The Cost of Doing Business

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
January 2006

At the PIAS office, we are getting calls about not seeing as many birds this year as one would expect. A few days ago I received a call from a reporter asking if in fact there are less birds as he had heard that Pelican Island had less birds this year than before. I told him it is very difficult and really not scientific to determine either from a single impression or even from a single season if we do in fact have less birds. Many wonder, “What were the effects of the hurricanes?”

Weather probably determines whether or not birds are seen on a givenday. We do know from observations here in Indian River County that habitatloss from development, deforestation, pollution, invasion of exotics,and global warming are altering and changing our environment and ourplanet. With the loss of many citrus trees to development in IndianRiver County, I am sure the painted bunting populations are decreasing.Are they going extinct? Less than 95 years ago, at Blue Cypress Lake,there were 100’s of nesting wood storks, ivory-billed woodpeckersand roosting sites for the Carolina parakeets; now there are none!

Actually even after doing Audubon’s Christmas Bird Counts foryears it is difficult to tell what the trend is. After doing it fora number of years, in the same area, we get better at knowing whereto find the birds. A favorite place for us was the wetlands where nowthe North County Library and a development complex now sit. We couldusually count on seeing a snipe there. Where could those snipes go?They are gone from this site forever as they require a certain habitat(water source, fish for food, marsh reeds to hide in, protect theirnests).

But what does the data indicate? A recent study (2004) reported byresearchers from Stanford, provided a very detailed analysis of all9,787 living bird species. They determined that in the next 95 yearsup to 14% of all bird species may be extinct and “as many as oneout of 4 may be functionally extinct.” This is alarming, as only1.3% of bird species have become extinct since the year1500 althoughthe number of individual birds has been reduced by 20 to 25% duringthe same period.

Is this bird loss an indicator for the future of humans as well? Manysay yes. We are merciless in reducing our forests, rangelands, and fisheries,on which we depend for food and housing, and in the process we are alsodestroying many of the plant and animal species with which we sharethe planet. We do know that starting in the 1980’s, human consumptionwas outgrowing the earth’s capacity to support it. A few yearsago the annual growth was measured in the billions of dollars, but todayit is in the trillions. During this season, we certainly feel this consumptionwhen we visit our malls or fill up with gas. It is not only in the U.S. The U.S. population, third in the world, which accounts for 5 % ofthe worlds population consumes one third of the world’s resources.Now China with 1.3 billion people accounts for 20% of the world’spopulation, and understandably as it is coming into modernization, itis consuming more than the U.S. in food (grain, meat), energy (coal),and industry (steel). The U.S., with the largest human population ofthe developed world, still leads in oil consumption, but China is secondand is increasing more rapidly than the U.S. Thus the world will soonhave two major countries’ whose development, deforestation, pollution,invasion of exotics, and global warming are altering and changing ourenvironment. Moreover, there will be three, as India’s population(1.1 billion estimate) will be surpassing China in population in a coupleof years and will be demanding our consumerist lifestyle.

Thus, we need not only be concerned about just what is happening in Indian River Lagoon, our county, state, or nation, but birds and our existence depend on the health of the whole world. For example the osprey that are so plentiful along the lagoon and at Blue Cypress Lake, spend two years in South America after fledging and before becoming breeding adults. Not only do we need to be concerned about the health of the Indian Lagoon and Blue Cypress Lake, but also we need to insure that South America is a friendly place for ospreys.

How much will it cost to reforest the earth, protect the earth’s topsoil, restore rangelands and fisheries, stabilize water tables, and protect biological diversity? Estimates to restore the Everglades are estimated to be over $8 billion. One estimate for the Earth is $93 billion a year. How long was not given. Can we afford it? For our human species’ survival can we afford not to?

Passenger Pigeons

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