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... BUT ARE THERE PIKA ON MARS?

There is something deeply disjunct, maybe even a pathos of sort, with the recent successful landing of Phoenix on the northern Mars arctic plain. That it is a remarkable achievement is beyond dispute. Indeed, the first photograph as Phoenix opened its proverbial eye is now my virtual desktop.

But it seems odd to me, at least, that all of this excitement of launching, flying and nerve-wracking landing on the Martian arctic plain so that we can dig down through icy soil and look for life of some sort is a bit out of place and occurs while we watch life disappear from this planet, the ONLY HOME that all that live here will ever have, at a pace unimaginable.

The polar bear, speaking of our own arctic North, is finally protected under the Endangered Species Act. Its demise is directly attributable to massive human-induced global climate change. But the administration rule denies the polar bear’s status is indicative of global warming! It seems far too many of us still think global warming is an event of the future and still somehow not connected to our overcharged consumer mentality. Recent reports have shown terrestrial species have declined by 25%, marine species by 28%, freshwater species by 29%... in the last 35-40 years! Just recently grave concerns have been raised concerning the survivability of the Western Atlantic bluefin tuna.

The Fish and Wildlife Service still refuses to assure all large viable core habitat is protected as critical habitat for Canada lynx. This includes the Uintas, for example. A recent New Yorker essay reports that we are likely looking squarely into the eyes of the last population of tigers. We know the status of many of the great apes--they may well be living ghosts. All bear species except the North American black bear are in peril. Our little alpine neighbors, the pika, are disappearing from almost all alpine and subalpine areas in the western mountains.

Recent pieces in Conservation Magazine and Orion tell of decimation of elephants and the rendering of their complex highly social cultures into a chaotic morass resulting in dysfunctional behavior.

No asteroid did this. All of this rests mightily and squarely on our shoulders.

Not mine, though,’ each of us will say and go about our business.

What motivates natural resource managers to open our own backyards to more ATVs/ORVs, more timber harvesting and grazing with less analysis, less monitoring, and less public input? How do we think these broad, horrific problems developed?

Much of this occurs simply because we have developed a recreational appreciation, not necessarily an ecological or even a personal connection with wildlands. We love our day hikes, backpacks, mountaineering and canyoneering adventures, our mountain bike rides and runs through the woods, our GPS units and cell phones, our fishing and hunting trips. We have learned to believe that caring about a single wolf or lynx or mountain lion chased and treed or bear pursued or lured to a bait or coyote stuck in trap is not good--populations and ecosystems matter. That has allowed us to shutter out, again, personal connection; to forget the direct actions emanating from our behavior, to imagine wildness as an object and we the subjects know of it, study it, take it, use it, paint it, photograph it, and walk past, not in it.

Owl by M. PettisNo one brings this home stronger than Charles Bergman: “Endangered species are not simply accidents of our way of living. They are the necessary consequences of our way of knowing animals.”

In what is billed as the most important election in a long time, the fundamental issue facing us--the demise of our planet because of global climate change (it is not an overstatement probably for the first time to talk in such a breath)-- is largely ignored, and glossed over, ironically, in terms of change and hope, a promise that we will return to a better time, and the belief that nothing will have to be foregone. A hopeless hope!

Okay, I’m already sensing, ‘Enough, enough! Have you no good news? We can’t stand this continuous blast of depressing news. Conservationists have got to be more upbeat. More hopeful.

If that means less honest, forget it. Fairy tale hope simply has no place. We need to know, understand the full and real story. We need to tell it and feel it. And with that maybe a voice will summon from our hearts making our politics meaningful, our resource managers accountable, and our voices wild.

Life on Mars. What happened to pika?

Dick Carter


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