‘Connectivity Conservation’ Published in Parks Stewardship Forum

Big news: I had a photo-essay published in Parks Stewardship Forum!

This issue of PSF is dedicated to moving beyond fortress conservation and toward a conservation of connections.

PSF is an online, interdisciplinary, open-access journal co-published by the University of California–Berkeley’s Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity and the George Wright Society.

PSF’s mission: to explore innovative thinking and offer enduring perspectives on critical issues across the whole spectrum of place-based heritage management and stewardship.

What if normal is the problem? And other coronavirus questions

The pandemic diaries

Eleven months ago, I flew home to Sea-Tac as coronavirus dug its claws into the flesh of the world. Shelves emptied, businesses closed, panic began to set in. In March 2020, I wrote in my notebook a snippet of conversation I overheard in the grocery store:

“Are we going to die?” A young woman asked.

After a long pause, from behind his mask a man reassured her with two words: “not today.”

In my notebook, I added:

Apocalyptic thoughts rush forward when uncertainty is the only certainty.

Nobody knew how bad it would get. Sitting at the gate for the flight back to Reno, I listened to my pilot talking to a flight attendant:

The media is freaking out about the virus,” the pilot said.

For twenty minutes, he described overreaction that was hurting the industry. On the flight back to Reno, I crouched over the tray table to write a few more anxious pages.

Suddenly, life is no longer normal. How did we get into this mess?

I didn’t share my thoughts back in March. The pandemic felt too fluid, evolving, unknown. My reaction felt too, well, reactionary, to be accurate. Maybe I was overreacting. I needed patience, perspective.

We’re nearly a year in. But looking back at that notebook, I’m shocked by how little has changed:

US leads the world in coronavirus cases by far. We haven’t even seen the worst of it. The virus is underscoring so many pre-existing problems in the country and stressing every aspect of our constitution.

Today, over 100 million people have contracted the virus. Over 2 million have died. The United States still leads the world in both categories.

This irrefutable proof could—should—spread the realization that we can’t ignore our connection to each other, everyone, and everything.

bright orange beach at sunset
Distant strangers on a beach in Washington in December 2020.
Continue reading “What if normal is the problem? And other coronavirus questions”

Is There Room for Pupfish in the Desert?

The town of Shoshone, California, population 31, lies between the border of Death Valley National Park and the Nevada state line. A saloon is the only business open after 6pm. Across the street, flashing light bulbs advertise LIQUOR and SOUVENIRS. The gas station sells the usual roadside conveniences along with Indian crafts and sparkling geodes. Not much else exists in Shoshone, only a little high school, a handful of homes, and the campground where I spent the night.

Shoshone Pupfish

I unzipped the tent and walked across the yellow-green lawn. A kingfisher flushed from a wire as I approached a few small ponds. Their algae-scummed water would only fill four plastic kiddy pools.

I listened to dogs barking in a nearby backyard, a lawn mower wheezing in another yard, and semi-trucks rumbling on the highway out of town. I thought: this is not what I imagined as the last remaining habitat of a once-extinct fish.

Around forty 2-inch-long fish swam before me. It’s hard to count the shiny guppy-sized pupfish as they wiggle, poke, and hide in their green algae. But after a few moments, I could recognize the silver-blue male pupfish that guarded their territory, darting and chasing, resembling playful puppies—their namesake behavior. These territorial males actively defended their worldly possession, precious patches of phytoplankton. 

Although they resemble feeder goldfish, pupfish are among the most endangered species in the United States. Only thirty years ago, the species of pupfish in pools before me was believed extinct. That is, until 1986 when a researcher miraculously found 70 Shoshone pupfish in a drainage ditch. Jumping into action, the researcher developed a partnership between the state wildlife agency, the federal Bureau of Land Management, local environmental groups, and a private landowner with a desert spring and a willingness to help. The ditch-fish were moved into an isolated pool on the landowner’s private property.

Even after their salvation, the Shoshone pupfish swam perilously close to extinction. A single mishap could have wiped out their genetic record forever. One almost did. The water level began to drop. The partnership swiftly responded, raising money to expand the pupfish habitat which now consists of a series of human-made streams and pools, constantly fed with circulating water and regularly cleaned.

In all, the size of their habitat is not much larger than the swimming pool at the campground only a few steps away. But that small amount of care was enough for the Shoshone pupfish to thrive with a present-day population in the thousands. 

But the Shoshone pupfish’s success is not the whole story. They are only one of over a hundred species of pupfish. And they are one of the lucky ones. How did pupfish get trapped in these desert puddles? How did the guppy-sized fish find itself at the center of a modern jobs-versus-environment controversy? For the answers, we must begin by looking back thousands of years.

Continue reading “Is There Room for Pupfish in the Desert?”