A few years ago I had the idea to write a field guide to ending the war on nature, a compendium of the many animals on earth which were threatened with extinction, and what we could do to reverse the trajectory. It was not the book I ended up writing.
There were so many personal stories in my life travels and many with field biologists through the years, that it seemed telling these stories might be the best way to talk about wildlife, their place on earth and the efforts being made to protect them.
The chapters took on a life of their own and each country I visited, each scientist I encountered studying a species, presented a theme, a blueprint of a problem and its possible solution. “Peru” became about a scraggly little tree called the polylepsis high in the Andes which supported a few hundred Royal Cinclodes thrushes while the people decimated it for much needed firewood. “Bahamas” was about protecting a few remote cays so the endangered Piping Plover wintering there could return safely to its breeding grounds in the USA in the spring. “Newfoundland” told the story of one Cod fisherman whose way of life ended with the collapse of the fish due to greed that once fed much of the western world.
It is also the story of my birth as a conservationist, the people who influenced my thinking, and my life in wildlife. When I fell in love with birds it was natural for me to want to protect them. It is as simple as that. Conservation is a process, not an event, as the great field biologist George Schaller says. It is ongoing. It is about staying the course to end harmful chemicals in our air, water and soil, to keep forests, fields and shores safe from over development and excessive human incursion. It is about curbing carbon emissions into the atmosphere to mitigate climate extremes and leave a viable planet for our children’s children and the animals and other natural resources we live with and depend on.