A few weeks ago a couple of close friends that I have known since high school came up to visit me from the town of Santa Cruz — my previous adopted hometown years ago before eventually making my current and permanent home in Westwood — for a two-day exploration of the wonders of the Northern Sierra region.
As we drove along the causeway approaching Chester, my buddies were delighted to see what they perceived to be a wonderland of bird species frolicking in Lake Almanor and along the shoreline.
The water level of the lake was still high, but already receding, revealing more and more of Chester Meadow where a group of swans huddled together, perhaps to discuss the lake’s great feeding and breeding opportunities.
My friends thought there were a lot of birds to observe at the lake. Perhaps, but my take is that I never thought there were nearly as many as I would expect to see here, even in the summer months.
Of course I’m a relative newcomer to the region, so what do I know? I do know that the Plumas Audubon Society has worked hard to preserve habitat for the grebe population, which the organization fears is dwindling.
I harken back to my boyhood while living in the San Fernando Valley when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and shortly after the invention of the wheel, when I stood just outside the family cave gazing at squadrons of geese flying in formation, filling the sky in droves as they migrated to warmer climes before the advent of winter, only to see the numbers plummet over the decades until such sights were rare and nearly forgotten.
I truly love the diversity of wildlife here in Plumas County compared to the metropolis I once lived in during my youth, not only the number of bird species that can be found, but every creature living in our neck of the woods.
Yet the constant news of habitat destruction we hear about every day and the growing list of endangered species worldwide remains ominous.
Biologists suspect that the planet is undergoing a sixth mass extinction, with global wildlife experiencing a major collapse in numbers. Earth has witnessed five previous major mass extinctions, according to scientific studies, when more than 75 percent of species disappeared.
There has been a precipitous decline in species since the 1970s, according to the Living Planet Index as reported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, including a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which humans have caused the extermination of up to 83 percent of all wild mammal populations and half of all plants.
”Overall, as much as half of the total number of animal populations that once shared the Earth with humans are already gone, a clear sign that we’re on the brink, if not in the midst of, a mass extinction,” the authors asserted, as populations are driven to extinction in unprecedented numbers.
Globalcitizen.org says that of all the birds left in the world, 70 percent are poultry. Of the mammals left in the world, 60 percent are livestock, 36 percent are pigs, and a mere 4 percent remain in the wild.
So many species are on the verge of extinction that it could take Earth 10 million years or longer to recover, warned Aylin Woodward, a science and environment reporter for Business Insider in New York City.
Deforestation, overfishing, pollution, land development, habitat loss and carbon dioxide-emissions, which cause the earth to warm are driving species around the world to annihilation.
Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List unit, tells TIME magazine that, “People often disregard wetland habitats. … They think they need to restore wetlands to something that’s better than a wetland, but then you wipe out all the natural biodiversity that’s there, including fish.”
Hundreds of millions of people around the world depend on freshwater and ocean fish as their main source of protein, according to Jeff Opperman, global lead scientist for freshwater at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, an international non-governmental organization working in the field of wilderness preservation and the world’s leading independent conservation organization.
The endangerment of species is not only a critical issue for animal and plant life but can also have a detrimental impact for humans, Hilton-Taylor says.
“The future of humanity — food, drinking water, clean air — is all dependent on maintaining the biodiversity around us. … We can’t afford to lose any of these species.”
Even conscientious politicians who sincerely wish to ameliorate the problem of habitat destruction are behind the curve, including budget restraints that limit what can be done.
Then there are those world leaders who deny that there is a problem at all and refuse to act.
For example, Brazil holds more than 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest — called the lungs of the planet by scientists.
With the election of a new president who said he is devoted to the dismantling of Brazilian environmental and regulatory bodies, Amazon deforestation is accelerating at the rate of one-and-a-half soccer fields every minute.
Even as trash and non-biodegradable plastic fill the oceans, there nevertheless remains some hope for the future, at least in slowing down the rate of devastation of our planet’s ecosystems.
Some of the world’s largest conservation groups are calling for 30 percent of land and 30 percent of ocean be preserved as protected areas by 2030.
Locally, organizations such as the Plumas Audubon Society and the Feather River Land Trust, as well as national organizations like The Sierra Club have been active in conservation efforts by working toward protecting the health of our environment through education, conservation and restoration projects.
Maintaining a healthy environment isn’t in itself a political issue. Republicans, Democrats and Independents all live in the same world. Individuals must take responsibility regardless of political affiliation by making a commitment to reduce, reuse, and recycle — all helping to cut down on the amount of waste we throw away.
Tragically, as humans continue to encroach on animals’ habitats, pollute their ecosystems, and drive the earth towards higher temperatures, we’re stubbornly marching away from a version of the world that we will never be able to retrieve.