The Future of Point Reyes

by Laura Alice Watt, author of The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore

Today is the 54th anniversary of the establishment of the Point Reyes National Seashore, a much-beloved destination for people around the Bay Area and far beyond. Over the years I have been researching the peninsula’s landscape history, many people have asked, why are there still ranches in the park? Classic national parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone do not contain active agriculture, so indeed the presence of dairy cows and beef cattle adjacent to Point Reyes’ beaches must seem puzzling to some.

9780520277083Yet these historic agricultural families have remained in place for a reason, as my forthcoming book The Paradox of Preservation explores in depth. For over a century before it became a national seashore, Point Reyes was famous for its agriculture. Starting in the 1850s, renowned dairy and beef ranches were established on privately-owned property across the peninsula. In the late 1950s, the area was first proposed as a Seashore, aimed at providing recreation opportunities close to the metropolitan Bay Area—but even in the earliest discussions, a key concern was the possible effects of establishing a park on the local agricultural economy. As early as 1958, in a letter to Senator Clair Engle (one of the initial sponsors of the legislation), then-president of Marin Conservation League Caroline Livermore wrote: “As true conservationists we want to preserve dairying in this area and will do what we can to promote the health of this industry which is so valuable to the economic and material well being of our people and which adds to the pastoral scene adjacent to the proposed recreation project.” Throughout two years of Congressional hearings, no one testified at any time in favor of shutting down existing ranching, dairying, or oystering operations. Instead, the 1962 legislation reflected a strong commitment to retaining and sustaining existing agricultural uses, as they served the public values that the new national seashore was created to protect.

The continuing presence of cattle ranches on Point Reyes’ rolling grasslands offers a vision of how working landscapes—places characterized by “an intricate combination of cultivation and natural habitat,” shaped by the work and lives of many individuals over generations, maintaining a distinct character yet responding to the changing needs of its residents—should be recognized as part of both natural and cultural heritage worth protecting. The U.S. national park system contains areas that primarily aim to preserve natural scenery as well as those that primarily preserve history and cultural heritage; Point Reyes offers the suggestive possibility of protecting all types of heritage resources together, as a landscape whole and including the resident users’ input in management, rather than separately. I hope you will join me in celebrating the Seashore’s anniversary on the 13th, in hopes of many more years of public enjoyment of this unique and inspiring model of land protection and stewardship.


Laura Alice Watt is Professor of Environmental History and Policy at Sonoma State University.


Natural History and National Wildlife Day

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 5.15.51 PMIn celebration of #NationalWildlifeDay, enjoy free access to select articles from Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, today through September 18.

Seeing Jaws: The Role of Shark Science in Ocean Conservation
Jennifer A. Martin (Vol. 46, No. 1, February 2016)
Think Shark Week put sharks on the map? Think again. Few scientists played a greater role in constructing how Americans envisioned sharks than marine biologist Perry W. Gilbert.

Paul Errington, Aldo Leopold, and Wildlife Ecology: Residential Science
Robert E. Kohler (Vol. 41, No. 2, Spring 2011)
Place shapes field science: not just the place where research is carried on, but the places where investigators have been in their mobile careers.

Endangered Science: The Regulation of Research by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species Acts
Etienne Benson (Vol. 42, No. 1, February 2012)
The Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act have been cornerstones of federal wildlife conservation policy in the United States since their enactment in the early 1970s. Although there was relatively little controversy over the need for or nature of these permit procedures during the debates leading up to the enactment of the laws, they became the source of concern on the part of many zoologists, biologists, and ecologists as soon as federal agencies began to implement them.

The Business of Natural History: Charles Aiken, Colorado Ornithology, and the Role of the Professional Collector
Steve Ruskin (Vol. 45, No. 3, June 2015)
Charles Aiken was a Colorado ornithologist and specimen dealer whose career spanned almost sixty years, roughly 1870–1930. He was an entrepreneurial naturalist who operated a long-running commercial natural history dealership in Colorado Springs, which enabled him to pursue his passion for birds and make important contributions to American ornithology.


National Wildlife Day and the Meaning of “Wildlife”

by Harry W. Greene, author of Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art

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Tracks and Shadows moves beyond childhood fascination with snakes, academics, and becoming a hunter, to explore our roles as participants in nature, not just spectators. These perspectives led me in a recent Mind and Nature essay to define “wildness” in terms of ecological and evolutionary processes, including big herbivores and predators that enable them, rather than minimal human influence per se. “Wildlife” could thus refer to organisms molded by those forces, even when we’re part of the mix.

Let’s illuminate that last point with three examples—provided here as natural history koans, challenges to traditional presumptions.

9780520292659My first wild predatory mammal was a Gray Fox, high in a Texas oak, and many years later, while visiting Santa Barbara’s Museum of Natural History, I marveled over specimens of the closely related Channel Island Fox. With fewer tail vertebrae and two-thirds the mass of mainland animals, its taxonomic description in 1857 has never been controversial. Now, though, thanks to archaeology and genomics, we know California’s only endemic carnivore diverged less than ten thousand years ago from Gray Foxes. Most intriguingly, Native Americans, who used the little canids for ritual burials, clothing, and rodent control, facilitated their overwater dispersal, possibly even their origin as a species.

Second, Columbus’s ships brought Iberian cattle to Florida and the Southwest, where after half a millennium of mostly natural selection, they’ve diversified into Cracker Cattle, which thrive in subtropical habitats, and arid-adapted Longhorns. Having observed both breeds, I’m enthralled by their behavior, so unlike that of other livestock. Longhorns maintain social hierarchies by sparring with namesake weaponry and require no help calving. Predators don’t take their offspring. Bulls attend to herd dynamics, breaking up squabbles and chasing younger males away from estrous cows. During a recent drought, they ate cactus and marched miles uphill for scummy pond water, so no wonder nineteenth century Kiowa viewed them as power symbols, as they did Bison.

Finally, during decades out West I’ve seen countless Coyotes, yet was astonished a few winters ago by one on a path through my suburban New York backyard. Turns out, that huge female (she squatted to pee) is the new normal. By the mid-1900s Wolves were almost eradicated from the eastern U.S., thence permitting range expansion by her kin—who’ve hybridized along their northern boundary with the larger Wolves, as well as perhaps been selected for bigger bodies by preying on deer, themselves super-abundant thanks to anthropogenic landscape changes.

Island Foxes, Longhorns, and eastern Coyotes, all immigrants affected by local ecological and evolutionary processes—but how should we regard these now-native lineages, their characteristics shaped, intentionally or otherwise, by humans? If more than five thousand years of differentiated existence confers “wild” status on foxes, what about five hundred for cattle and fifty for invasive canids? Meanwhile, I’m richer thanks to those magnificent ruminants and our sleek backyard visitor, hope to someday see California’s five-pound predators in their insular haunts.


Harry W. Greene is the Stephen Weiss Presidential Fellow and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and a recipient of the E.O. Wilson Award from the American Society of Naturalists. His book Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature (UC Press), won a PEN Literary Award and was a New York Times Notable Book.


Understanding Yellowstone

by James E. Meacham, co-editor of Atlas of Yellowstone

9780520271555Understanding a place as complex and as important as Yellowstone is a daunting task. As an atlas cartographer, compelling maps combined with imagery and words are my tools to helping tell Yellowstone’s complicated story. The geographic perspective is the cartographer’s lens to interpret the deep and broad knowledge on Yellowstone that has been collected and analyzed since before the National Park was established in 1872. The goal of creating the Atlas of Yellowstone was to unify that wealth of knowledge and make it accessible. John Varley, a retired career Yellowstone scientist, refers to the Atlas of Yellowstone as a “… synthesis equally useful to the public and scientists alike.” Over the ten years I worked with my co-authors, colleagues, and students in the production of the Atlas of Yellowstone, and we synthesized the knowledge and stories contributed by dozens of scientists, historians, ethnographers, and park managers, that have invested their careers and their hearts in this place that is held ecologically and culturally sacred by so many.

Yellowstone is of course more than what can be scientifically measured, there is a spirit there that artists and poets have been working to capture since it became known to the broader world through the works of painter Thomas Moran, and photographer William Henry Jackson of the Hayden Expedition of 1871 that helped persuade President U. S. Grant and Congress to establish Yellowstone as the first national park. Historical Geographer, Judith Meyer, writes “…the Park houses a genus loci or spirit of place: an infectious, irresistible force that stirs something within so many of us”. Through my decade long experience of collaboratively mapping the greater Yellowstone, I saw in myself a gradual and profound change in my relationship with Yellowstone as a place. Yellowstone evolved beyond being a remarkable place of study, to a place of refuge and connection.


James E. Meacham is Senior Research Associate and Executive Director of InfoGraphics Lab in the Department of Geography at the University of Oregon. He is the Cartographic Editor of the Atlas of Yellowstone (UC Press, 2012). His current project is working on the Atlas of Wildlife Migration: Wyoming’s Ungulates.


California Amphibian and Reptile Species of Special Concern

by Robert Thomson, co-author of California Amphibian and Reptile Species of Special Concern

This guest post is published to coincide with the Ecological Society of America conference in Fort Lauderdale. Check back every day this week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 12th.

9780520290907Many writers have noted the decline of natural history focused research over the last century with dismay. Natural history research is fundamental to many areas of biological science, and so this decline has the consequence of starving large branches of work of the very data that they depend upon. One area where we see this most clearly is in conservation biology. In the face of increasing rates of conservation concern, the need for basic natural history data on the types, causes and severity of conservation threats is growing. This point was clearly driven home for my co-authors and I in our recent synthesis of conservation threats for California’s amphibians and reptiles, where time and again we found that the data we would like to have does not exist. In followup work, we are quantifying what fraction of suspected conservation threats for California’s herpetofauna have any underlying data at all (in the form of surveys or experiments). The answer, so far, appears to be something less than half. While this is not a number that any stakeholder wants to see, it also highlights what needs to be done. Quite simply: we need to re-prioritize natural history.

The good news is that this kind of data can be inexpensive and conceptually simple to collect; which makes it the ideal subject of side projects for academics, conservation managers, or citizen scientists. Do you have a favorite hike or park that you visit regularly? Take five minutes to record weather and vegetation, then count what species you see, and record it in field notes. While very simple, this is valuable (and rare) information for a large number of species, particularly when it can be aggregated among people across time or space. The key is that the data must be shared with others. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to submit it to one of many excellent data portals: ebird.org (for birds), naherp.com (for amphibians and reptiles), or iNaturalist.org (for virtually everything else). Alternatively, get in touch with your local natural history museum, university, or conservation organization for advice.


Robert C. Thomson is Assistant Professor of Biology in the Department of Biology at the University of Hawai‘i.


Reintroduction of Fish and Wildlife Populations

by David S. Jachowski, co-editor of Reintroduction of Fish and Wildlife Populations

This guest post is published to coincide with the Ecological Society of America conference in Fort Lauderdale. Check back every day this week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 12th.

9780520284616To an ecologist, a summer family trip to Yellowstone National Park isn’t just geysers, campfires and pretty snapshots. We drive around idyllic Yellowstone Lake and think of invasive lake trout just under the surface driving down native trout populations. We see wolves and instantly start to mull over their hypothesized role as drivers of trophic cascades.

Indeed present day ecology is rife with jargon as humans attempt to conserve and restore ecosystems. Terms like trophic cascades, de-extinction, rewilding, novel ecosystems, assisted migration, and assisted colonization are part of the new vanguard of ecological debate due in large part to our increasingly well-developed ability to restore animals back to the landscapes from which they have been extirpated.

Reintroduction itself is a deceptively simple concept made complex because over a century of quasi-experiments have shown us that success means not only dealing with the original threat, but assessing the broader landscape (social, political and environmental) that a targeted species must deal with. A landscape that ecology tells is in a constant state of flux, and likely increasingly different as we dive deeper and deeper into the Anthropocene.

In response to this challenge, we have moved far beyond dropping beavers from airplanes to developing an entire interdisciplinary science called reintroduction biology. Gone are the days where ecologists can claim ignorance or detachment from the debates and practices surrounding novel ecosystems, de-extinction, and otherwise complex restoration landscapes. The science now exists, and it is the responsibility of this generation to access and utilize this knowledge to both enhance and chart the course for these emerging frontiers around the globe.


David S. Jachowski is Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University and author of Wild Again: The Struggle to Save the Black-Footed Ferret (UC Press). His scientific work focuses on using a combination of field monitoring, laboratory techniques, and statistical methods to assist in the conservation and restoration of wildlife populations.


Science and Sensibility: Negotiating an Ecology of Place

by Michael Vincent McGinnis, author of Science and Sensibility: Negotiating and Ecology of Place

This guest post is published to coincide with the Ecological Society of America conference in Fort Lauderdale. Check back every day this week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 12th.

9780520285200Eduardo Viveiros de Castro writes, “Ecology is nothing but this: the evaluation of place.” As ecologists, we often spend a lifetime evaluating the impacts human beings have on ecosystems. Each generation of ecologists has less “nature” to draw from and observe. So as ecosystems decline, we witness a natural world receding like a mirage in the Arizona desert. The rivers of the Pacific Northwest were once full of wild salmon. Now ghosts of that abundant salmon remain. Tropical islands in the South Pacific are also slowly fading away as the sea level rises. The songs of marine life are also growing more silent as the diversity of the planet is diminished from global climate change. Watersheds are converted to wastesheds that shed human pollution. Local communities are suffering from globalization and the loss of ecosystem services. As the ecosystems we study are degraded, we are often left with a profound sense of suffering and loss that runs much deeper than an analysis of scientific information or raw data that shows the decline of a species or habitat. We may also witness the decline of the human community that fails to adapt to the loss of ecosystem health. The decline of peoples and places goes hand in hand. As we evaluate place, we begin to recognize our own destiny is connected to the protection of the places we inhabit.

In Science and Sensibility: Negotiating an Ecology of Place, I invoke the power of place to protect ecosystems and the people who depend on these systems. I am a product of the landscape and seascape I inhabit. The book draws from twenty years of experience in research and professional work that focuses on the importance of cultivating a science and a sensibility of place and one’s region. It offers a range of case studies—watersheds, river basins, offshore energy development, aquaculture, shipping, restoration ecology, marine protection, among others—that show that while scientific knowledge helps humans address complex problems, cultivating a renewed sense of place and increasing sustainability in our communities and larger ecosystems is essential to the challenges we face today.


Michael Vincent McGinnis is Associate Professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. He is the editor of Bioregionalism and is the author of Marine Governance: The New Zealand Experience.


Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art

by Harry W. Greene, author of Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art

This guest post is published to coincide with the Ecological Society of America conference in Fort Lauderdale. Check back every day this week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 12th.

9780520292659I conceived of Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art in the 1980s, while awaiting tenure at Berkeley, then realized that art, let alone life and death, were beyond my youthful grasp. Three decades later it pushed past teenage nerdiness, past five years as a medic, even beyond fascination with snakes. Now, after four decades of teaching, nature-loving creds secure, I’m above all curious about humans as spectators of, versus participants in, wildness. And as explained in my little memoir, time on a Texas ranch, home to about two hundred vertebrate species, has been pivotal. Out on the Double Helix, I’m born again as a deer and feral pig predator, all the while observing Longhorns, cattle shaped by half a millennium of selection in that semiarid landscape.

Countless pages have parsed “wilderness” and “wildness,” from postmodernist claims of Western conceit to Wilderness Act definitions and declarations of inherent values. In brief, nature-lovers often conceptualize wilderness as untrammeled (“leave only footprints, take only pictures”), wild places and creatures as uncontrolled by us (“self-willed”). These formulations risk veering into nonsense and elitism, but more problematically, even as we bemoan disjunction from nature—Friends of the Earth’s motto was once “not man apart”—our reigning notions of wildness minimize human involvement.

Instead, as I argued in a recent Mind and Nature essay, the key ingredients of wildness should be organisms that have historically shaped ecosystem function, especially large herbivores and predators.

By situating us as spectators rather than participants, “untrammeled” ignores that ecology signifies, rather than “loving nature,” influential, multi-directional relationships among organisms, including us. By precluding significant roles for humans, “no-control” plays into denial that we are part of nature—packaging hides from us the origin of meat, bears still shit in the woods but we shouldn’t, and so forth. Moreover, big and dangerous organisms remind us that wildness means participating in predator-prey relationships, nutrient cycling, and other ecosystem processes. Wild thus implies being responsibly more part of nature rather than less, engaged in ecological relationships instead of just pondering them—seeing where food comes from and waste goes, acknowledging, at least from the sidelines, a risk of our own demise from predation.

As for more personal rewards, I’m healthier, more attentive, and immeasurably happier for time spent outdoors, especially when I’m more participant than spectator. Wild places, especially those with big herbivores and predators, have humbled me in the face of grandeur and shrunk my selfish concerns to manageable size. Their inhabitants have drawn me into other worlds, thereby enlarging my own.


Harry W. Greene is the Stephen Weiss Presidential Fellow and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and a recipient of the E.O. Wilson Award from the American Society of Naturalists. His book Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature (UC Press), won a PEN Literary Award and was a New York Times Notable Book.


Using Soccer to Show Connections across Space, Time, and Nature

by Leidy Klotz, author of Sustainability through Soccer: An Unexpected Approach to Saving Our World

This guest post is published to coincide with the Ecological Society of America conference in Fort Lauderdale. Check back every day this week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 12th.

9780520287815Global connections is the core idea of my book: Sustainability through Soccer: An Unexpected Approach to Saving Our World. I make connections across nature a running theme, for example in the true story about how a volcano in Iceland prevented Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona from winning three straight Champions Leagues. I also use soccer to describe connections across space, by comparing a jheri-curled Colombian goalkeeper to the nine-dots brain teaser – and across time, by describing the Iroquois’ seven generations principle and the need for rest in between soccer games.

Why use soccer? Because soccer is played and watched in every corner of the world and therefore affects our lives more than any other sport. It was soccer that the philosopher Albert Camus gave credit for “all that I know most surely about morality and obligations.” What’s more, just like ecology, soccer requires a systems view. It is a holistic sport where a slight change in one play will shape what follows in unexpected and dramatic ways. As in Nature, all of the moves and plays in a soccer game are intricately woven together in a web of interdependence.

I hope that learning about sustainable systems and connections through soccer is more fun and therefore more memorable than learning via tired analogies to made-up water reservoirs. Plus, real-world interdependencies, not just analogies, connect the soccer system and the systems we hope to sustain; it’s just that these connections are not usually obvious. So, by discovering such connections between soccer and sustainability, we can sharpen our ability to find them elsewhere.


Leidy Klotz is Associate Professor of Engineering at Clemson University. Less than a decade into his academic career, he has been awarded a prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation and named to NerdScholar’s inaugural list of “40 under 40: Professors Who Inspire” for his ability to captivate and engage students. Before becoming a professor, he was a professional soccer player.


Serendipity: An Ecologist’s Quest to Understand Nature

by James A. Estes, author of Serendipity: An Ecologist’s Quest to Understand Nature

This guest post is published to coincide with the Ecological Society of America conference in Fort Lauderdale. Check back every day this week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 12th.

9780520285033 (3)Ecology is commonly defined as the study of the distribution and abundance of species. At any place on our planet, at any time over the history of life on earth, at all scales of space and time—this is ultimately what ecologists strive to understand. And how do they do that? Ask any number of ecologists and you will likely be surprised by the diversity of answers.

The history of ecology is punctuated by revolutions, some large and some small. Perhaps the first major revolution in thinking was Sir Arthur Tansley’s notion of the ecosystem, defined as the interacting milieu of living and abiotic nature. Tansley’s conceptualization morphed into what is often referred to as “ecosystem ecology”, a view of nature based on the flux of energy and materials through ecosystems. That view in turn grew into a widely embraced belief that the distribution and abundance of species was ruled by competition, in turn was challenged in the 1960s with an alternative—that predation is often an important driver for the distribution and abundance of species, and that some species are vastly more important in this regard than are others. Where in all this does the truth lie? And just how do we discover those truths for particular ecosystems, and for nature writ large?

Serendipity is an exploration of these fundamental issues and questions through a lifetime of research on one particular species (the sea otter) and its associated ecosystem (coastal kelp forests of the North Pacific Ocean). My purpose in writing the book was three-fold. The first was to use the research my students, colleagues, and I have done over the past half century to illustrate various ecological concepts, especially the notion of how the influences of a single species (the sea otter in this case) can spread through an entire ecosystem. The second was to provide an account of how the science was actually done. And my last reason for writing Serendipity was to recount the more personal dimensions to my life’s journey—the thrill of adventure, the excitement of discovery, and the despair that inevitably accompanies these high points from the bumps along the way.


James A. Estes is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University of California, Santa Cruz. He was coeditor of Trophic Cascades: Predators, Prey, and the Changing Dynamics of Nature and of The Community Ecology of Sea Otters, and senior editor of Whales, Whaling, and Ocean Ecosystems (UC Press). He is a recently elected member of the National Academy of Sciences.