Are We Creating Biological Deserts?

Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

May 14, 2017


     I used to think that I didn't need to monitor our parks, because they would automatically be well managed. Was I ever wrong!


     What are your biologists doing? Like many young people, they probably envisioned themselves working every day to enhance and protect our native wildlife. Instead, they have presided over turning our parks into human playgrounds!


     First, you need to know what a park is. It is wildlife (all non-human, non-domesticated species – plants as well as animals) habitat. Period. What makes a place a park is precisely the presence of living things. Otherwise, you have something like a quarry or a parking lot – not a place that people like to visit.


     But our current park management seems to think that they aren't successful unless humans are visible from every corner of every park – a formula that is guaranteed to drive the wildlife out of the parks. In the last 30 plus years that I have been visiting the parks, I have seen one deer (and only because it was flushed by an off-leash dog), one spotted skunk, one gopher snake, two Alameda whipsnakes (one flushed by a French broom-removal project), one raccoon, one rubber boa, one garter snake, two ring-neck snakes (one being eaten by the garter snake, one killed by a mountain biker on a trail closed to bikes), and five rattlesnakes (but none for the last several years). I used to regularly see California quail, but I haven't seen any for a long time.


     Why are there so few animals in our parks, and why are those that are left declining? One reason is that the native plants that they evolved with have been swamped by invasive exotic plants, such as French broom, Italian thistle, poison hemlock, Russian thistle, etc. Why has so little attention been paid to them? Why are there no notices in the parks asking for volunteers to help remove the exotics?


     What, if anything, is being done to reduce the human footprint in the parks? Is it really necessary to allow camping in the parks? Isn't it enough that humans dominate the parks during the daytime? Why do we need to extend that to the night also? Why is mountain biking allowed in the parks? The use of a bicycle extends a person's range by at least a factor of ten. I once saw a ride announcement on a mountain biking listserv for a 115-mile ride! Is it really necessary to allow mountain bikers to go 15 MPH? What can one possibly see at 15 MPH?


     Is it old-fashioned and obsolete to care about and want to learn about other species? Has biology turned into the study of molecules? You of all people should know that the Anthropocene is not just a disaster for other species, but disastrous for humans as well….




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