EDITOR: Our Shrinking Biodiversity. Why Should We Care? What Can We Do?
Biodiversity refers to the variety of life found in a place on Earth, or the total variety of life on Earth. It encompasses the variety of ecosystems that species create. One cannot talk about biodiversity without talking about extinction, where a species is no longer found anywhere on Earth.
Past extinctions have been attributed to natural consequences such as global warming or cooling due to meteor impacts and explosions on our planet, enhanced volcanic activity, etc.
Our current extinction, however, is entirely the work of human hands. Early man butchered mammoths, mastodons, camels, giant beavers, and ground sloths. These animals live on now only in museums of natural history.
With the advent of agriculture and destruction of ecosystems and species habitats, extinctions accelerated exponentially: in a.d. 1600, 1 species was lost every thousand years; in 1985, 1,000 species went extinct per year; in 2000, between 20,000 to 50,000 species are doomed to extinction each year. This is an alarming rate of species extinction, and only represents the species we can count. Many more species are lost that we are unaware of, some of which we will never know existed.
Why should we care about shrinking biodiversity and species degradation and loss?
There is growing evidence that novel infectious diseases are linked to decreasing biodiversity; that in intact ecosystems, species act as natural hosts to contain viruses. In the absence of a natural host, a virus can jump to humans and cause disease. A UN program noted that up to 75% of emerging infectious zoonotic diseases, diseases transmissible from animals to humans, are a result of ecosystem destruction. Some recent examples of such diseases include Lyme disease, malaria, Ebola, West Nile virus and the current coronavirus.
What can we do?
We can first acknowledge the exponential loss of wildlife and wildlife habitat, and its impact on human health. We can join conservation efforts and lobby to keep entities such as Federal and State Endangered Species Acts in place. We can ban together to protect our existing public lands, wilderness and wildlife.
To bring this closer to home, Colorado has over 22 million acres of public lands and is home to four national parks, eight national monuments, 41 state parks and millions of acres of wilderness, and public lands managed by the National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Our fantastic public lands sustain a myriad of ecosystems which are critical to sustaining the biodiversity of our fish and wildlife. Colorado is home to approximately 60 ecological systems. These cover the entire elevational gradient across our state, from flat and rolling prairies in the east, through foothills shrub and woodlands, mountain forests and alpine tundra, to the canyon and sagebrush country in the west. Each ecosystem has its own complement of plants, animals, and natural communities. Waters from alpine snow melts sustain all of the State’s ecosystems along its path to the Gulf of California.
Our lands generate a world-class outdoor recreation industry, which provides 229,000 jobs and generates over $2 billion in revenue.
Visitors come from near and far to hike, bike, ski and hunt on our lands, and to fish and raft on our raging rivers.
It takes years of research, coalition building and collaboration with broad stakeholder communities to draft a public lands legislation, and only the stroke of a pen by the President to gut the lands and sell the pieces to the highest bidder as exemplified by Bears Ears and Grand Staircase of the Escalante National Monuments.
We can’t let this happen. We need to protect our public lands, watershed and wilderness for their own sake and for future generations of Coloradans.
In addition to safeguarding our natural heritage and diverse ecosystems, we should look for opportunities to enhance our biodiversity. An example is the increase in biodiversity with the return of an apex predator, the Gray Wolf to Yellowstone National Park a quarter century ago. Riparian habitats had turned to mud flats and cake pans when deer and elk over-grazing, led to the disappearance of trees and river vegetation, and hence the departure of beaver and beaver dams which sustained a universe of song birds, otters, amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects. The return of the Gray Wolf to the Yellowstone ecosystem overtime led to a balancing of the elk population, return of vegetation and habitat, return of the beaver, and so on.
We have a chance to contribute to Colorado’s biodiversity by restoring the Gray Wolf to Colorado.
Once gray wolves numbered in the millions and were a part of our iconic landscape. Today, there are fewer than 6,000 gray wolves remaining in the continental United States, residing in less than 15 percent of their historic range.
Colorado is the missing link to a wildlife corridor that would sustain the gray wolf population from Canada to Mexico. We have an opportunity to complete the wildlife corridor when we amassed an overwhelming number of signatures, 215,000, to put the Gray Wolf on the 2020 ballot.
We can make a difference, for the Gray Wolf, for Colorado’s biodiversity, and for our health and humanity.
This October/November, Vote Yes for Proposition 107 and Restore the Gray Wolf to Colorado.
Vote Yes for enhancing Colorado’s biodiversity.
Vote Yes for human health.
— Rose Pray, via [email protected]