From Watts Up With That?
Comment by Kip Hansen — 17 March 2023
The environmental protection world, and the world in general, has been going nuts over the issue of species extinction. Desperate to prevent these extinctions (of which there are very few examples other than on small islands [pdf]) societies are hampered by laws and regulations that do little to actually protect the target species, but rather protect their so-called habitats (which is not the same thing).
Famous was the mandated protection of the habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl which caused massive disruption of the logging industry in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Today it is recognized that the decline of the Northern Spotted Owl was probably caused more by competition with the Barred Owl, it being the Darwinian winner. (also here).
In the news most recently are, of course, Polar Bears. In the 1950s through the 1970s, polar bear populations were down-trending, according to the peoples that live in polar bear country. Why? Polar bears were being shot by humans….not just for self-protection (polar bears can be very dangerous and do not make good neighbors) but for sport and for their skins to decorate government offices and woodsy cabins, polar bear heads to mount on the walls of the great white hunter types.
Then there are the big cats and predators – worldwide. The killing of tigers, cougars, lynx, snow tigers, jaguars, leopards, bears – you get the idea. Much of this killing is done out of fear – tigers do attack and kill humans in India and Southeast Asia. But, again, much of it was done in the past and still is done in the present for sport and trophies. Further, Chinese/Asian folk medicine drives a market for various body parts of these same animals – this drives the hunting of them by native hunters – poor hunters – who can make a great deal of money selling parts of a single tiger – and they do so, protected or not.
Famously, the passenger pigeon, that had boomed to astonishing numbers in the Eastern United States, was hunted to extinction in the late 1800s.
Another historic danger to species has been commercial value. Beavers for their pelts which are soft and warm and were used to supply the basic material huge beaver hat craze in Europe of the time). Whales of all sorts for their blubber, to make whale oil for lamps. Seals for their blubber and for their pelts. Pictured here is a Harp Seal pup – which can be clubbed to death by the hundreds of thousands annually. Despite the magnitude of killing, the harp seal remains as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List.
In the United States, the American Bison gives a well-known example, hunted to near extinction. Similar is the sub-species known as the Wood Buffalo (Wood Bison – Bison bison athabascae) The vast herds of plains bison were hunted for their meat and for their skins. Many legends exist about the bison, both among the European settlers and the “native American” tribal people. Not all of them represent factual history.
An example of Killing to Extinction is the near-miss demise of the Northern elephant seal of California. If you haven’t seen a male elephant seal the wild, you have really missed something. “The huge male northern elephant seal typically weighs 1,500–2,300 kg (3,300–5,100 lb) and measures 4–5 m (13–16 ft), although some males can weigh up to 3,700 kg (8,200 lb)” [ wiki ) There is a Live Rookery Cam available at the website of the Friends of the Elephant Seal.
Soumya Karlamangla, who writes for the California Today newsletter of the New York Times (why they have such a newsletter is a question we might ask), gives us some of the details in a 16 March 2023 piece titled: How California’s Elephant Seals Made a Remarkable Recovery.
“The seals were hunted so much for their blubber, coveted by humans as a source of fuel, that between 1884 and 1892, not a single northern elephant seal was seen anywhere in the world, according to the National Park Service.
Then a small colony of elephant seals was found on Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California in Mexico. After laws were enacted in Mexico and the United States banned hunting of elephant seals [ in the early 20th century – around 1930] , that colony — estimated to have dwindled to fewer than 100 animals — was able to keep reproducing, and the population rebounded.”
Today, the estimated population size (2020) is 175,000.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) currently reports:
“The Northern Elephant Seal has recovered from near extinction and population growth is expected to continue over the coming decades. Due to its large and increasing population, expanding range and lack of foreseeable threats, the Northern Elephant Seal is listed as Least Concern….. Northern Elephant Seals were a prime target for commercial sealing, and the population was nearly extirpated by hunting during 1818-1869. Due to their pelagic nature, the fact that most animals spend 80% or more of their lives at sea, and that they do all not return to their rookeries at the same time, a few individuals were able to survive the wholesale slaughters at rookery sites. By 1890 only one group of about 100 animals was known to exist (Bartholomew and Hubbs 1990). Following a slow recovery in the early 1900s, Northern Elephant Seals recolonized formerly used sites throughout the 1980s. The total population size in 2010 was estimated to be between 210,000 and 239,000 animals (Lowry et al. 2014)”
How to Protect and Promote Recovery of Near-Extinctions?
For mammals and birds, at least, the answer is so easy that it can be overlooked:
Stop Intentionally Killing Them
This should always be the first action taken for any Endangered Species. And it is often sufficient as long as recovery of the species is in the game plan of Nature. We can’t recover a Darwinian losing species. We can prolong its demise, but as Darwin taught, the survivors survive, and the non-survivors don’t.
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After all the societal shock caused by Darwin’s theories and the use of those theories to bludgeon religion and philosophy (quite improperly, it turns out), the one scientific field that should be most affected by it is Environmental Science. Yet, even now, environmentalists seem to fail to understand the most basic principle of Darwinism: The survivors survive to breed and produce more of their kind. As is and always was.
Silly attempts are made to try to protect Darwinian losers — those species that no longer quite fit in. Darwinian losers decline and species more suitable, more adapted to current conditions, thrive and take their place in the world.
Don’t think so? Consider the efforts to “Save the Red Wolf!” which, because it is not a species (or even real subspecies) will never be successful in the wild. (my take here)
I am not saying that there should be no efforts to protect habitat, there should be, but these should be broad efforts coupled with wilderness protection, wild lands, etc. Never should there be the idiocy seen in the snail darter incident. After all the battles, to the Supreme Court, the efforts to save the snail darter were found to have been unnecessary due to “the subsequent discovery of other natural populations.”
Thanks for reading.
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