Our Mission: To preserve and protect the animals, plants, and natural communities
in Indian River County through advocacy, education, and public awareness.
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The Cost of Doing Business

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

Passenger Pigeons

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 given day. We do know from observations here in Indian River County that habitat loss from development, deforestation, pollution, invasion of exotics, and global warming are altering and changing our environment and our planet. With the loss of many citrus trees to development in Indian River 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 woodpeckers and roosting sites for the Carolina parakeets; now there are none!

Actually even after doing Audubon’s Christmas Bird Counts for years it is difficult to tell what the trend is. After doing it for a number of years, in the same area, we get better at knowing where to find the birds. A favorite place for us was the wetlands where now the North County Library and a development complex now sit. We could usually 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 their nests).

But what does the data indicate? A recent study (2004) reported by researchers from Stanford, provided a very detailed analysis of all 9,787 living bird species. They determined that in the next 95 years up to 14% of all bird species may be extinct and “as many as one out of 4 may be functionally extinct.” This is alarming, as only 1.3% of bird species have become extinct since the year1500 although the number of individual birds has been reduced by 20 to 25% during the same period.

Is this bird loss an indicator for the future of humans as well? Many say 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 also destroying many of the plant and animal species with which we share the planet. We do know that starting in the 1980’s, human consumption was outgrowing the earth’s capacity to support it. A few years ago the annual growth was measured in the billions of dollars, but today it is in the trillions. During this season, we certainly feel this consumption when 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 % of the worlds population consumes one third of the world’s resources. Now China with 1.3 billion people accounts for 20% of the world’s population, and understandably as it is coming into modernization, it is consuming more than the U.S. in food (grain, meat), energy (coal), and industry (steel). The U.S., with the largest human population of the developed world, still leads in oil consumption, but China is second and is increasing more rapidly than the U.S. Thus the world will soon have two major countries’ whose development, deforestation, pollution, invasion of exotics, and global warming are altering and changing our environment. Moreover, there will be three, as India’s population (1.1 billion estimate) will be surpassing China in population in a couple of 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?

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