By Tom Szczesny
For the Daily
Nobody enjoys approaching a dead animal at the side of the road. But where most people’s disgust is at the sight of rotting flesh, Dave Foreman sees the sign of a much more destructive force: humans.
As encroaching humans shrink the habitat for many of the globe’s wildlife, the world’s entire ecological order grows increasingly unstable, Foreman said.
Foreman, a renowned conservationist, spoke on this topic before a mix of concerned citizens and students at the Dana Natural Resources Building yesterday afternoon. In presenting the ecological implications of current environmental policy, Foreman outlined the dire consequences that might result if it is perpetuated. As a solution, Foreman also advocated a system of expanded wildlife preserves to protect the world’s ecosystems.
Foreman’s current vision was inspired in part by a visit to the University in 1989, when he met Michael Soule, a professor in the Natural Resources Department at the time. “This is the birthplace for who I am as a conservationist in the last 15 or 16 years,” Foreman said.
Foreman’s position as a prominent conservationist has been cemented over the last three decades. As the author of several books and the former editor of numerous environmental action magazines, Foreman rose in stature to claim a seat on the board of some major advocacy groups, including the Sierra Club. His reputation eventually earned him a nod as one of the top 100 champions of conservation in the 20th century by Audubon Magazine, an environmental magazine.
Foreman is currently the director and a senior fellow at the Rewilding Institute, what he describes as “a conservation think tank advancing ideas of continental conservation.” Continental-scale conservation involves the linking of environmental preserves to form a series of broader networks that will enable the highest degree of wildlife sustainability.
“Single, large protected areas are better than several small, isolated protected areas. In North America we don’t have these kinds of places,” he said.
Foreman said such preserves will regulate local ecological systems by giving carnivores at the top of the food chain a chance to roam uninhibited in their natural environment. These animals, in turn, provide protection for smaller, native species.
Such steps are necessary as a result of current human interaction with environmental systems, Foreman said.
“Right now, today, we are in a mass extinction event. It is caused by one species: us. We human beings have become a geological force in this mass extinction,” he said. “We are now exploiting every square inch of the earth.”
Constructing the massive preserves required for such a project would almost certainly be met with resistance given the realities of urban sprawl and government policy. But Foreman said he does not believe these problems should discourage the enactment of his vision. “I’m not talking about doing the impossible. … We do it one piece at a time.”
Recently, Foreman has been encouraged by the pieces he sees as falling into place around the country. He cited the release of wolves back into Yellowstone National Park and the policies of local governments in California as major victories for the conservationist movement.
“We need to have a hopeful vision for the future, and that is what continental-scale conservation is all about,” he said. “Remarkable things can happen when you have a bold, hopeful vision.”
Still, Foreman said he believes much work must be done and pleaded with audience members for further action.
Listeners in the auditorium were receptive to the call following the speech. Engineering sophomore Doug Fynan was drawn to the event as an individual who had “always been involved in environmental organizations.” He left feeling as though Foreman presented “down-to-earth solutions an average American can see as logical.”
Jen Kullgren, an LSA sophomore, shared similar thoughts. “He did a real good job of giving us a more practical side” to environmental policy, Kullgren said, adding that his ideas seemed feasible.
Foreman’s credentials as an author and advocate drew a crowd that nearly filled the auditorium for the 45-minute talk, which was followed by a question-and-answer session.
Foreman summarized the proceedings simply. “The most important thing is how we apply science to on-the-ground conservation. We can do better, but it is up to us to do better.”