From Our Readers
SAVING THE GHOST CAT
The Field Note on jaguar conservation in North America [“Ghost Cat,” November-December 2006] presents a misleading view of the issue. First, the Fish and Wildlife Service is not without scientific support for its judgment that the U.S. portion of the jaguar’s range is not critical to its persistence. Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, one of the world’s leading jaguar experts, has reached the same conclusion. Second, securing critical habitat designation in the U.S. is not the principal issue. Such a ruling cannot protect the jaguars where they are breeding, roughly 140 miles south of the border, and what it should, or could, entail in the U.S. is far from clear. Most likely it would result in more paperwork for public agencies and acrimonious fights with landowners—but little else. Finally, “Ghost Cat” neglects to mention the role that private landowners, such as the Malpai Borderlands Group, are already playing in jaguar conservation in the region. Working to prevent fragmentation of private ranchlands, which form the matrix around public lands throughout the West, is a strategy of far greater conservation importance and potential than litigating for critical habitat designation.
Nathan F. Sayre, Ph.D.
University of California, Berkeley
In his writing regarding the naval air strip [“Crash Course,” November-December 2006], Ted Williams has once again produced an excellent article. However, I am puzzled by one statement. The article claims one way that the Navy plans to get rid of the birds is to “require farmers to replace grain the birds depend on with crops they can’t eat.” Birds have been migrating to this area long before man started to farm it. Why do birds now “depend” on this artificial source of food? What source of food did they originally depend on? Has our development eliminated or greatly reduced their natural food sources? Or does our farming artificially support a greater population than would naturally occur?
TED WILLIAMS RESPONDS:
Mr. Girardi answers his own question. But it’s not just development that has greatly reduced natural food sources. It’s also the invasive exotic plants that humans have unleashed. Because the birds did not evolve with this alien vegetation, they can’t utilize it, in most cases. And to a large extent, it has replaced the native plants they once depended on.
DOLPHINS, AND MANATEES, TOO
In the article about swim-with-the dolphin tours [Field Notes, “Flipping Out,” November-December 2006], the author mentioned that because they are not endangered, dolphins don’t have the strict protections enjoyed by other cetaceans listed under the Endangered Species Act. I live in Crystal River, Florida, where the endangered manatee doesn’t enjoy any protection whatsoever from harassment by hundreds of swimmers who visit daily. The Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act all make harassing manatees illegal, and yet it goes on as it has for decades. There is an argument by the local tour operators that manatees enjoy the contact with humans and seek them out. Some do (after years of conditioning), but only to a certain extent. Others are stressed by the contact forced on them. Some leave the area with the arrival of the first tour boat. Because manatees require the 72 degree F spring water to survive the winter (they will die if exposed to water temperatures below 68 degrees F for prolonged periods), they are forced to endure the attention, harassment, and abuse. Public outrage is what it will take to end the practice of “playing” with wild animals.
Crystal River, FL
WRECKING THE VIEW
Re your article about wind power [“Selling the Wind,” September-October 2006]: I understand your focus is primarily on birds, but most articles I have seen on this subject, including yours, miss the most important environmental concern: visual pollution. Wind farms destroy the visual appeal of open spaces. They require enormous amounts of real estate and are quickly gobbling up and visually destroying the wide-open spaces. One unit might lend interest to a landscape, but vast fields of wind generators stretching from horizon to horizon are a blight on the landscape. In Texas these units are usually located on ridgelines heretofore untrammeled. Bulldozing new access roads permanently scars these fragile desert uplands and invites incidental off-road use. Wildlife habitat is compromised.
Your foldout on energy savings for the home [“Power to the People,” September-October 2006] probably turned people off adopting more energy-efficient methods. The lack of context and differentiation between regions shows savings in no relation to what can occur in different regions of the country, not mentioning the size of the house and the small print of the assumptions, which were so basic as to be laughable.
It’s always gratifying to hear from readers who want more in-depth information. The Audubon guide serves as a starting point for interested homeowners. For more detailed guidance, visit the Rocky Mountain Institute’s website (www.rmi.org) and www.energystar.gov.
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