Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wesley the Owl—and Ultrarunning

Life is interfering with blogging...this is a repost; originally ran on 8 Jul 2010.

Just completed a wonderful book, Wesley the Owl, by Stacey O’Brien. It’s a true story about a young researcher at Cal Tech, Stacey, who fosters an injured barn owl from infancy thru his ultimate passing at the ripe old owl age of 19. She writes lovingly and compellingly of her lifelong relationship with Wesley. It’s full of love, science, spiritualism, and is just a delightful and memorable book.

Photo credit here.

You should go read it.

Here’s one example of the science part. Although I have a couple degrees in Biology, I never quite understood the Northern Spotted Owl issue from the Pacific northwest. Sure, I knew that logging was threatening this owl and I—of course—was on the side of the owl, thinking that those who favored logging were shortsighted and uninformed. But here’s why (from page 164):

Biologists were warning the public that the old-growth forests, a delicate habitat that can’t be replaced, were disappearing at an alarming rate. The streams and rivers were silting and warming up, destroying the salmon runs and the entire ecosystem because of the runoff from clear-cut areas. The apex predator of these forests, the northern spotted owl, was endangered. When the apex predator is thriving, then so is the environment. But when the predator is faltering, biologists know that means the entire system is falling apart.

Most of the loggers didn’t understand the “canary in the coal mine” connection and thought the entire issue was about saving the owls, rather than their habitat. Because the loggers had been told to stop destroying the ancient forests before the forests were completely gone, they would lose their livelihoods sooner than if they kept cutting down trees until the entire ecosystem went extinct. Focusing only on their own livelihoods, they didn’t want to be told what to do, got angry, and took it out on the owls….

They didn’t understand—or they just chose not to—and they reminded me of the buffalo hunters of the nineteenth century determined to hunt down every last animal. They failed to see that they were going to have to find something else to do anyway after the last buffalo was gone.

We who run trails and treasure them can learn a lesson from this analogy. Our areas that are wild and free are a precious—and finite—resource. Nobody is making any more wilderness. So that’s why we must fight tooth and nail to preserve what we have, set aside more threatened areas, and ensure that encroachments from mineral rights, logging, etc., are not permitted.

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