Photo: Dead birds and fish... What's going on?

We should take notice when birds and other animals die off in large numbers, but the recent "mysterious" occurrences aren't the ones that should be getting us most concerned. (Credit: Scottnj via Flickr).

By Dr. Faisal Moola, Program Director, Terrestrial Conservation and Science

Blackbirds dropping out of the sky in Arkansas. Fish floating belly up on Chesapeake Bay. Are these really signs of the "aflockalypse"?

We should take notice when animals die off in large numbers, but the recent "mysterious" occurrences aren't the ones that should be getting us most concerned. Even well-known Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson has said that the recent phenomena are more about modern communications technology than mysteries of nature.

"This instant and global communication, it's just a human instinct to read mystery and portents of dangers and wondrous things in events that are unusual," Dr. Wilson told The Associated Press. "Not to worry, these are not portents that the world is about to come to an end."

The Associated Press article also mentioned that Dr. Wilson was somewhat concerned about the amount of attention these die-offs are getting "while a larger but slower mass extinction of thousands of species because of human activity is ignored."

He's correct. These mass die-offs are not as infrequent as we might think. In the U.S., at least 160 such events are reported every year. The causes can include sudden changes in weather, disease, and environmental stress brought about by climate change — and it appears, maybe even fireworks.

But as Dr. Wilson points out, greater extinctions are looming, and they are what should really concern us, as we can do something about them.

For example, the David Suzuki Foundation recently released a study of government records showing that nearly half of all known wildlife in British Columbia is threatened or endangered, including well-known creatures such as grizzly bears, caribou, and orca whales. Despite this biodiversity crisis, B.C. has no endangered species law to protect its wildlife or habitat from mining, logging, or urban sprawl.

Canada has a federal endangered species law, but the government is dragging its feet on implementing it. As a consequence, some wildlife populations, like the northern spotted owl in B.C., have declined by over 90 per cent.

The unsettling events of recent weeks reveal that many wildlife populations are vulnerable to sudden and dramatic losses in numbers, sometimes due to natural causes. But let's not make a bad problem worse.

We need to reduce the environmental stressors that we, as humans, impose upon wildlife so that they can better cope and survive the challenges they face every day. We need to eliminate toxins such as dangerous pesticides, protect the habitat of endangered plants and animals like grizzly bears, and get serious about tackling climate change — which, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, could put 20 to 30 per cent of all plant and animal species assessed at increased risk of extinction as global average temperatures exceed a warming of 2º C to 3º C above pre-industrial levels.

It's good that people are concerned about the recent die-offs in the news, but we really need to start paying more attention to our role in the greater die-offs of plants and animals around the world.

January 7, 2011

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Jan 10, 2011
8:57 AM

Living on vancouver Isl. and as recently as 2 years ago been involved in logging of island,it seems evident that changes to current forestry methods are needed. As a great deal of logging occurs on high ground and steepslopes, the effect is considerable destabilization of soil causing increased flooding and sediment deposit into water sheds. This in-turn has a negative effect directly on fish habitat. It is my opinion that timber west whom operate with a certain amount of impunity on premise they are private lands, need to accept responsibility to practice ethical logging to best minumize damage to our shared enviroment. To sacrifice rights of so many to meet the greed of only a few is indeed a sad thing to witness. Eric Barber

Jan 10, 2011
1:38 AM

patrioticspace has 2 videos on YOUTUBE — alerting us to the HAARP testing at the dead bird zones in Arkansas

video #1: ALERT WARNING DANGER New Madrid Earthquake Imminent proof that HAARP is being used , and, video #2 More PROOF that HAARP is behind the mass deaths

he has mapped the world wide locations of the bird deaths, and they all line up on HAARP grids or stations—see his 2nd video, the map starts at 10:05 —

Jan 08, 2011
1:46 PM

Manitoba Hydro as done so much in destroying central Manitoba. It was one of the last four extensive delta areas of wetland wildlife habitat, remaining in relatively unspoiled condition on the North American continent. Wetland are most valueable resourses we have. In central Manitoba I alway thank the Lord that I live in a area, where we don’t have any volcanoes, mud slide, tornadoes etc. But a man made flood.

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