A Sixth Extinction—fair warning or fake news?

A new National Academy of Sciences study concludes the planet is facing a real threat of “biological annihilation.” The scientists who carried out the research call the decimation of the world’s large mam- mals a “global epidemic” and say the rate of decline is accelerating.
Up to 50 percent of all individual ani- mals have been lost in recent decades. Two-fifths of the 177 mammal species sur- veyed lost more than 80 percent of their range or geographic distribution between 1900 and 2016.
The release of this study coincides with news that the world’s population has reached an all-time high of 7.6 billion. In Asia, the world’s most populous continent, three-fourths of the mammal species sur- veyed have lost 80 percent of their range in the last century or so.
The fact that animal and human popu- lations are moving in opposite directions is unsettling but not surprising.
Scientists mainly attribute the decline in wildlife numbers to overpopulation and overconsumption. True, but it’s also a function of public policy and political cul- ture—in other words, leadership and citi-
zenship. Despite accelerating
global extinction rates dur- ing the last century, many of the thousands of species losing population are still not given any special legal protections.

The National Academy of Sciences warns that, “The resulting biological anni- hilation will have serious ecological, economic and social consequences” and pre- dicts that “Humanity will eventually pay a very high price” for failing to act now.
Often overlooked in scientific studies decrying the decline in biodiversity are the business- and tax-revenue implications of wildlife for many local and regional economies. Spend a week in Yellowstone Park like 4.2 million visitors did in 2016 and it’s highly likely you will get to see grizzly bears as well as geysers. Take the wildlife out of the equation and watch what happens to the cash flow from eco- tourism.
Amid reports of gloom and doom for the world’s wildlife there are some bright spots. North America’s black bear populations, for example, are on the rebound east of the Mississippi where bears were long ago hunted to extinction. According to National Geographic, “An estimated 800,000 black bears roam the continent,
slowly returning to many of their old haunts.”
Colorado is a different story, however. A recent article in The Denver Post warns, “Colorado’s bear population could decline if current trends and practices continue” and cites a disturbing fact close to home: ...(A)round Durango, where researchers studied 617 bears starting in 2011, the female bear population decreased by 60 percent.”
Nobody knows how many black bears roam the Colorado Rockies, but Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates the number to be around 17,000. Based largely on the number of bear-human conflicts, Colorado officials saw fit to issue 17,000 bear hunt- ing licenses in 2014!
According to CPW, there were more than 1,200 bear-human conflicts in 2015
and incidence of such conflicts is climbing at a rate of 4 percent a year. The numbers will keep rising because there are more humans, more people living and vacation- ing in Colorado, every year—not because there are more bears.
According to current projections, the state’s 5.54 million human population will grow to 10 million in the coming years. That will inevitably mean more human- bear conflicts and—unless things change— very, very bad news for bears.
But perhaps all this hand-ringing is just another example of all the fake news we are getting from the liberal media? Perhaps it’s true that many of the world’s top scientists are in league with dishonest journalists and newspaper editors and, of course, college professors who want noth- ing more than to deceive the public into believing—what, exactly?
• That the population explosion is a myth?
• That a global population of 7.6 billion in 2017 doesn’t present problems for the planet’s wildlife and other finite resources?

• That biodiversity is not under threat? • That wildlife is not a valuable resource?

• That protecting nature is a partisan political issue?

• That humans aren’t part of the problem?

• That seeking solutions is a hopeless pursuit?

Our corner of Colorado is a microcosm of a world that
faces what is arguably the biggest challenge in human history, a challenge of a kind and magnitude that did not exist and could not be imagined in1817, when humans numbered a “mere” one billion, or in 1917 when the “war to end wars” claimed the lives of an estimated 40 million people, followed by the worst pandemic (the “Spanish Flu”) in recorded history.
We’ve had a century to think about what happens when people in power let pride and prejudice get in the way of objective reasoning.
It’s fair warning, not fake news.

Tom Magstadt writes and cooks in the log cabin of his dreams. He lives on a mountain in Ouray County and fre- quents Colorado Boy almost enough to qualify as a regular. Visit Tom’s blog at http://open.salon.com/blog/dakotakid