Steeves/Trail Mix: heed scientific warnings or we’ll lose more species

The Okanagan got the once-over this week from some pre-eminent scientific minds, and they left us with a warning we should heed.

Riparian areas are particularly biodiverse spots that are especially important to conserve intact to maintain the most number of natural species.

It’s not a question of if, but when we will lose our populations of such needy wildlife as large mammals in B.C. if our current rate of human population growth continues, according to the scientists.

So, we need to decide what parts of the natural world we want to sacrifice if we decide to continue at the current rate of growth.

The difficulty with that, they say, is that we aren’t sure how important which cogs are in making sure all the rest of the machinery continues to operate.

The web of life is still too complex for us to completely understand what depends on what for the whole to work: on cleaning our air and water; on providing the oxygen we need to breathe; and on conserving resources such as water.

Because work is what the natural world does—in order that we can continue to live.

It’s not just a pretty face, although it has a role to play in that respect as well.

So, if we take that web apart, somehow we have to make sure we don’t lose any bits, just in case those prove to be the bits that were vital in providing a service for us or making the whole continue to work.

Yet, we already have endangered species in the Okanagan Valley—quite a few of them—and we’re not certain those might not be the ‘bits’ that provide a vital service to us…

In other words, we’re already on a slippery slope that could lead to our downfall.

These dire warnings were just some of what I heard when interviewing some of the country’s pre-eminent evolutionary biologists and ecologists who were in Kelowna during the past week for the annual conference of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, hosted by UBCO.

In attendance were many of the newest and brightest young researchers in Canada, as well as some of the most venerated in the field, who have international reputations, and there were scientists visiting from other countries as well.

Not only was it the largest convention hosted yet by our new university, but it was quite an opportunity for us to show off the valley to some very bright minds.

What they saw not only impressed them with its beauty and its biodiversity, but it led them to warn us that the pace and nature of current development of the valley is doomed to destroy that vibrant biodiversity they still see in this varied ecosystem.

With their knowledge and background, they can easily spot the pinch points where humans are steam-rolling over the natural world of the Okanagan Valley, eliminating it along the way.

I’d never considered before that there are choices to be made about whether or not we want to conserve all species that were native here before we moved in on the valley. I just assumed that of course we should do that. But, when I think about it, I suppose we make a decision every time we fill in another wetland in order to construct an asphalt road over it or pour a concrete building on top of it.

Just about the only living thing that can survive on asphalt and concrete are humans and even we can’t take the air, water and food from it that we require to live.

We need the natural world we’re destroying.

It’s past time for us to sit up and take notice of what we, as a society, are doing. The fact that there’s lots of wilderness left in other parts of B.C. or Canada is irrelevant because in the same way that we’re attracted to the parts of the province or country that are the most conducive to comfortable living, so are wild creatures in need of those same amenities.

We both want to live under the best conditions.

Either we find a compromise that allows us both to exist, which will mean we reduce our footprint and our rush to develop and grow; or we must accept that we will eliminate species and keep hoping none of them are vital cogs in the web of life we require to keep living.

I’m not prepared to do the latter.

If you’re not either, then it’s time to approach those who manage growth and all its attendant habitat-crunching activities, beginning with your local council members or regional district directors to let them know, in writing, about your concerns about continued growth. Then move on to your local MLAs, which would be Norm Letnick, Steve Thomson or Ben Stewart in the Central Okanagan and your MP, either Dan Albas or Ron Cannan, and let them know, in writing, how concerned you are about damage that’s being done to habitat for fish and wildlife.

Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.

 

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com