  An article from last June should be on everyone’s mind now. Here’s my discussion followed by a link to the article.

A group of scientists analyzed the sources of CO2 and the dynamic relationship between the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere and global temperature to devise a global carbon budget they could use to assess the effect of timing of changes in CO2 emissions. The analysis enabled them to calculate the changes we must make to preserve a livable climate. You’ll have to read the article to see the individual sources of CO2 that must be adjusted. I wanted to mention the timing for the budget. The analysis shows that if CO2 emissions begin to fall immediately and reach zero in 30 years, we will remain within the global warming limits set by the Paris treaty. After the flat emissions of 2014, 2015, and 2016, the authors believed that the fall in emissions was ready to begin. This is good, because their budget shows that if we wait to 2020 to start tapering off CO2 production, we only get 20 years to reach zero emissions. If we wait to 2025, we get less than 10 years to reach zero. Transforming our energy use that quickly would be impossible.

SO, how are we doing. Six months after the analysis was published, we find that 2017 emissions have gone up, not down. Lot’s of positive changes have begun, but we have to wait to see what happens in 2018. If we begin to taper off CO2 emissions by 2020, we will have 20 years to reach zero emissions. I suggest you take a look at the six milestones the authors believe must be reached by 2020. Then you can monitor the world’s progress toward painful climate change (the Paris treaty) or disastrous climate change (with too many storms, fires, heat waves, and rising seas).

Now, let me finish by saying that climate change is just one of the approaching disasters. Human population and its impact is growing, wildlife species are going extinct at incredible rates, freshwater supplies are dropping, and toxic wastes are building up. If we can’t do more than take our CO2 emissions to zero over the next 20-30 years, most of the diversity and beauty of life on Earth will disappear.

Christiana Figueres and colleagues set out a six-point plan for turning the tide of the world’s carbon dioxide by 2020.

Behind New Zealand’s wild plan to purge all pests

Invasive Species

GR:  After 1500 AD, sailing ships and then later on, motor-powered ships began transporting and introducing plant and animal species all over the globe. Freed from the predators and diseases of their homes, some of the introduced species became invasive–that is, they began spreading, replacing native species, and decreasing ecosystem stability and productive. This is not news, of course, biologists have long been aware of the devastation caused by invasive species.

Eradicating invasive species is very expensive and very difficult. National resolve and full public support are required. Eradication is something that we humans, who are responsible for spreading the invasive species, should be about everywhere.

However, it is essential to place greater focus preventing the initial introduction of non-native species. Prevention is cheaper and kinder than eradication. And again, prevention is not a new idea. Natural resource managers have known how to prevent invasions for the past century. In many instances, they just don’t take the necessary steps. Here are some articles on invasive plants.

New Zealand has one of the worst invasive plant and animal problems in the world. The article below describes an ambitious and necessary plan to do something about it.

New Zealand Eradication Plan

New Zealand has three invasive species of rat. The Pacific rat, or kiore (Rattus exulans), was introduced from Polynesia in about the twelfth century; the ship rat (Rattus rattus) arrived in the late 1700s; and the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) became established in the 1860s. All three prey on native birds, insects and lizards, and have been blamed for the decline or extinction of a variety of species.

“Razza the rat nearly ended James Russell’s scientific career. Twelve years ago, as an ecology graduate student, Russell was releasing radio-collared rats on to small islands off the coast of New Zealand to study how the creatures take hold and become invasive. Despite his sworn assurances that released animals would be well monitored and quickly removed, one rat, Razza, evaded capture and swam to a nearby island.

“For 18 weeks, Russell hunted the animal. Frustrated and embarrassed, he fretted about how the disaster would affect his PhD. “I felt rather morose about the prospects for my dissertation,” he says.

“Although there was a lot of literature on controlling large rat populations, little had been written about tracking and killing a single rodent, which turns out to be rather important in efforts to completely eradicate a species. “It demonstrated how hard it is to catch that very first rat as it arrives on an island — or, conversely, the very last rat that you’re trying to get off,” says Russell, now at the University of Auckland.

Brushtail possums are among the numerous invasive pests regularly culled in New Zealand.

“Razza’s escape became the subject of a paper in Nature1 as well as a popular children’s book. And now, with more than a decade of successful pest-eradication projects behind him, Russell is taking on a much bigger challenge. He is coordinating research and development for a programme that the government announced last July to eliminate all invasive vertebrate predators — rats, brushtail possums, stoats and more — from New Zealand by 2050 to protect the country’s rare endemic species.” –Brian Owens (Continue reading:  Behind New Zealand’s wild plan to purge all pests : Nature News & Comment)

Living Planet Report 2016

GR:  The Living Planet Index, which measures abundance levels of 14,152 monitored populations of 3,706 vertebrate species, continues to show a downward trend. On average, monitored species declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012.  The report ties the decline to humans and human population growth.  Authors of the report struggle to find optimism to share, but they do not directly deal with population. Unless we begin to cut our population, the continuing loss of wildlife is inevitable.

“The Living Planet Report documents the state of the planet—including biodiversity, ecosystems, and demand on natural resources—and what it means for humans and wildlife. Published by WWF every two years, the report brings together a variety of research to provide a comprehensive view of the health of the earth.

“What’s the status of some animal populations?

“Populations of vertebrate animals—such as mammals, birds, and fish—have declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012. And we’re seeing the largest drop in freshwater species: on average, there’s been a whopping 81% decline in that time period.

“- 38 % The terrestrial LPI shows that populations have declined by thirty-eight percent overall between 1970 and 2012.

“- 81 % The freshwater LPI shows that on average the abundance of populations monitored in the freshwater system has declined by eighty-one percent between 1970 and 2012.

“- 36 % The marine LPI shows a thirty-six percent overall decline between 1970 and 2012.

“This loss of wildlife is startling, and people are at risk, too. Without action, the Earth will become much less hospitable for all of us. We must consider our impact on nature as we make development, economic, business, and lifestyle choices. A shared understanding of the link between humanity and nature is essential to making profound changes that will allow all life to thrive for generations to come.” — Living Planet Report 2016 | Pages | WWF