Holiday twofer: Zinke out; rockfish in

Ever since I read the awesome “The Feather Thief” earlier in the year, I’ve been on an extinction reading kick. It’s depressing. 

Kirk Wallace Johnson devotes a lot of pages to acquainting readers with biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection, along with Charles Darwin. Of course, Darwin is the name we remember but the story of Wallace and the doomed Birds of Paradise in the 19th century makes for a page turner, so much so that I continued the through line with other authors. 

First came Melanie Challenger’s “On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature.” Challenger is a poet and skillfully takes the reader along a time line that leads from her grandmother’s favorite wild flower on England’s Berkshire Downs, the common dog-violet, to a global tour that takes her to extinction events in Antactica, First Nations, Canada and Manhattan. Much of the book chronicles the annihilation of the natural world. It’s depressing in a beautiful, lyrical way, full of the care for our language few except a poet possess.

Next, I read “The Sixth Extinction” by the equally lyrical Elizabeth Kolbert. But, whereas Challenger is a poet, Kolbert, a writer for the New Yorker, is a journalist. Another amazing work, this one takes the reader through geologic time, punctuated with scientists who are meticulously documenting this time dubbed “Anthropocene,” and you realize that we live an age of nearly unprecedented extinction. I always wondered what happened to the frogs in our own Frogtown. My friend Ban once recounted how there used to be so many frogs on the streets that in some seasons it was nearly impossible not to step on them. Now, they’re gone, and, thanks to Kolbert, I know why. It’s depressing. 

Finally, I’m a third of the way through Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”  It started out brighter than the other two, engaging the reader with such items as “the gossip theory” for why humans went from middling predators to the top of the food chain. But, once again, as the pages mounted, the message became equally dire. It’s a historical who done it, where the bad guys are us. Yup, depressing.  

So, it was with great holiday pleasure that I paged through the print Los Angeles Times this morning, to find two memorable events: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is following former scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruit out the revolving Trump door, pursued by a cloud of more than a dozen ethics violations. Here’s a summary of what he did during his close to two years in office. Top of mind for me was his tone deaf response to millions of comments asking him not to recommend shrinking Bear’s Ears National Monument. 

But the real good news (both Pruit’s as well as Zinke’s probable replacement are nickers’ deep in coal and gas industry ties) is the return of commercial and recreational fishing for rock fish off the Southern California coast.  The feds just increased the catch rate on some rock fish populations by 100 percent or more because of the success of rebuilding those stocks. That translates to jobs, estimated at 640, revenue, estimated at $44 million and local red snapper back on dinner plates. 

See you on the river, Jim Burns

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