Friday, March 20, 2015

Duck, Duck, Goose, Goose

By Bob Ferris

Snow geese in Washington by Walter Siegmund
via Wikimedia Commons
Recently in Idaho more than 2000 snow geese dropped out of the sky…dead.  The likely cause is avian cholera, but it might not be.  In this some people are blaming Idaho for the happenstance, but my mind is reeling at this point with possible culprits or gangs of causes.  I am reminded in all of this of that rather Pogo-like saying about finger pointing: When you point you must remember that three of the fingers and the thumb are generally pointing right back at you.

Where does one start to unravel something such as this?  We would not have had avian or fowl cholera in the US—if that is what it is—if it had not been brought here from Europe in the 30s or 40s. We would not have had these concentrations of snow geese (see below video from near Klamath Falls, Oregon) or the problems at the northern breeding grounds had we not mismanaged habitats. The problem too might not have been as pronounced if we would have dealt early with resident Canada goose issue in several flyways.  And who knows the impact of our diminishing or wiping out our native swans or being slow to act on non-native mute swans?

Certainly habitat quantity and quality are at the core of this in some manner.  Issues like draining wetlands, agricultural conversion and urban sprawl are major actors.  The century old refuge system—no matter how well designed—tends to concentrate a lot birds in relatively small spaces stressing the birds and making disease transmission all that much more likely.

And climate change.  Who knows?  Is it climate change triggered?  Is the drought contributing though further critter concentration or better viral conditions? And how much of the drought’s severity can be attributed to climate change?

In addition, how much of all this is linked to or peripherally tied to what is happening with sea stars and sea butterflies (pteropods) or honey bees for that matter?   And elk hoof rot could also be thrown in here as just another problem with an undetermined cause or collections of causes.

My sense is that the geese and other critters are the warning and service lights on the dashboard of our ecosystems in the Northwest.  A prudent driver faced with multiple flashing lights would slow and find out what is going on.  So what does that say about those in leadership roles who want to export coal, oil and LNG essentially revving the engine or speeding up?  What does that say about those who what to turn off the warning lights and proceed blindly by hindering the ability of regulatory agencies to regulate or freely get information from scientists?    And what does it say about us if we allow them to do so?

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