6 thoughts on “The Battle for the Soul of Conservation Science

  1. Kieran Suckling

    *My apologies for requesting another correction…the perils of smart phone typing. Please use this version. Thanks.

    The claim that Leopold’s promotion of protecting large ecosystems was ignorant of large-scale disturbance such as fire is entirely incorrect. Leopold in the 1920s was a pioneer of fire science. He was adamant that fire was a critical ecological process. Indeed his call for large ecosystem protection was partially based on ensuring enough space for fire to occur at natural scales. This interest framed his entire life. He died managing a controlled farm burn that got away in 1948.

    This error is not minor. It reflects the articles’ repeated misrepresentations of traditional conservation in order to create false and easily dismissed positions. Kareiva has many times been accused of the same tactic. Indeed, Kareiva’s often ridiculous misrepresentations (cod have recovered, polar bears will benefit from global warming, etc.) are the cause of much of the backlash against him.

    The argument that advocacy for large parks is opposed to or limits interest in small or urban areas is one of the favored myths. Conservation, from its very beginning, has always focused on both the large and small, remote and close by. Frederick Law Olmsted, for example, was central to the creation of Yosemite National Park, but also created Central Park. Leopold created the Gila Wilderness, the world’s first, but also promoted small riparian ribbons within massively converted farmlands. The very first federal endangered species list included grizzly bears and trout, but also tiny, utterly developed habitats for the Comanche Springs pupfish and three-spined stickleback. Soule is an eloquent promoter of big parks and corridors, but is also famous for studying suburban cat predation. My own group has won critical habitat designations for polar bears and lynx measured in the tens of millions of acres, but also for flowers and spiders spanning just ten acres.

    Simply put, there was no point in time ever when conservationists did not value and work on small and developed habitats at the same time they were working in large, intact systems.

    The divide you speak of will not be overcome as long as Kareiva, Marvier, Marris–and yourself keep inventing a false histories in order to make your own positions seem new or path breaking. There can be no peace without truth, no healing without respect.

    Kieran Suckling
    Executive Director
    Center for Biological Diversity

  2. Dave Skinner

    A shame there is not more commentary here, and I must note that one of the biggest Souleans and the most extremist is one of the few who chose to comment.
    One thing that Suckling takes pains to avoid is the fact that fire, as it operated in the ideal era, was hugely influenced by man. The red ones. Natural fire certainly had a role, but the fact is that Indians basically managed the daylights out of the vegetation because it suited their needs for forage crops and tasty animals to hunt. There was also the sociological imperative for fire as a means of reducing possible ambush sites during seasonal transits.
    Bottom line is much of the “natural” fire advocated by the usual suspects is actually historic fire, induced on the landscape through deliberate human choice.

  3. Kieran Suckling

    “This model of stable ecosystems that needed to be guarded against human disturbance”.

    Exactly wrong. And notably lacking in any support data. If you stopped and asked yourself two questions before posting such claims, you’d make fewer mistakes. First: “how is it possible that thousands of PhD scientists, an entire field of science, and tens of thousand of professional land and wildlife managers/advocates made such a ridiculous mistake?” Second: “do I have actual socio-historical data to prove my extraordinary claim?”

    Suppression of disturbance processes such as fire, flooding and storm surge is one of the most profound ways humans degrade ecosystems. Conservationistists have for decades pressed to reintroduce and/or mimic these disturbance. The want to remove dams or change their spill regimes to get seasonal and historic flooding disturbances back into river systems. They want to limit or remove infrastructure that is incompatible with episodic flooding. They want let-burn and prescribed burn policies to get fire disturbances back into forests, grasslands and woodlands. They want smart growth policies that direct houses away from fire-dependent systems because those houses will create pressure to stop fires.

    Industry, development, silviculturalists, for obvious reasons, suppress disturbances because they operate better in a consistent, predictable environment. Google the phrase “regulated forest” and you’ll learn about the timber industry’s 100 year mission to eliminate ecological disturbances which mess up their desire for a regulated, even flow of timber growth and harvest.

    Conservation’s desire to preserve or restore disturbance regimes is also a critical reason it seeks to preserve large parks and connected landscapes. It is very difficult, often impossible, to have large scale disturbance on small land parcels or spaces dominated by vulnerable human infrastructure.

    In short, the history of conservation since the 1930s at least has been strongly on the side of disturbance ecology. Industry and development has been on the side of stability.

  4. Ken Steigman

    Kareira’s notion that there is no net loss of diversity makes no sense when he states that native species are merely being replaced by exotics and that there is only a change is species composition, not diversity. This is the way a “bean counter” would measure diversity, not an ecologist. All species are not equal. When a native species is replaced by an existing exotic species, there is the loss of biodiversity. From the standpoint of functioning ecosystems, the replacement of a species that evolved over hundreds of thousands of years with other co-evolved species, by an exotic species that has little or no structural, or behavioral affinities to the former, instability is created within the system. These exotic species are not newly evolved. It is clear that the pace of evolution cannot keep up with the current pace of extinction, and the current rate of extinction is well documented.


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