Many years ago in my younger days — shortly after the earth’s crust had cooled if I remember correctly — I lived in a typical middle-class suburban home with my parents and brother in the San Fernando Valley, where I grew up next to a cornfield adjacent to a nearby farmhouse.
I awoke early every morning before school to the sounds of bleating sheep, cows mooing, chickens clucking and crowing roosters.
The Valley, as it was more commonly known, was still characterized in the late 50s and early 60s by mostly large empty parcels that were checker-boarded here and there by dairy farms and fruit orchards.
The vacant land was a homebuilder’s dream, and it wasn’t long before the cornfields and farmlands, including the one next to my childhood home, were sold to developers.
One by one, agricultural fields were transformed into tracks of family dwellings, apartments and shopping malls until virtually all the undeveloped land had promptly disappeared.
One fond memory that I still recall in particular during this period of change was the seasonal migratory flight of thousands of geese flying in “V” shaped formation across the Valley like WWII bombers.
Over several weeks during the fall season, these waves of winged chevrons decorated the sky.
On their journey, many thousands of honking geese passed overhead undisturbed and apparently oblivious to whatever lay below them.
Looking skyward, the countless flocks of birds were a fascinating spectacle as they followed some innate call to migrate each season to warmer climes.
But over the years, by the time I had entered adulthood the number of these majestic feathered creatures began to diminish. It wasn’t too long before I noticed that there were far fewer geese flying overhead than usual.
I mention this because it’s germane to the topic of my column: the fact that the survival of wildlife and the preservation of their habitat have been threatened for many years.
Sadly, over the past four decades, humans have managed to kill off a staggering number of wild animals worldwide, according to a major survey by the World Wildlife Fund.
The overall trend in the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish populations has declined an average of 52 percent since 1970. Habitat destruction, including over-fishing and poaching, is mentioned by WWF as some of the main factors in the reduction.
The organization pointed out that this percentage doesn’t mean we’ve wiped out half of all species, but on average the world’s vertebrate population are about half the size they were back in the early 70s. Seabirds have declined 39 percent, along with a dwindling population of land species by an estimated 38 percent, caused in part by pollution and deforestation.
According to a 2015 online article posted in the Huffington Post, populations of some commercial fish stocks, including tuna, mackerel and other marine life, have been cut in half or more during this same period.
Turtles, sharks and seabirds are still accidentally caught in huge numbers and killed by fishermen targeting other species.
The decline of wildlife has been far steeper than anyone realized, WWF reported.
Closer to home, a recent article by Damon Arthur of the Record Searchlight, noted that populations of wild pheasants in California have fallen to less than 10 percent of what they were in the late 1990s.
The future looks bleak for the colorful game birds, he wrote, despite strict restrictions in the number of birds that can be hunted, adding that the problem of falling bird populations isn’t limited to just California.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Geological Survey initiated a co-study, and found that profound changes in agricultural and land-use practices were major factors leading to the decline in game fowl throughout the United States.
This brings me back to the Lake Almanor Basin Area, and the reason that I can feel cautiously optimistic about the future of our region’s wildlife.
The Plumas County Audubon Society’s website states that the organization’s mission is to “promote understanding, appreciation, and protection of the biodiversity of the Feather River Region through education, research, and the restoration and conservation of natural ecosystems.”
In partnership with various environmental organizations, Plumas Audubon is active in protecting area wildlife, including the notable grebes at their important breeding lakes in Northern California, including Lake Almanor, Eagle Lake, Antelope Lake and Lake Davis.
In addition to monitoring bird populations, Plumas Audubon conducts outreach and education activities near the lakes for a variety of native species.
It’s agencies like these, along with concerned citizens working to restore habitats to their historic conditions, that instill some semblance of hope that future generations will continue to enjoy local wildlife just as we do so today.
As for the rest of the world’s plant and animal populations, I remain deeply troubled. There seems to be a dearth of political will to adequately address the problem of declining animal life, as species continue to dwindle and eventually face extinction.