Arizona (River) Highways

In wildness is the preservation of the world.

— Henry David Thoreau

I moved to Arizona eleven years ago in search of wildness. I came from Iowa, the most successful state in the Union at eliminating wild lands. A majority of Iowa was once covered by prairie, a rich grassland ecosystem that was home to bison, prairie chickens, elk, bears, mountain lions, wolves, and even river otters. All that was dismantled — or 99.9 percent of it, anyway — to make way for row crops, mostly corn and soybeans. Iowa became a wilderness sacrifice area.

Yellow warbler, San Pedro River (Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management).

The fact that so much of Arizona remains wild has nothing to do with any ecologically-minded superiority of its inhabitant, of course. Mostly, Arizona has been blessed with a lack of water. The Sonoran desert is still host to so much of its original wildlife simply because, with few exceptions, the European migration (or “invasion,” to most native peoples) that began in the early 16th century found the desert inhospitable, or more accurately, unprofitable.

Riparian areas — the interface between land and water — are home to countless species of plants and animals in the arid Southwest, most noticeably to birds that either live there permanently or travel along them. For much of the wildlife here, rivers are the true Arizona highways.

Profiled in the video below, the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in southeastern Arizona is one of the richest protected areas of its kind in the state. (Map, PDF)

To learn more about the SPRNCA, and efforts to protect it, visit the website of the Friends of the San Pedro River.

Congress Approves Wildlife Conservation Stamp

Artist's conception

The Breast Cancer Research stamp has raised $77 million since it was introduced in 1998. Now, another “semipostal” stamp will raise funds to help endangered species worldwide, thanks to a bill passed by Congress on Thursday.

The Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), one of 31 groups that supported and lobbied for HR 1454, praised the efforts of Representatives Henry Brown (R-SC) and Madeleine Bordallo (D-Gaum) in making the stamp a reality.

“The success of this bill demonstrates the importance of bipartisan support for conservation and the value Members of Congress and their constituents place on the world’s imperiled species,” said Marydele Donnelly, director of international policy for STC. “As the United States is faced with budget shortfalls, creative legislation like HR 1454 is enormously appealing, a situation in which all win.”

The stamp, which will be printed in 2011, will cost a few cents more than a regular first class stamp, with the extra money going to protect sea turtles, tigers, rhinos, elephants and great apes.


Mutinational Species Coalition

Video | ‘Off The Deep End’ in the Gulf of Mexico

Like anyone with a heart, I’ve been saddened and outraged by the images of oil-covered birds and turtles from the Gulf. As a diver, I was concerned from the start about the potential effects of the oil and dispersant on the life we land-dwellers can’t see — the life teaming deep beneath the surface.

Recently, I put together a reading list for World Oceans Day. Of the dozen books listed, two were by Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and former chief scientist with the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration.

Gale Mead

Gale Mead

Two out of a dozen apparently wasn’t good enough for Earle’s daughter, Gale Mead, who suggested adding her mother’s most recent book, The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One. On a whim, I did a search for Mead. I was delighted by what I found. Not only is Mead an explorer in her own right, she’s also a talented musician with a wonderful CD titled Common Good that’s filled with as much passion and life as a coral reef. And, it turned out, Mead had filmed the first — and only — glimpse of the bountiful life on a seamount off the Louisiana coast. Unfortunately, that spot is just sixteen miles from where, eight years later, the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 and spewing millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The OnEarth Video

I contacted Mead and she readily agreed to do an over-the-phone interview/narration of her 2002 dive, including her assessment of the threat posed to this unique ecosystem by oil and chemical dispersants. The resulting video was produced for OnEarth magazine, a part of that publication’s continuing coverage of the Gulf disaster.