Wildlife populations reduced by 58%

The news this week: the Living Planet assessment, by the Zoological Society of London reports that “global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% since 1970.” Worse, if current trends continue, by 2020, vertebrate species may decline by two-thirds.

The report hit the media just as I was putting the finishing touches on a presentation for Montana State’s Wonderlust program, New Zealand: Paradox in Paradise, drawing parallels between New Zealand’s loss of native species and global declines in wildlife populations. In New Zealand, the country’s native vertebrate populations have been reduced by half over 800 years of settlement by Māori and Europeans. The decline is due to a combination of habitat loss, human exploitation, and invasive non-native species. This seems an incredibly high rate of loss, and frightening to think that humans could do such damage over a few centuries.

Only to read humans have done such damage across the globe over just a few decades. And primarily for the same reasons: habitat loss, human exploitation, and invasive non-native species.

A weka, one of New Zealand's native flightless birds

A weka, one of New Zealand’s native flightless birds

New Zealand is tackling its problems in many ways, with restoration and preservation programs in force. In an effort to halt the devastating impacts of introduced predators on native bird species the government has even proclaimed that the country will be predator free by 2050, completely rid of rats, possums, and stoats and hopefully ferrets, weasels, and even mice. These introduced predators kill an estimated 25 million native birds a year and have an annual 3.3 billion NZ dollar impact on the economy.

New Zealand’s efforts might make a difference, but it’s a small country with one presiding government. If it struggles to turn around wildlife decline, what can be done on a global scale?

Really, what I want to write, talk, think about is the beauty of the natural world, the inspiring places I’ve lived and traveled in, the wildlife that have graced my days, landscapes I’ve immersed in that are so rich with life. But I cannot turn my back on this, the latest news on the horrific decline in the world’s non-human inhabitants. And so I write about the loss, in hopes that it might spark some awareness. Even a small bit. So that generations to come might have the chance to write, talk, think, engage with the beauty of the natural world that is fading away due to human action even as I type out these words.

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Science and Spirituality

IMG_0103I recently applied for  the Think, Write, Publish: Science and Religion writing Fellowship out of Arizona State University. The program is looking for proposals for creative nonfiction narratives, including stories from “everyday people seeking to explore or reconcile their own spiritual and scientific beliefs.” That is me. Working on the application, I realized that here, on this website, I have side-stepped my own spirituality. I’ve put forth a public face more focused on ecology, humanities, and the relationship between nature and culture. The result is more academic than spiritual, when in reality, my worldview is quite spiritual. Why have I done this?

Maybe it’s because at one point I worked as an ecologist in an environment that had no room for spirituality. I still am an ecologist, though it is not my career (I call myself a naturalist because that term has more fluid boundaries than ecologist). So, although I am and always have been deeply spiritual, I tend to cloak that most of the time, for fear that my beliefs and experiences will be disparaged in a secular world that isn’t always open to other ways of knowing.

I see changes in the scientific realm, openings that allow for ideas with roots beyond science, be that indigenous traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), or current explorations of the compatibility between Buddhism and Science. But, still, I stepped away from science. And I never held to one faith. I think the reason for those choices is the same: the institutions I encountered in both academic sciences and formal Religion were exclusive and closed, not open to merged ways of thinking. I believe that is a cultural construction – that science and spirituality are not only compatible, but when joined together, they foster a much richer and more meaningful way of life. So here I sit, freelancing, where I can foster that life in a beautiful way.

If I had to put a label on my spirituality, it would be Pantheism as defined by S.A. Russell in Standing in the Light: “Pantheism is the belief that the universe, with all its existing laws and properties, is an interconnected whole that we can rightly consider sacred” – which allows for both scientific and spiritual ways of thinking. So I am always living with a scientific curiousity and a sense of the sacred, intimately bound together, finding beauty in both the physical and spiritual realms in my surrounds.

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“May the Great Sun dazzle your eyes by day and the Great Bear watch over you by night.” Edward Abbey

On a recent ski out back, I crossed paths with a bear, at least his tracks. Steady, unswerving, the bear tracks traversed the snow-covered meadow. They were old prints, just gray-shaded divots in the brilliant white snow, the pigeon-toed, wide-straddled gait suggesting he was a big ol’ griz. The tracks disappeared into the thick of the woods, just where he had emerged the spring before. The grizzly was following his seasonal rhythm, moving into his den, headed into hibernation for another year.

The meadow was still, no wind, with the quiet of an early winter day, vibrant life withdrawing as fall passed into memory. Standing by the path of the bear’s annual retreat, standing within that meadow’s stillness, I gave thanks to be present just there, just then. In a year of global turmoil, sorrow, chaos, and doubt, I felt blessed to be with the natural rhythms that endure.

Now, as even more ancient rhythms turn the seasons, I hope that we, the human species, will move into the future with wisdom and grace, acting in such a way as to allow the natural rhythms of the earth and all of its life – butterfly to grizzly to human and more – to continue, with peace and joyful existence for all. And that you, as light grows in our days, will also find peace and a moment of quiet gratitude, perhaps in the presence of some non-human who has come to grace your days.



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