The Future of the Wild: Radical Conservation for a Crowded World


In The Future of the Wild, conservationist Jonathan S. Adams uses stories to show us how to think big. Only by saving large tracts of land and the wildlife corridors that connect them can we hope to save the widest variety of species in any ecosystem. And only by saving whole ecosystems, including human communities, can we hope to make significant strides in conservation.
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In The Future of the Wild, conservationist Jonathan S. Adams uses stories to show us how to think big. Only by saving large tracts of land and the wildlife corridors that connect them can we hope to save the widest variety of species in any ecosystem. And only by saving whole ecosystems, including human communities, can we hope to make significant strides in conservation.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When it comes to protecting the wilderness, national parks, no matter how large, are just not effective: that's the core argument advanced by Adams, a conservation biologist (The Myth of Wild Africa). Instead of policies that focus scarce economic resources, shrinking political clout and waning emotional energy on scattered wildlife parks and preserves that isolate and often degrade the fauna and flora they're meant to sustain, the author favors a system of "landscape connectivity"-wilderness corridors through which animals as large as bears or as small as field mice (and even seeds and pollen) might migrate between patches of sustainable habitat. Crafting such corridors requires community support, and Adams cites several success stories: across a vast swath of southern Arizona, for example, where cooperative ranchers met with concerned environmentalists about using land more wisely; in California's crowded Orange County, where one maverick scientist is creating safe passageways for pumas; and in the Florida Everglades, where in 1991 the state government and a coalition of environmental organizations bought 60,000 acres of company-owned land, linking two existing preserves to create an expanse of wetlands. Fertile with fresh thinking, this book is an uncommonly eloquent call for urgent but thoughtful action. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A conservation biologist, coauthor of The Myth of Wild Africa: Conservation Without Illusion, and coeditor of Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity, Adams is also a program director with the Nature Conservancy. Going beyond the "conserve it and they will come" mindset, Adams presents an optimistic approach to conservation based on scientific research on the interdependency of an ecosystem, in which the loss of just one component, plant or animal, can be devastating to an entire region. Although pro-environmentalist, he evenhandedly presents the many "sides" of issues involving public lands, ecoregions, and preservation. Adams proposes ways to accommodate preserving everything from "genes to species," combining the latest insights on biodiversity with community organizing and economic planning, and he reports on successful collaborations involving former adversaries. Visionary, optimistic, doable, and essential, Adams's approach is a pioneering "guidebook to nature." Highly recommended for public and academic collections.-Margaret F. Dominy, Drexel Univ. Lib., Philadelphia Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
Going beyond the 'conserve it and they will come' mindset, Adams presents an optimistic approach to conservation . . . Visionary, optimistic, doable, and essential, Adam's approach is a pioneering 'guidebook to nature.'
-Library Journal, starred review

"Fertile with fresh thinking, this book is an uncommonly eloquent call for urgent but thoughtful action."
-Publishers Weekly

"Adams profiles ecologists and activists, as well as grassroots and national conservation organizations, in a seamless flow of readable prose to make his point that sustainable human activity and sustainable populations of wildlife must not be mutually exclusive."—Ted Levin, OnEarth

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807085103
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 1/28/2006
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.48 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan S. Adams is a conservation biologist, writer, and program director with the Nature Conservancy. He is the coauthor of The Myth of Wild Africa: Conservation Without Illusion and the coeditor of Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States. He lives with his wife and two children in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

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Read an Excerpt


Radical Conservation for a Crowded World



Copyright © 2006

Jonathan S. Adams

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8070-8510-3

Chapter One


Without enough wilderness America will change. Democracy, with its
myriad personalities and increasing sophistication, must be fibred and
vitalized by regular contact with outdoor growths-animals, trees,
sun warmth and free skies-or it will dwindle and pale.


A breeding pair of northern spotted owls requires roughly five thousand
acres of old-growth forest. Protecting several hundred pairs-a bare minimum
if the owls are to survive more than a century or two-means protecting
a million acres. Beginning in the late 1980s, conserving a creature
that needs so much room forced the federal government, and by extension
the general public, to confront for the first time the realities of conservation
across an entire region of the country, including public and private
land, old and new protected areas, and all the places where people live
and work.

The task came with a steep price and high political stakes. Read in sequence,
the plans for protecting the spotted owl capture the slow dawning
of a new idea. The first generation of plans protected thousands of acres,
the next protected hundreds of thousands, and the last plans proposed protecting
millions of acresof forest. The plans focused initially on individual
pairs of owls, and gradually widened their scope to include the landscapes
of which owls are merely the most famous representatives. Other species,
particularly a small seabird called a marbled murrelet and five species of
salmon, entered the fray.

At this time, few policymakers or land managers saw the ideas of conservation
biology as important to their work, if they paid them any heed at
all. The science was then just a few years old, though it had been evolving
for two decades. No one incorporated the emerging scientific principles
into any management plan for a national park, forest, or wildlife refuge, or
in any plan to bring endangered species back from the brink.

The consequence of that oversight became clear once the northern spotted
owl took the stage as one of the most famous species in the country, if
not the world. This owl makes an unlikely revolutionary: an attractive but
far from imposing bird, it stands about a foot and a half tall, weighs around
two pounds, and has dark brown feathers and white markings. Scientists
know it as Strix occidentalis caurina, one of three subspecies of spotted owls,
with close relatives in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and in
the desert Southwest, extending into Mexico along the Sierra Madre.

But enough description. None of that begins to explain why anyone
outside of a handful of specialists and the dedicated and occasionally obsessive
community of birdwatchers has ever heard of this rather nondescript
bird. The spotted owl traces its enormous fame not to beauty
but rather to rarity and to choosiness over where to build a nest: almost
exclusively in the oldest forests in the Pacific Northwest. Those two characteristics
brought science, law, politics, and economics together and
transformed the spotted owl into a fulcrum on which modern conservation
has turned.

The spotted owl embodies not only changes in the way scientists answer
questions about how to protect endangered species, but also changes in the
way communities confront the challenges to their lifestyles and traditional
economies. The ripples from the spotted owl controversy continue to
spread more than a decade after the owl itself left the front pages. Today,
conservation requires us to think about individual species like spotted
owls, but also to think far bigger, big enough to conserve huge stretches of
land, only parts of which will fall into the national parks and other protected
areas that have long been the foundation of conservation efforts.


In 1988, the Forest Service adopted a management plan for the spotted owl
within its jurisdiction. Environmental and industry groups read the plan
and immediately sued, claiming it violated a number of federal laws. In
March 1989, a federal district court judge, William L. Dwyer, who would
become the judicial equivalent of sugar in the gas tank for the timber industry,
issued a temporary injunction halting 135 timber sales in spotted
owl habitat. A month later, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced
its intent to list the spotted owl as threatened under the Endangered
Species Act.

In response to the growing controversy, the four major land management
agencies of the federal government-the Bureau of Land Management,
the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, and the
National Park Service-created a committee of scientists under the direction
of Jack Ward Thomas, then chief research biologist at the Forest Service,
to develop a scientifically credible strategy for the conservation of the
spotted owl. This panel, called the Interagency Scientific Committee, and
another federal effort that followed from it a few years later, called the Federal
Ecosystem Management Assessment Team, made conservation biology
part of the debate over how to manage public land, and made clear to
the general public that if we were serious about conserving species like the
spotted owl, then we had to start working on far broader scales than ever

In May 1990, the interagency committee proposed a plan for spotted
owl management that would protect 5.3 million acres in large habitat conservation
areas across seventeen national forests. The plan represented the
most extensive application to date of the concepts of conservation biology
to a real endangered species problem across a wide area. The committee
report, widely known as the Thomas Report, put an important stamp of
approval on a scientific approach to designing a system of conservation areas.
The plan took another key step beyond simply protecting the woodland
reserves. The land in between the reserves would have to be safe for
the owls as well, and that meant no clear-cutting. No clear-cutting meant
timber sales from the public forests would have to fall. Here science ran
smack up against bred-in-the-bone traditions of the Forest Service, which
saw providing trees for the sawmills-"getting out the cut" in agency lingo
-as far and away its most important responsibility. The committee also
broke with the common wisdom of the day by arguing that the preservation
of the spotted owl was actually the wrong question; if we wanted to
save the owl, Thomas and his colleagues said, we would have to expand
our field of vision to include the old-growth forests that provided a home
to the owls and thousands of other species, known and unknown.

In 1990, that amounted to a revelation, at least outside the still small
community of conservation biologists. The timber industry, in stark contrast,
envisioned a bizarre form of spotted owl conservation in which teams
of biologists would capture pairs of owls and shuffle the birds around between
patches of forest as the chain saws and bulldozers moved in behind
them. Thus would spotted owls have become conservation refugees, adrift
and homeless.

Science took a back seat to politics in the struggle over land use even after
the Thomas Report, with all of its cutting-edge ideas. Report in hand,
the Forest Service and its political bosses demonstrated the power of
willful ignorance. The agency announced that some timber sales in spotted
owl habitat fit the panel's guidelines and would proceed. Judge Dwyer
thought otherwise. His ruling in a suit filed against the agency rang with
tightly controlled judicial fury: "More is involved here than a simple failure
by an agency to comply with its governing statute. The most recent violation
of [the National Forest Management Act] exemplifies a deliberate
and systematic refusal by the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service
to comply with the laws protecting wildlife." The tongue-lashing continued:
"The problem here has not been any shortcomings in the laws, but
a simple refusal of administrative agencies to comply with them.... This
invokes a public interest of the highest order: the interest in having government
officials act in accordance with the law."

Congress and the land management agencies chose not to meet Judge
Dwyer's challenge head on, but instead searched for creative ways around
his ruling. They invoked the God Squad and the Gang of Four-the
former a committee of agency heads, authorized under the Endangered
Species Act, that can short-circuit protection of listed species if vital economic
interests are at stake; the latter neither a cadre of Chinese communists
nor a late 1970s punk band, but a group of scientists (including
Thomas again) brought together for an independent assessment of federal
forests in the Pacific Northwest. The Gang of Four (so named by a petulant
timber industry spokesman likely hoping for a more malleable bunch)
found that things were even worse than the original Thomas committee
had surmised. Looking at more species than just the spotted owl, the scientists
found that timber harvests would have to drop even further. The
administration of the first President Bush simply ignored this inconvenient

The Forest Service kept going before Judge Dwyer with new ploys to
continue cutting as many trees as they wanted in spotted owl habitat, and
His Honor kept tossing the agency out of his courtroom on its ear. The
Forest Service's repeated forays into court became almost comical, despite
serious issues of policy and science. "Boneheaded," pronounced the editorial
page of the Seattle Post Intelligencer. "For bureaucratic intransigence
and administrative ineptitude, it's hard to beat the U.S. Forest Service's
record in handling the spotted-owl issue."

Finally, in the summer of 1992, Judge Dwyer issued a permanent injunction.
He prohibited any timber sales in spotted owl habitat until the
Forest Service fully complied with federal environmental law and developed
a suitable plan to protect the owls. Loggers fumed about the injustice
of it all, but the fundamental fact remained: the Forest Service could not
cut a tree in spotted owl habitat until Judge Dwyer gave his approval, and
he would not be easily swayed.

Just a few months after Judge Dwyer issued his injunction, some residents
of the Applegate Valley in southwest Oregon saw the ruling as an
opportunity. Environmental activist Jack Shipley reasoned that no one
could fight over timber sales anymore, since there wouldn't be any more
timber sales. So he invited some of his environmentalist friends to a
potluck dinner. No smug victory celebration, the guest list also included
the owners of local sawmills, as well as federal land managers. Shipley
wanted them all to start thinking together about the whole watershed
in which they lived. Not many people had considered things at this scale

A new organization called the Applegate Partnership emerged from the
dinner at Shipley's house. The partnership adopted as an operating principle
the slogan "Practice Trust-Them Is Us." Members even sported buttons
with the word they with a red slash through it. Hokey, perhaps, but
with a message: sawyers, activists, and agencies were in this together. The
Applegate Partnership did not change the world, but it opened the door to
collaboration between often conflicting segments of the valley's community
and the federal government. Shipley and the others discovered they
could work together, and they could begin to change the way government
agencies made decisions.

* * *

Even where there are many diverse interests, as in the Applegate Valley,
communities that have maintained or revitalized their social capital can
still find common ground. In the United States, unfortunately, political
trends can obscure the very existence of that common ground. Politicians
have narrowed their perspectives at the same time that scientists have expanded
theirs, with a single-minded focus on local control over land. This
approach, usually associated with notions of states' rights or the county-supremacy
movement-which makes the absurd claim that the federal
government cannot enforce federal laws on federal land-represents the
latest attempt to circumvent the major environmental laws. Opponents
have been unable to weaken those laws substantially despite years of legal
attacks and endless, overheated rhetoric, so they try an end run by turning
decisions over to the states. Conservationists rightly worry that the end
run might actually work, and thus usually oppose most efforts to shift control
of natural resources to rural communities.

The conservationists' fear has deep roots in politics and passion; efforts
to wrest control over the land from government have long reflected nothing
other than a desire to exploit public resources for private gain. In the
United States, this chutzpah goes back to 1872 and the creation of Yellowstone
National Park, the point at which the federal government stopped
trying to give all public land to the states (by and large, the states didn't
want what was left in public hands by the mid-nineteenth century, because
it was too dry and difficult to farm) and decided to keep some instead.
The battle over who gets to use public land and for what purpose
was joined and it has raged ever since, though more passionately at some
times than others. In 1947, for example, the public land question became
a national debate, largely thanks to the journalist and historian Bernard
DeVoto. From his seat in the "Easy Chair" column in Harper's Magazine,
DeVoto led a public campaign against the effort by ranchers and
other private interests to seize control of western public land in the United
States. The cry from the West, DeVoto said, was "get out and give us more

That cry has had remarkable staying power. Federal control over public
land is as settled as a constitutional principle can be, but that did not
prevent the outbreak of the Sagebrush Rebellion of the early 1980s. The
rebels, who at one time counted President Ronald Reagan among their
number, said they wanted to transfer federal land to the states. But the rebellion-really
more of a fad-faded away quickly when it became clear
that not even the rebels themselves truly believed their slogans. They did
not want the government to hand over the land, they wanted the government
to give them control of the land but not responsibility for it, and they
wanted an increase in the fat subsidies they enjoyed for grazing their sheep
and cows on the public range. Get out and give us more money.

The Sagebrush Rebellion gradually morphed into a more sinister form,
the Wise Use movement. It is neither wise nor a movement. Movement
suggests progress, but the Wise Users want at the very least to freeze the
status quo, and preferably to move law and policy back to the early twentieth
century, when private property and the interests of industry ruled the
day. The groups at the forefront of the campaign, with warm and fuzzy
names like the National Wetlands Coalition and the Marine Preservation
Association, claim to be grassroots organizations, but for the most part
they are wholly owned subsidiaries of mining companies and agribusinesses.
Still, their message about returning power to the powerless certainly
resonates with rural communities, a fact that conservationists ignore
at their peril.

With these foes, no wonder the conservation movement clings to an
adversarial approach that has indeed won many battles and will remain a
vital tool for ensuring compliance with the law. But confronting industry
and the Wise Use movement is not nearly sufficient, and, worse, it may
blind conservationists to the real opportunities. In the United States, few
rural economies still rely exclusively on logging, mining, and agriculture.
Instead, their economic future depends on attracting diverse businesses
and skilled workers. More and more often, that attraction rests on an intact
environment, a basic component of creating communities where people
want to live and raise their families. This fundamental shift, combined
with the fresh insights of conservation science, offers an opportunity to
heal the rift between rural communities and conservation.


Copyright © 2006 by Jonathan S. Adams.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 A parliament of owls 3
2 Do big things run the world? 23
3 Save some of everything 46
4 Conservation in Exurbia : Florida and California 71
5 Appointment in Sonora 88
6 The native home of hope 108
7 Save enough to last : Florida and the Everglades 141
8 Blind men and elephants 175
9 Guarding the golden goose 207
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