"More than 85 percent of the virgin forests of the United States have been logged, 90 percent of the tallgrass prairies have been plowed or paved, and 98 percent of the rivers and streams have been dammed, diverted, or developed." In the face of this large-scale reshaping of the land, it is small wonder, notes Environmental Defense Fund ecologist David Wilcove, that so many plant, insect, and animal species should be endangered, mostly as a result of habitat loss. Writing in the tradition of Peter Matthiessen, whose book Wildlife in America
he cites as an important influence, Wilcove examines the history of extinctions in North America, a history that continues into the present. Wilcove believes that as much as 16 percent of all U.S. flora and fauna are in imminent danger--at least 16,000 species. Obstacles to effective conservation abound, Wilcove writes, among them "a lack of information, a tendency to ignore a problem until it becomes a crisis, a failure to commit adequate resources, and a failure to reward landowners who aid in the restoration of imperiled wildlife." Yet he sees hope in certain conservation efforts, especially those that look beyond individual species to try to preserve whole habitats. This book adds much useful information to the current discussion about the use of public lands and the curtailment of urban and suburban growth, and its conclusions are timely--even urgent. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Environmental Defense Fund ecologist Wilcove's important report takes readers on a chilling tour of the killing fields of AmericaAthe abused ecosystems where one-third of all U.S. plant and animal species are in immediate danger of extinction or are severely threatened. Written with great clarity, this survey underscores that the much publicized decline of songbird populations is only one tragic example of the assault on nature through habitat destruction, hunting, air and water pollution, disease and the introduction of alien or nonnative species. Modeled after Peter Matthiessen's classic Wildlife in America (1959), Wilcove's eloquent study is written from a more ecological, less historical perspective. With case studies ranging from Florida's Everglades to Hawaii, from the ravaging of once vast grasslands on the central plains to the damage inflicted on rivers, lakes and coastal regions, Wilcove shows how the parts of an ecosystem are interrelated and how disruption of one element affects all components. There is much horror hereAthe ruthless campaigns to eliminate wolves and grizzlies; the near-extinction of the California condor; the ongoing decimation of American elms, beeches, hemlocks, Fraser firs, red sprucesAbut there is also some good news. Wilcove points to ecosystem restoration projects underway around the country, with decidedly mixed results. Tracking the remarkable comebacks of persecuted species like rebounding sea otters, he applauds efforts such as the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which simultaneously prevents erosion and protects vanishing birds by paying farmers to retire erodible soils from crop production and plant them with cover. This engaging report, sprinkled with sensible, targeted solutions to specific problems, is essential reading for concerned nature lovers, as well as a basic resource for environmentalists and policy makers. Photographs by Susan Middleton and David Liittschwager. Author tour.
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