California’s Ecological Future and the Popular Perspective on Wildlife Conservation

Published on March 29th, 2013

Increasingly, the inevitable connection between population growth and environmental degradation is being reinforced.  As a recent poll administered by Public Policy Polling revealed, the majority of Americans acknowledge the trade offs associated with growth.  Keep in mind that these trade offs are all the more serious for population increases on the scale that California is currently experiencing. [Population Growth Seen as Species Threat, UPI.com, March 1, 2013]

From these latest opinions, 60 percent of people affirmed our society’s moral responsibility to mitigate wildlife extinctions that will result from an expanding population.  And furthermore, the poll results show that 61 percent of those surveyed were already concerned with the rate of wildlife disappearance.  Considering that many scientific organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity, definitively characterize the present day as the Earth’s sixth great wave of mass extinction, awareness of plant and animal species disappearance should be even higher.

Historically, organisms of commercial importance and ecological significance have experienced population crashes at the hands of human activity throughout the state.  From California’s once profitable abalone harvesting to over hunting of the world’s largest sirenian “Steller’s Sea Cow,” the issue of fauna species loss hits close to home.

Possibly the most visible example of a locally extinct species is the Grizzly Bear.  It’s difficult to ignore the symbolism, as our flag prominently features what used to be an impressive species that embodied the early Californian spirit.  Lessons from these and other wildlife population crashes in the state offer future economic and recreational opportunities, as well as ecosystem health as reasons to not passively accept overpopulation and the loss of species.

Unfortunately, there’s often a disconnect between popularly held views, and the choices in our political sphere.  As voters we have an obligation to demand to have our concerns reflected in our local and national representatives’ actions.  Even many environmental groups do not tackle the overpopulation issue with the energy that it deserves, coming at the expense of the very species or natural resources they aim to conserve.  Land development, resource use, and pollution are all tied to human activity, which in turn impacts wildlife habitat both in terms of quality and quantity.  The role of expressing popularly held views on population growth is essential in positively guiding political and other efforts regarding many ecologically significant issues.

California’s future is increasingly clear.  If nothing is done about current growth trends, California will add another 20 million people by 2050, swelling the state’s population to 58 million. The growth rate is almost unprecedented in the industrialized world, being more on pace with the rates that many African and Asian countries now deal with.  This is a crucial time for deciding California’s future direction, and presents an opportunity for those who value environmental integrity to intervene for the sake of preventing extinction.  It is important to talk openly about the realities of species loss as it’s linked to excessive population growth, especially since public opinion is a foundation that can force change for the greater good, fulfilling the “moral responsibility” to prevent the permanent loss of species that many Americans share.

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