What are we going to do about this?

Dennis Paulson dpaulson at MAIL.UPS.EDU
Thu Oct 24 09:12:05 CDT 1996

Jorge Soberon wrote:

>Perhaps you US of A people have forgotten that, by stressing the definition
>just a little bit, the US is a also a megadiversity country. In Mexico we
>are using this argument all the time (to senators and representatives):
>we have to be proud of our rich and unique nature, the same way we are
>proud of our indian monuments and colonial architecture and thus we better
>pay the people that study it.

Obviously we agree strongly on the idea that we shouldn't have to stress
economic value to save biodiversity, Jorge.  I really believe that.  I
think we just need a lot more and a lot better PR.  Millions of people
watch nature programs on TV, and we just have to figure out how to reach
the millions who don't (or make do with the first group).

I don't think we have to stress the definition of megadiversity to include
the USA.  The country as a whole (even ignoring Hawaii) exhibits a
fantastic biodiversity.  The diversity of ectotherms in the Southeast is
mind boggling, with all kinds of relict fish and amphibian groups,
wonderful cave invertebrates and vertebrates, cypress swamp wetland
ecosystems parallelled nowhere else in the world, tremendous diversity of
deciduous trees, etc.  The sand islands of the Florida peninsula represent
an internationally significant ecosystem (maybe that's why everyone enjoys
the orange juice that comes from there).  The western mountains are
particularly rich in endotherms, with endemic mammal populations everywhere
you look and, in the Cascades and Sierras, the highest diversity of
conifers anywhere.  We need to publicize this richness far more than we've
done.  Richness is a lot more than just total species number, as we all
know, but let's make sure everyone knows that.  We need to influence
society to the point that when people hear the name "snail darter" they
immediately think "oh, wow" rather than "who cares?"

To turn around an argument made yesterday by John Shuey, perhaps we need to
think about putting more environmental money up front toward *publicizing*
ecosystems rather than just saving them.  I agree that buying up and
preserving land is of the utmost important, but can't we find funds to wage
our own PR campaign?  As my own pet example, I'll cite the northern spotted
owl, which has received a veritable flood of research funds.  It's a bit
ironic that we now probably know more about this species than all other
North American owls put together, yet money is still pouring into spotted
owl research. Let's *stop* studying this species right now and put all the
money available into high-class publicity about how wonderful owls are.
Anyone who thinks owls are just the neatest things in the world isn't going
to support a plan to destroy their habitat (spotteds aren't the only owls
losing habitat, they're just the only listed species).

Dennis Paulson, Director                           phone 206-756-3798
Slater Museum of Natural History                 fax 206-756-3352
University of Puget Sound                       e-mail dpaulson at ups.edu
Tacoma, WA 98416

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