Desert, © Julia Chen

What We Must Not Accept

RPulliamH. Ronald Pulliam is a former professor of environment and ecology at the University of Georgia in Athens. He  was the director of the National Biological Service under Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, and later served as science advisor to the interior secretary. He is the former president of the Ecological Society of America, and currently serves on the board of the National Council for Science and Technology, the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia, NatureServe and Defenders of Wildlife. Pulliam has a B.S. in biology from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. in zoology from Duke University. 

July 14, 2014 – Missoula, Montana

I just stepped out of a small roundtable discussion with, among others, Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Director Ashe told the small group that he sees a “giant clash” between those who favor conservation and those who favor economic development and that he believes that conservationists “must accept a world with fewer wolves, salmon, and spotted owls.” The Director of the very agency most responsible for protecting the nation’s biodiversity went on to say that, in the name of compromise, we must accept “a world with less biodiversity.”

Unlike Director Ashe, I believe that the very fact that we now have only a small fraction of the wolves, salmon, and spotted owls that we once had provides an opportunity for the forces of economic development and those of conservation to join together and foster new economic growth by restoring the biodiversity that we have already lost.

I live in southeastern Arizona where, over the past 100 years, our rivers have dried up, our wildlife has declined precipitously, and now even ‘our wide open spaces’ are at risk of disappearing. As these resources become scarcer, they also become more valuable. At the same time that we are losing our biological heritage, we are witnessing the largest land transfer in the history of the American West. As ranchland is drying up and becoming less productive, the children of ranching families are leaving the land to become lawyers and doctors. These trends are creating “the perfect storm” and, ironically, are providing an opportunity to create a new “restoration economy” premised on restoring the land and its biological diversity.

Patagonia mountains, © Matt Clark

Patagonia Mountains – rich habitat for wildlife in the southwest

Valer and Josiah Austin and their Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation have brought back tens of thousands of acres of degraded, shrub invaded grassland and at least 7 miles of the Rio San Bernardino River in northern Sonora. Over 2,000 acres of new riparian forest along the banks of the restored river are providing renewed habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals, including coati mundi, ring-tailed cat, and ocelot. Restored grasslands are providing both habitat for wildlife and better forage for cattle. The restored river is once again providing water and nutrients to ejido farmers downstream from the restoration project.

Sixty miles northwest of the Rio San Bernardino River, the abandoned mines and flood-prone, dry creek beds around the town of Patagonia, AZ, are reminders of an economy that no longer exists. Still, thousands of visitors flock to Patagonia to watch birds in what remains of Sonoita Creek and to observe, study, and collect butterflies, moths and bees in one of the most biologically diverse corners of the U.S. The newly renovated hotel is full of birders, naturalists, and scientists and at the “Gathering Ground’ coffee shop and the local restaurants, one overhears excited talk of the rare species seen.

The second largest employer in Patagonia is Borderlands Restoration, L3C, a limited profit company dedicated to restoring streams and food chains, and reconnecting people to the places where they live. Every day, 8 -10 Borderlands employees head to the Babocomari River, fifteen miles away where they are using the same simple water harvesting methods pioneered by the Austin’s and Cuenca los Ojos to restore the river. Another dozen Borderlands staff grow native plants for restoration projects, restore wildlife habitat on local ranches, or engage teams of Patagonia school children in local restoration projects. Last year alone, citizens of Patagonia, a small town of 800 residents, volunteered over 10,000 hours of their time to help Borderlands Restoration restore the “places where we live and the ecosystems on which we depend.”

Jaguar, © Gary Stolz/FWS

The lure of rare animals like jaguar and ocelot are part of what brings visitors to the southwest.

Patagonia is becoming a living example of the Restoration Economy, a place where people both appreciate biological diversity and derive income from it. Borderlands Restoration has supported local organic food production, sponsored “Grand Slam” Quail hunts (in one of the few places where three species of quail can be found living together), and conducted a small-scale, post-fire timber harvest. Patagonia’s gift shops, cafes, two grocery stores, and one gas station are frequented by birders, hikers, bikers, hunters, and others who come to breathe the fresh area and view the wildlife. In celebration of its 400 species of native bees, 14 species of hummingbirds, and an unusually rich butterfly and moth diversity, the town council has declared Patagonia the “Pollinator Capital of the US.” The rumor of a new “eco-lodge” to be built close to the 3 Canyons wildlife corridor, home to the only resident jaguar now in the US, adds to the prospects of new jobs in one of the poorest counties in the U.S.

Patagonia is a town not heeding Director Ashe’s call to accept the “fact that we have to live in a world with fewer species.” Instead, Patagonia, and other villages in southeastern Arizona and northern Sonora, are realizing that, in the long run, their biological wealth is their greatest asset and rather than acquiescing to its continued decline, they are actively participating in and celebrating its recovery.

Defenders of Wildlife works across the southwest to ensure that this region’s unique landscapes and spectacular diversity of life are restored and protected. Like many of you, we disagree vehemently with Director Ashe’s statement that we should simply “accept a world with fewer wolves, salmon, and spotted owls,” or be resigned to the loss of a species. Join us in speaking out to remind Director Ashe that our nation’s wildlife and habitats are the natural legacy of every American – they belong to each of us, and it is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission to protect them.

twittericoncTweet to Director Dan Ashe: 
@DirectorDanAshe I refuse to accept a world with fewer species. We’re trusting you to protect our nation’s wildlife. Are you up to it?

45 Responses to “What We Must Not Accept”

  1. Sharon Toscano

    Please help wildlife. There seem to be potential partners in Patagonia, AZ and the Borderlands Restoration company for some eco-tourism and help for people and wildlife. Please protect this fragile system and it’s interesting wildlife. I think we have lost enough species and honestly the beauty, serenity of these wild spaces is also good for the environment and our water, air supplies.

    Reply
    • Valer Austin

      Much of the Southwest remains in open space but that does not necessarily mean the spaces are wildlife friendly and as Dan Ashe suggests we cannot enforce upon landowners the onerous task of allowing wildlife to jeopardize their livelihood; however our wildlife is one of our nation’s greatest assets and needs to be protected. Wildlife has disappeared from many parts of the world. The U.S. is one of the few places that still has diverse populations of mammals and habitat to sustain them. Some of these lands are in the hands of private landowners who realize the value of what they have and would like to see the animals protected but cannot afford to sacrifice indefinitely to keep large predators on their land. Therefore Dan Ashe in his position should do everything in his power financially and technically to help these landowners to continue to host bears, pumas, wolves, the jaguar, and other predators. I am one such landowner.

  2. Jean Ossorio

    Would that the person appointed to oversee the protection of our country’s wildlife heritage had the breadth of vision of the citizens of Patagonia, AZ and the author of this commentary. The USFWS has lost its way and Director Ashe is doing little to help the agency find it.

    Reply
  3. Rick Dow

    Rather than accepting a world with less bio-diversity, we would be far better off with a more enlightened Director of US Fish and Wildlife. He seems to be on his knees bowing to special interests, and not strong enough to stand up to the serial killers of wildlife. Rick Dow, MS Zoology

    Reply
  4. Bruce Rickett

    The only species we need fewer of are humans. Seven billion and counting? This is the real problem.

    Reply
  5. Kelly Swing

    It is a shame for anyone to have this perspective but absolutely shameful for a person in a position of leadership to broadcast. Undoubtedly, Director Ashe is trying to present what he considers a realistic view so as to help soften the blow for those who wish to hold out some hope. Considering the defeatist implications, however, this severely undercuts many valuable impassioned efforts. May the example set in Patagonia shine like a lighthouse of success to prod others onward. If our leaders are giving up, we should see that as a dare to prove them wrong.

    Reply
  6. Vivian Kiene

    How disheartening that the director of the agency which should be working to protect our wildlife apparently is willing to bow to economic interests to the detriment of our wild lands and wildlife. This approach has solidified my decision to forgo political contributions and financially support only organizations working to protect the environment.

    Reply
  7. Judy anderson

    We need Defenders to get the conservation community to fight for, advocate for, renewable energy and slow down climate change. In a big way. Knowing that some birds and bats will be lost but that the species and others has a better chance of being saved.
    We need leadership. And move away from traditional responses that include it is mission drift or that adaption is the job of conservation.

    Reply
  8. George Fenwick

    Who knows what the future holds, but the great minority of us who care about the natural world should not accept compromise. That is what everyone else does and everyone expects us to do. Never quit, never give in. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish.

    Reply
  9. Elke

    It sounds to me as if Mr. Ashe should not be leading the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I would expect that the director of the USFAWS wants to protect the environment and the wildlife, believe in the value of diverse ecosystems and fight the encroaching of big business on this beautiful country.

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  10. Zig Pope

    A pox upon Dan Ashe for his overt fascism. We pay his salary, and we can get him removed from this position that he is unqualified to have.

    If he wants to lobby for his special interest cronies, he needs to man up and quit. He is nothing put another massive embarrassment and proof Obama will be regarded as the worst president ever.

    Reply
  11. Patricia Stock

    I think the USFWS need to find another line of work. Their attitude really stinks. We the people who pay your wages want you to stop the massive slaughter of our wildlife.

    Reply
  12. Ann watkins

    Dan Asher, if this is the way you feel , maybe its time for you to find a new job!!!!!!
    You and the agency the you lead have lost your way,which , is to protect the our country’s wildlfe. Everytime we loss a species we hurt all other species . Its basic biology.we as humans are in the web,so it hurts the human population. Stand up and enlighted the American people about conservation. Because we have not done a good job so far.that is why they are not on board. Stop using scare tatics and making wolves ,bears and cougar monsters. The only species that is mean and heartless are humans. This is not are land its mother earths and we have doone so many bad things to her in the name of progress that we don’t have to we need to start doing the right things.

    Reply
  13. Paul Collins

    Anyone still believe that our President is a “Progressive?” Has there been an more anti-environment/wildlife administration in modern times? Was the shrub even this bad? I don’t think so.

    Reply
  14. Karen McGuigan-Lafountain

    Mr. Ashe, did you bump your head? Or did you, head of USFWA say we must “accept a world with fewer wolves, salmon, and spotted owls” to favor ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT!
    I thought you people that ESA put you in charge to protect and perpetuate wildlife, under its heading, “The Science of Intolerance”?
    Are you just another cronies that has sold your soul to the special interest groups like sportmens, or cattlemen’s association.? Or did you just think your job actually working for Economic Development?
    No, I will never allow myself to live in a wilderness/wildlife free world. I believe we as people have done enough harm to our world, and putting you and people like you in charge of our wilderness animals was a misdeed in deed
    Perhaps it is time to abolish U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services altogether. As you appear to be some rogue agency that is essentially the wildlife killing arm of the federal government.
    I compel you to rethink your position sir, or I know that the American people, once educated through our advocating voices will turn on you and we the people will demand our rights to the 13th Amendment. And I can think of no better way to persue Life, Liberty, and happiness than by being out in the wilderness hearing a wolf howl, a salmon splash, or a spotted owl hoot, thinking how proud I am to be an American!

    Reply
  15. Brian Turner

    US Fish and Wildlife needs to think big for a change. Conservation is at least as much about codifying appropriate land uses as it is about managing species and habitat. This is not, contrary to Director Ashe’s petty assertion, about one side getting over its unrealistic ideals, but rather about an agency whose job must embrace conservation in order to determine the potential value of one land use vs another and advocate accordingly.

    Reply
  16. Michael Guest

    That Service is not doing the right thing. The future of wildlife and habitats are at risk. We must continue to help and save them. Enough is enough.

    Reply
  17. John Phillips

    The solution lies in assigning economic value to whole and functioning ecosystems, which means, among other things, to highly value systems with high indices of biological diversity. As Odum observed, such systems provide services of immense value. Indeed, functioning ecosystems allow humans to exist and to thrive, and are the underlying basis for all economic activity. Mining and other economic activities must now take a backseat to the need to preserve and expand functioning ecosystems. There is no economic benefit from extraction activities if the basis for human life, the biosphere, is destroyed in the process. Therefore, we need to assign dollars and sense to these equations. The tremendous biodiversity of the Patagonia Region as a biological corridor and a natural reserve for rare and endangered species needs to be assigned appropriate economic value. If we do so, it is apparent on face value, we need to exclude disruptive activities, such as open-pit mining. It just makes sense.

    Reply
  18. Michelle Roberts

    Thank you, Sir, for the great article and sharing these programs with us. I am very disappointed, to say the least, about the comments from Director Ashe. I feel that they are unacceptable for a man in his position. He is caving to special interest groups & not what most Americans want. I am a wolf advocate and am appalled at what is being done to them right now in this country & it must be stopped. I hope you & other intelligent people can have some influence on Mr. Ashe or help get him removed from his position, as clearly from his comments & what I am seeing happening to our wolves & wildlife, he is not the person for that job. Wolves are needed for a healthy ecosystem and also bring in millions of dollars annually to national parks like Yellowstone where people come from all over the world to watch them. I just returned from there for that very reason & was sorry to hear about & see far fewer wolves than used to be there due to hunters, ranchers & politicians. There are many non-lethal ways to coexist with wolves & wildlife. The killing must stop! Please do what you can to help! Very sincerely.

    Reply
  19. Charlene

    I’d like to see the quote in context–is there a place where one can do so? Without seeing the full context, I find it impossible to legitimize the quote. I’m 100% wildlife, but as a scientist I need “the rest of the story”.

    Reply
  20. mike dennis

    Dan Ashe has dedicated his life to conservation as has Ron Pulliam…but what separates Dan from all of us conservationists is that he faces huge environmental conflicts on a daily basis in the public headlights. Dan does not want a world with less biodiversity but he is stating the unfortunate truth. I have known all of the USFWS directors during my 40 year conservation career and Dan is the best of this talented group.

    Reply
    • Richard Pritzlaff

      Very sad to me that you, Peter Kareiva, and Dan Ashe believe what you term an “unfortunate truth.” What happened to you guys? Easier to capitulate than undertake the hard work Ron and many others have succeeded in founding change to more sustainability through creation of restoration economies? Yes, its hard work, and TNC could be a valued partner, instead of sucking the oxygen (and money) away with your “unfortunate truth.”

  21. Greta Anderson

    I already live in a world, “With fewer wolves, salmon, and spotted owls,” that there were even a century ago, and my line in the sand is here, and now. Conservationists have already accepted too much, leaving us with highly depleted ecosystems and depauperate floras and faunas with which to share our lovely planet. Why not tell industry that they are just going to have to accept some limits on growth? Dan Ashe just wants us to cut him some slack and make his job easier. No way!

    Reply
  22. David Parsons

    Here is the official mission and vision of the USFWS that Dan Ashe is sworn to uphold:
    Mission: The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
    Vision: We will continue to be a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service.
    The buck stops with Director Ashe. Surely Dan is eligible to retire. Here is my advice to Dan: Be a bold advocate for the wildlife and ecosystems you are charged with protecting; buck the politics; make a splash; get your ass fired. You will be a much happier man.

    Reply
  23. Kirk Robinson

    I attended the round table at the NACCB and heard and watched Dan Ashe speak. I don’t know his qualifications as a biologist, but as Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is in charge of implementing and upholding the Endangered Species Act, his remarks came off as those of a man who had sold his soul and was trying his best to live with it. Here was the man in charge of conserving our nation’s wildlife saying that on his watch we would do well to lower our expectations. I know that he is under tremendous pressure, but I find that I cannot respect the man.

    Reply
  24. Adrienne Seltz

    Oh, what a sad and dismal outlook Dan Ashe! Shame on YOU! The American people are not interested in losing any more of their natural resources including wildlife than we already have! The greed and selfishness of the corporate machine that you all are dancing to is going to drive us ALL to extinction! I agree with Mr Parsons…do your job right and go out in a blaze of glory…I DARE YOU!

    Reply
  25. Rose Chilcoat

    We already live in a world with “fewer wolves, salmon and spotted owls!” Humans used to be able to live in balance with nature, as part of nature. We’ve allowed ourselves to behave in ways that suggest we are above nature where we get to decide which species “deserve” to survive. What hubris! It is time to stop, honestly assess, recalibrate and do whatever it takes for all species to have a chance to survive and even thrive. Dan Ashe, you are a sell out if “economic development” trumps protection of ALL species. The Endangered Species Act is clear as to what your job is supposed to be. Time to step up, take the heat, and do the job you know in your heart you are supposed to be doing…”conserving fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.” I don’t want to have to explain to my grandchildren how we knew we had screwed things up and we had this great law that was supposed to keep us from doing so again but we, the American people, didn’t have the will or desire to insist that our government DO ITS JOB to protect our endangered and diminishing biodiversity even if that means some people and some corporations (not the same thing at all) are unhappy with the result.

    Reply
  26. LORRAINE LAHUE

    Leave our wild life alone it needs to be saved wolves, loggerhead turtles, spotted owls, to name a few,enough is enough sea cows if their not saved the will all be gone forever don’t allow this.

    Reply
  27. Som Sai

    I didn’t hear Director Ashe saying fewer species, just fewer wolves, salmon, and spotted owls. Wolves are one of the most prolific and wide ranging predators on the planet, their current range circles the globe, some salmon and the spotted owl are being outcompeted by other species such as pickerel and barred owl. I’ll be interested in seeing if this comment posts.

    Reply
  28. Dr. Tony Povilitis

    Mr. Ashe should resign, not just for this statement but for his lousy record as FWS director. And conservationists should demand that he do. He is not going to magically stop being an apologist for the status quo, i.e. relegating wildlife to most other interests. Folks, we are being too timid and polite.

    Reply
    • Rosa

      Agree. They have gone way too far and for too long. Their arrogance, bloodthirsty, coldhearted, greedy attitude is selfishly indulging their needs but everyone else is suffering!

  29. Karen Jensen-merchant

    Never stop fighting for wildlife! I have lived in Arizona and cherish it’s ecologically biverse beauty and importance. We have to hold those in power accountable for their ignorance and weakness in giving in to special interests. I live in Colorado now where they do seem vested in keeping the wild areas just that and the tourism dollars it brings.

    Reply
  30. Rosa

    I will do everything I can to STOP these bloodthirsty, greedy EVIL humans from thriving. ENOUGH is ENOUGH!

    Reply

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