Extinction is Forever

If you’re under 30, 40, 50 years old, you better pay attention. If you hunt and fish, you better listen up. If you care about the future, conservation and the environment you should ponder these words. The signs are clear. The evidence is in. The years and decades in front of us don’t look good. This is a sad story but you need to push through it.

We’re in trouble. You’re in trouble. Those who live in the “womb of time” as Teddy Roosevelt put it, are in trouble.

Unless you live under the proverbial rock, you probably heard the Ivory Billed Woodpecker is officially, more or less, extinct. We knew it was coming. Extinction is the rule and the bird was not common. Yet the bird is gone too soon.

Unlike the quiet but public passing in 1914 of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, we don’t know exactly when the last Ivory Billed died. The last verifiable siting was in 1944, although there is some scant evidence the birds hung on for a time. We don’t know anything of the closing days of the last bird. We can surmise its final days were solitary. No response to its call. No mate. No connection to its environment.

So why should a proclamation of extinction for a woodpecker matter? Because it’s a reminder that what we do and how we live dictates the future of all living things and the condition of our world.

Need more evidence? Maybe you noticed 2021 appears to be the worst year for wildfires in the U.S. so far. After 20,000 years, the shadows of giant Sequoia trees, another endangered species, are disappearing. Trees that can live to over 3,000 years may miss their next 300 or so birthdays. They had to put a fire proof skirt on General Sherman. The picture serves as a visual metaphor for futility.

Have you noticed how much rain some folks are getting these days? The intensity? How about the floods? When I see the pictures of devastated homes, I can’t help but think about overturned lives, wasted resources, and landfills. Waterways becoming sewers. The Gulf of Mexico a septic tank.

Or how about no water? Reservoirs and ground water are failing to re-charge. Some folks will soon wake up to the reality that they have no water for drinking or their precious, over fertilized lawns. Another year or two like 2021 and your 60-day duck season may be gone.

What about climate change? The acceleration of warming. Loss of glaciers. Thawing permafrost. Failure of agricultural systems. Dire predictions for the planet and the future of your children and grandchildren. Don’t want to talk about that? Oh, sorry. Never mind.

Maybe we could talk about butterflies. Monarchs are nice, until they’re gone. Pollinators are kind of important right? I could go on and on. This is just a sample. Starving manatees. Songbird decline. Invasive species. Plastic pollution. Depleted cold water resources and the collapse of salmon runs. Etcetera. This tiny list is just in the U.S. The same and worse is playing out around the world.

I don’t have answers. I don’t know what it’ll take to bring about change – a catastrophe? A global pandemic just barely moves the needle. But I’m from the duck and cover generation. I grew up hearing first hand stories about people struggling and overcoming adversity – polio, The Depression, WWII, and the threat of nuclear war to name a few. I have hope but it’s getting harder to have faith.

I’m tired of false choices promoted by political dolts. Yes-no, this or that, for or against, believe or don’t believe. I’m tired of phony distractions presented as issues or problems. How we live in our world and on the land matters, and we desperately need to change. It’s up to each of us to figure out how to change, how much to change, or whether we even want to change. Hard stuff to think about – easier to ignore. 

Too much or too big? Read A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” And when you’re finished, read it again, very slowly. Think about Leopold’s words and the ideas within. “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

For some species including people, there is still time. But time is running out. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker serves as another reminder. Extinction is forever.


By Dan Zekor


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