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.

UC Press to publish OA journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene in 2017

We are extremely excited to follow up on yesterday’s press release on this blog and confirm that as of January 2017 UC Press will be the publisher of the open access journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, which was launched in 2013 and incubated by BioOne.

ElementaAs you can tell from its title, Elementa is committed to publishing research that ultimately leads to scientific solutions to the challenges presented by this era of human impact, the Anthropocene. The journal is organized into 6 inaugural knowledge domains, each with its own Editor in Chief. Each EIC takes great care to encourage the submission of cross-domain work, and present it in the most appropriate domains, to ensure it reaches the right readers beyond any single discipline.

Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene is a perfect fit for UC Press—it will be in good company with our existing books list in the Natural Sciences; it will also become a core part of our open access ecosystem alongside the journal Collabra and the open access monograph program Luminos.

We are thrilled to be taking on the journal in 2017. In the meantime, if you do research in this field please consider it for your next article, and please take a look at some of the science published so far,

Jungfraujoch, at 3,580 m in the Swiss Alps, is the highest elevation WMO GAW station in Europe

including this highly accessed Special Feature Reactive Gases in the Global Atmosphere, and the article “Expert opinion on extinction risk and climate change adaptation for biodiversity,” which alone has been downloaded over 200,000 times since July 2015!

For more information about Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, please see our press release.





David Brower and Diablo Canyon

This post is written by Tom Turner, author of David Brower: The Making of an Environmental Movement

The recent announcement that the Pacific Gas & Electric Company will close its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plants by 2025 made big news across the country as maybe, just maybe, signaling the end of the nuclear experiment in the United States. Time will tell about that, but there was an odd rewriting of history by at least two of the country’s biggest newspapers that needs correcting.

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant — by marya from San Luis Obispo, USA via Wikimedia Commons

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported that in 1969 David Brower, then the executive director of the Sierra Club, was so angry at the club’s refusal to oppose the reactors proposed by PG&E that he quit his job and founded Friends of the Earth to fight the Diablo proposal. A tidy story, particularly since Friends of the Earth has been key to finally winning the campaign to shutter the reactors, but way off the mark.

The Diablo proposal nearly tore the Sierra Club in two in the mid sixties. The plant was originally proposed for a site near the Nipomo Dunes, also on the California coast. The Sierra Club, led in this case by the photographer Ansel Adams, had long supported establishment of a state park at the Nipomo site, and several of the club’s directors worked with PG&E to find a site that would save the dunes. They identified Diablo Canyon as a site the club could live with.

Only one of the fifteen members on the Sierra Club’s board of directors had ever visited Diablo Canyon, and when a motion to put the club on record as not opposing the site he—Martin Litton, then travel editor of Sunset Magazine—was out of the country. The motion passed by a large majority, despite David Brower’s urging that the vote be postponed until the directors could visit the site and see for themselves. When Litton learned of the board’s action he flew into a rage, accused the promoters of the project of fraud, and vowed to overturn the vote.

A year or so later the balance of power on the board of directors changed and the board adopted a resolution to the effect that its vote to tacitly approve the site was a mistake and a violation of club policy. Dave Brower stayed quiet through much of the battling, which raged for months. His sympathies were no secret—he and Litton were staunch allies—but he was being criticized by several directors (including Adams) for alleged profligate spending on the book-publishing program and for defying board orders on a variety of matters, and he needed to keep his head down.

In the end Brower ran for a position on the board and lost badly. He resigned in May 1969 to avoid being sacked. He always thought that the Diablo battle was a key to his demise (there were rumors that PG&E had helped conduct the campaign that brought him down), but there was no proof.

Still, to say that he quit in anger over the club’s refusal to oppose the project is simply incorrect. There is a nice symmetry to the story, however, in the end. Brower did oppose Diablo, he did found Friends of the Earth, and Friends of the Earth did lead the negotiation with PG&E that should see the end of the Diablo reactors by 2025.

Brower died in 2000, but wherever he is, no doubt he’s smiling.

Tom Turner has worked at the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and Earthjustice. He is the author of Wild by Law; Sierra Club: 100 Years of Protecting Nature; Justice on Earth; Roadless Rules; and hundreds of articles and op-eds on the environment.

Lights Out: Brexit and the Environment

Today’s post concerning the Brexit referendum and its potential impact on the environment comes from Jeremy Davies, author of The Birth of the Anthropocene. This re-blog appears courtesy of Made Ground, a website on the anthropocene era where it originally appeared.

There is a half-plausible Left case against the European Union (for the member states in general, not for Britain in particular). But this afternoon, Farage’s victory feels absolute—victory “without a bullet being fired” as he shouted this morning, overlooking in the heat of the moment the assassination of Jo Cox. In comparison to Farage, even Johnson seems to me almost diminished rather than conquering—among the political class, at least, if not necessarily with the voters. Johnson was generally taken to be the leader of the Out campaign; his great gamble has paid out against the odds; and he may well be Prime Minister in four months’ time. And despite all that, just now both he and the souverainiste ideologues—Redwood, Cash, Hannan, Carswell, Gove, Rees-Mogg (all of them linked by that same curious closely studied masculinity)—seem secondary to Farage’s achievement.

There was a terrible fluency to Farage’s invocation of the “decent people” whose triumph it was. The odd thing is that a few hours earlier he’d been convinced he was going to lose; at 11 o’clock last night he was already setting loose a conspiracy theory about the voter registration process. But instead he’s turned out to be the first politician since Blair really able to mould events in England to his will, instead of just trimming his policy agenda to accommodate the popular mood. Tough-looking UKIP men congregated round him all night.

“Environmental issues” were virtually absent from mainstream discussion, except briefly when the out-supporting farming minister made some insufficiently coded remarks about “coming up with new, interesting ways to protect the environment,” “based on realistic assessments of risk.” But it’s understood that the most hardline extractivists have been disproportionately Leavers, and that this morning they were taken off the leash.

An autarkic agenda of fracking and fresh opencast coalmining is obviously a close fit with the new nativist ascendancy, though presumably there will also be rhetorical concessions (not necessarily practical ones) to the sensibility that wants the countryside protected from houses built for immigrants. Britain has tended for a long time to be ahead of the rest of Europe in attention to animal welfare, so the inevitable campaign to level down British environmental standards to those of the US in the interests of “buccaneering” free trade might encounter some struggles in that respect, if no other. But agricultural soil mining can presumably intensify without attracting much public awareness. The promised “bonfire of regulations” is likely to burn brightest among the EU’s controls on pollution—pesticides and herbicides, industrial toxicity, threats to public health, waste disposal—since that’s necessarily the most highly technical of domains; the skirmishes over neonicotinoids and Johnson’s record on air pollution as Mayor of London are ominous signs. And the carbon cycle… it’s hard to mourn the disruption of the EU Emissions Trading System (though perhaps in fact we should), but structural resistance to an energy transition within Britain seems bound to grow still stronger, and we’ve surely already lost the whole sense of a European vanguard on global climate policy in which Britain participates (and within which it even made the running, at least until 2010). That’s a horrifying blow.

Jeremy Davies teaches in the School of English at the University of Leeds.