Saturday, March 5, 2011

Death and the Single Cat

This week there has been a spate of news about extinctions.  For example, we learned this week that the EPA declared the Eastern Cougar extinct.  In addition, many of us who work in the environmental field were not surprised to see this article that declared that we are in a period of mass extinctions.

Alligator on the Hillsborough River near Tampa, Photo by Robert Brinkmann
This news provides an opportunity for us to reevaluate our current culture to see what it is that we do that influences extinction events.  In the United States, we have done a great deal to try to protect animals and plants through the Endangered Species Act.  In some instances, our efforts have paid off.  The American Alligator, for example, was once listed as an endangered species.  Now, I see alligators all the time in Florida.  I remember when I moved to Tampa in 1990, I reviewed an environmental science textbook that stated that the alligator was nearly extinct.  How wrong that book was!  As I read that part of the book, I saw an alligator from my apartment window!

Yet, not all species are so lucky.  Most areas of the world do not protect endangered species in the same way we do.  Yet, we still have extinctions such as the Eastern Cougar in our country.  The laws and policies we have were unable to protect this species.  Such news gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we are doing in our society that could cause such a devastating event.

Florida panther using an underpass near the Everglades
The cougar's range, and the range of all large predators, is expansive.  In eastern North America, we have fragmented our natural landscape.  In addition, suburban sprawl chews up huge areas of land.  Perhaps it is time to recognize that we have sprawled enough.  Some communities have developed growth policies to limit expansion of the urban and suburban landscape in order to protect natural and agricultural regions.  Might this be a logical reaction?  In addition, cars are responsible for many of the deaths of big predators.  Could we be more aggressive in modifying our roadway infrastructure to provide safe habitat corridors for animals?  The photo on the left shows a Florida Panther using a roadway underpass near the Everglades.

Regardless of what we do, there is no doubt that we are in a period of time that will see even more extinctions.  We must continue to protect those we can and we need to change current practices in order to preserve habitat and build connectivity of landscapes.

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