Days are getting shorter, nights are getting cooler. This year flew; it feels like it was only yesterday that it was March, a beautiful time to step outside; it had been weeks since the trees first started showing off their new lime-green leaves, colorful flowers were bursting through grassy roadsides, reptiles were emerging to take advantage of the reliably warm days and the sounds of migrating birds filled the forests; I felt as though we were all invigorated by the sun on our skin (or feathers) and by breathing the same warm air.
I was surprised to see many Coopers Hawks around the neighborhood this year, sitting on fence posts and scanning the area for prey too distracted to notice a raptor swooping down upon them. Looking around and reflecting on our shared recent history, I am reminded of Pablo Neruda when he said, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.”
Indeed, we have seen many flowers cut. But, here we are. And spring did come again.
This is not a space where I aspire to get political and given the focus of our organization there’s little need for me to do so: vast majorities value wildlife and appreciate wild ecosystems, regardless of political affiliation. But that said, we are not in the business of denying reality: if you place high priority on conservation then it’s been tough lately, especially while coming to terms with a global pandemic. From cutting the size of National Monuments, threatening National Wildlife Refuges with oil drilling, and stripping protections from migratory birds, there are over a hundred environmental rollbacks we can point to from recent years. And, regardless of who is in charge of the United States, the drivers of our extinction crisis continue virtually unabated both here and abroad; habitat loss, disease, and invasive species remain major problems with climate change looming.
But there is reason for optimism. I would not be a conservation biologist if I didn’t have hope. I wouldn’t have started this conservation charity if I felt we couldn’t make a difference together. I’m not just blowing smoke; I can point to specifics. When our current president was merely a candidate he did something that just a few years ago would have seemed radical and preposterous: He made protecting 30% of this country’s land and water a key component of his platform. Biden didn’t come up with the idea, E.O. Wilson has long touted his dream of protecting half of the planet and keeping it for nature. He wasn’t even the first presidential candidate to push for the plan (known as 30x30), rather I believe it was Joaquin Castro who brought the idea into the national conversation. But, Joe Biden is the first president to endorse the idea, and the significance can hardly be overstated. I’m pleased to know that the Alongside Wildlife Foundation can help this vision become a reality, thanks to your generous support we recently created a fund that we expect will be sufficient to purchase land in about five years. We are not The Nature Conservancy, and we never will be, and won’t be forming new national parks either, but what we can do is focus on the places and the species that aren’t getting the attention they need, that are falling through the cracks, and that will guide our decision-making process.
Two steps forward, one step back. Sure, it’s a cliché but it’s a cliché that helps me remember not to get complacent or to expect easy conservation victories. So, let us remember and mourn the cut flowers. Some will never bloom again. But spring did show up this year. And, so did you.