Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Decline and Fall of the Swamp Phantoms: a hypothesis

In recent months I have begun to think more and more about one particular possible cause for the decline and (we hope) near-extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Bachman's Warbler. I am suspecting that a fundamental driver might have been the elimination of beavers from eastern North America. Beavers were (and now once again are) active in the large river swamps, not just the small streams one might first think of. They particularly like to build dams on the downstream ends of oxbow lakes to lift water levels during low-water periods. Since beaver activity shifts around over the landscape over the years, this causes tree death and the creation of open shrubby swamps and shores within the bottomland forest landscape. I have seen first hand how beavers have converted closed canopy forest to boneyards of dead and dying trees along with sunny tangled thickets of cane, swamp privet, and willows. In the case of these two bird species, one dependent on large numbers of dead and dying trees, the other dependent on clearings in the forest, I'd hypothesize that beavers may have been a critical factor maintaining the landscape they needed. The historical timing seems right as well, as both of the phantom swamp birds species seem to have already been well on the way to ghost-bird status even before massive forest clearing was underway.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Peak oil? Oil peaked

From that cesspool of radical leftist anticorporate enviro-nazi propaganda, hysteria, and hyperbole, the Wall Street Journal:

Peak Oil: Global Oil Production’s Peaked, Analyst Says

Not that these ideas are new, but it is always interesting seeing and hearing their slowly growing acceptance even among the corporate and financial world. All who are talking about an economic "recovery" need to be realizing that as soon as indutrial activity tries to ramp up again it will be immediately whacked by a spike in energy prices even higher than the last one; remember that the energy price spike was actually one of the major precipitating factors in the current downturn, long before the financial sector realized that it was based on delusion, denial, and deceit.

The birding world is going to get hit by all this in a major way. The hoards of jet-setting middle class birders who just pop off to Patagonia (Arizona) for a Sinaloa Wren or Patagonia (South America) for a bit of pelagic birding as though it were just another afternoon drive to the beach will be history. Those excursions will once again become precious, rare, and for most birders the experiences of a lifetime, not a weekend. Remember the early 1970s, when no North American birder had every passed the 700 mark on his or her lifelist? When an expedition to the Rio Grande Valley was planned and saved for years in advance? When birding mostly happened very close to home? When continental-scale rarity chasing was unheard of before the Incident at Newburyport? If you don't remember those days, I suspect you will become familiar with them in the coming decades.

Is this a bad thing? For birding as a major revenue-generating recreational activity, yes. For ecotourism establishments around the world, it might be armageddon. For manufacturers of high-end optics and cameras, it'll be another part of a major blow. For our image as yuppie hypocrites who wastefully burn through resources trying to "experience the natural environment," no, not a bad thing at all. But for the birds? There will be lots of issues in maintaining existing conservation systems. But overall in the big picture and the long run it is hard for me to see how a ramping down of the global industrial economy will do anything but help global birds and all other aspects of biodiversity. Without exception, the threats to birds around the world are all products of the fossil-fueled industrial economy, from deforestation to climate change to overfishing to chemical pollution.

The Patch Birder shall inherit the Earth.

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