Friday, July 25, 2014

No Way Home by David S. Wilcove

Why I read it: I'm a nature nut at heart.

Summary: The demise of the world's great migrations, on land, in the air and the seas.

My Thoughts: This story is more poignant this year than ever, as September 1, 2014 marks the centennial of the loss of the last Passenger Pigeon. The bird that once darkened the sky for hours in migration has now been eradicated from our planet for 100 years. The act was unconscionable. It seemed impossible, even at the time, but it happened.

And we all know about the American Bison, as nineteenth century overhunting diminished its numbers to near extinction. The same can be said of Right Whales. It seems that in the latter half of the 1800s we just perfected the art of mass slaughter of abundant animals.

But what we haven't paid much attention to is the habitat destruction and fragmentation that have disrupted the flow of migrations. The author discusses the plight of the Red Knot, a shorebird that has crashed in numbers because of our greed. We harvest and chop up Horseshoe Crabs for bait  in such numbers that the knots, which once fed on them extensively at a mid-Atlantic refueling station, can no longer sustain themselves on their northward migration to their Arctic breeding grounds.

How much of the American West has been fenced in? How much of the African corridors through which Springbok once migrated? And what does a sea full of lobster traps mean for a Humpback Whale in migration? And what have dams on major rivers done to Atlantic Salmon populations?

We, as a world, have to consider the entirety of a species' existence - breeding, migrating, wintering - if we are to preserve them. But we are talking about transnational collaboration between countries of varying economic capabilities, not to mention conservation sensitivities and political intentions.

Can it be done? Yes.

Will it?


  1. John,
    This sounds like a fascinating book. I'm putting it on my to-be-read list. The drive that some species have to migrate has interested me ever since I saw a show (probably in the early 70's) that followed a wildebeest migration. Nothing could deter them. And the sheer numbers! I just couldn't imagine. Unfortunately, imagine may be all we are able to do before too long.

    Thanks for the recommendation.


  2. I think you'll enjoy this one, then. The interconnections between the wildebeests and other animals in migration are amazing, how they unwittingly prepare the plant life for each other along the way. It's such a simple thing, but one wonders how it first happened - how did the birds know to cross half the planet to find food?

  3. Finished this last week while I was at our camp in Maine. You are right. The interconnection between the wildebeest and other animals was really interesting. Also, I had always considered migrations to occur over varying latitudes, not altitudes, so that was interesting to consider.

    As an aside, since I know you are a naturalist, have you heard anything about what is going on with the Great Blue Herons along mid-coast Maine? I hadn't realized it until this past week when someone mentioned that the herons aren't around anymore. I used to see them regularly at our place along the Kennebec, but I do not think I have seen one this year! (How did I not realize that?) What I have seen, and I have read could possibly explain the reduction in herons, is the increase in Bald Eagles. My son and I were out around sunset one night last week and counted 8 that we saw, and a couple more that we could hear. They are magnificent. In some ways, I hope the eagles are the reason the herons are not there. That at least seems like a natural consequence. If the herons are diminishing because of some man-made reason, then that is another story and I hope they can figure out what the problem is.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. It was pretty interesting and thought-provoking.


  4. Any living thing that thrives on fresh water sources is an ecological indicator, so my guess is that if it's not the eagles, which could be out-competing them for food, the herons may be reacting to a loss of frogs and small fish in the marshes and estuaries. We learn about the food chain and the web of life as kids, and we need to remember to do a refresher every time something falls out of place. It could be toxins related, or it could simply be loss of breeding habitat for the fish.

    Not noticing they were gone is normal; we often are very good at taking note of what we do see, but not so great at realizing what is missing from a picture.

    Glad you liked the book!