What will be the big wildlife and conservation issues of 2017? While no one can say for sure what the future holds, it’s sure to be a busy year for those of us focused on encouraging sound and responsible decisions for wildlife and habitat. More than likely we will see continued discussions about the value of protecting endangered species, the role of humans in altering our climate, and the priorities of our education system.
Recently the Maine Sunday Telegram did a neat series of interviews with Maine environmental leaders on key issues for the future. This is an important moment to take stock and think about the future.
Our planet’s climate is changing. The impact of climate change is apparent in everyday events if you know where to look. According to our staff naturalist Doug Hitchcox, one of the best examples is the increased abundance of Red-bellied Woodpeckers in Maine. A decade ago, these birds were rare in southern Maine. Now it’s not at all uncommon to see them in our backyards. Plus, the average body mass of Red-bellied Woodpeckers in their historical range south of us is lower than it used to be. A higher body mass makes it easier for a bird to keep warm and to store energy; lower body mass is another sign that the region has warmed up.
Another topic we are likely to see active discussion about in 2017 is the role of science in public policy, in our schools, and in public health. Skepticism of science has been a theme throughout human history, and debates on the merits of science are still with us today (as evidenced this week by the deeply concerning nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA — read our statement). Consider the 75,000-square foot Creationist Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio. It features high-end interactive displays on “creation science” and sophisticated presentations of non-science approaches to answering fundamental questions about our natural world. It’s a significant tourist attraction with a national impact. The museum is bringing what were once considered fringe ideas into the mainstream.
As a science-based conservation organization, Maine Audubon will be increasingly challenged to compete in the marketplace of ideas on issues such as climate change with facilities and visitor experiences like the Creationist Museum. Yet it is more critical than ever that the public understand the importance and value of science and fact-based decision making in ensuring a sustainable future.
If you are sensing a call to action, you’re right! Maine Audubon has always sought to advance evidence-based and well-reasoned public policy on issues ranging from protecting loons to educating our children about the natural world. We work with all parties; we don’t yell; we trade in data and facts; we make steady progress. I hope you value the role that Maine Audubon plays in the landscape of Maine as a science-based advocate for responsible engagement with our natural world, and that you will support our efforts with an end-of-year donation.
Thank you for reading, and for supporting our work to build a state where we are all informed stewards of the precious natural wildlife and habitat of Maine.
Ole Amundsen is Executive Director of Maine Audubon. He has more than 25 years of experience in conservation leadership, with a focus on landscape scale conservation, environmental education and finance. Amundsen most recently served as program manager for the national land trust, The Conservation Fund.