Trophic Thunder

Here is an excerpt from The Spine of the Continent that provides some background to the trophic cascade idea. It picks up as a young forestry academic explains to me his reservations about the subject: “I thought I’d take my usual contrarian stance and challenge these guys from the perspective of the plant ecologist,” explains John Lennon Campbell about the saucy argument he leveled at his elders in the matter of wolves. “Jim Estes was amused by my deliberate belligerence—he makes a very good case that not only does it make sense that higher organisms shape the ecosystem from the top down, but you always find it going on.” Michael Soulé, whose stalwart championing of the wolf comes with a r


In post-modern fashion, Michel Houllebecq’s novel The Map and the Territory includes a character named Michel Houllebecq. The character Houllebecq comes on the scene well into the action of the book, which follows artist Jed Martin, a mostly disaffected guy who escapes his own anomie at several key junctures only to land squarely back in the land of blah again and again. Martin negotiates relationships with his aging father, with a beautiful (of course!) Russian executive, and with his art, at one point in his career becoming well-known for photographing Michelin maps, and then turning his attention to the subject of what people do for a living. In this incarnation he paints double portr

Book Excerpt from Outside Magazine

Pika: The Alpine Poster Child for Climate Change A pika in its talus home. Photo: Karunakar Rayker By Mary Ellen Hannibal When Chris Ray got started studying pika, she could not have anticipated that these small rabbit relatives would one day become a poster child for climate change, which the species has, partly through the efforts of the Center for Biological Diversity to get them on the Endangered Species List. Because pika live mostly in alpine environments, are sensitive to temperature, and are poor dispersers, they are perhaps particularly vulnerable to increasing temperatures. In late August 2011 I joined Ray, a research associate at the University of Colorado, Boulder, at Emerald Lak


One of the biggest mind-blowers for me while researching this book has to do with beaver. Today we depend on removing all the gas and oil we can from the ecosystem to fuel the forward-march of Homo sapiens, and this practice of pillage is nothing new. For hundreds of years the “harvesting” of beaver drove the territorial expansions of the British, French, and Dutch on North American soil, a trade aided, abetted, and often controlled by the Indians. When “Americans” became a sovereign force, we kept it up. Our passion for beaver? Here is a piece of my book that hit the cutting room floor. My editor was in general permissive with me in the matter of cultural asides, but this one went too

The East Hampton Star “Talks To”

Spine of the Continent: Nature Needs Help The most ambitious wildlife conservation project ever undertaken. By Christopher Walsh | September 11, 2012 Mary Ellen Hannibal writes about how important connected spaces are to wildlife in “The Spine of the Continent,” just published by Lyons Press. The year 2012 has brought record-setting temperatures, deadly heat waves, freak storms, devastating wildfires, and prolonged droughts. While the scientific community has heretofore been reluctant to tie individual events to global climate change, a consensus is building that these phenomena are in fact manifestations of a warming planet, and harbingers of even more extreme weather events. Scientists als

Time’s Up

The bromide “age is just a number” is likely to refer with frequency to triple digits, according to David Ewing Duncan in his new TED publication, “When I’m 164: The New Science of Radical Life Extension, and What Happens If It Succeeds.” Veteran biotech journalist Duncan purposes a new e-book format, brought to us by the folks who give us the fabulous “TED Talks,” to inquire not so much into how science plans to double our life expectancies, but to wonder about whether this is a good idea or not. Duncan’s endeavor includes a summary of his survey of more than 30,000 people on the subject of whether they would like to live to 80 (60 percent would); 120 (30 percent); 150 (10 percent), or FORE

Falcon Guides Blog

Wildlife Corridors: Conserving Nature’s North-South Highway To research my book, The Spine of the Continent, one of the first things I did was to get out a map. Wow—stretching more than 3,000 miles from Alaska down to Mexico, and visibly shaping nearly half the landmass, the Rockies amply illustrate the Native American (Miistakis) term for these mountains, “the backbone of the world.” The Spine of the Continent is a geographic, social, and scientific effort to sustain linkages along the Rockies so that plants and animals can keep moving. Movement is at the heart of what keeps nature going, and human impacts—like housing developments, roads, oil and gas drilling—interrupt this movement. Watch

Beaver Believer

Scientific American has excerpted my book today, and it’s all about beaver! And Mary O’Brien, who is a true conservation hero. Leave It to Beaver: Restoration of Busy Species Could Restore U.S. Landscape Flow, storage and transformation of materials and energy services performed by beavers if returned to a Utah river basin could add up to $411,000 per square mile

I See Green

Today is the official publication date of my new book. Examining my first hard copy of it, my 12-year old son said, “Mom, you didn’t dedicate this to anyone!” And in fact I completely neglected to include an introductory arrow aiming the intentions and hopes for the pages therein at a particular heart. The Spine of the Continent is a history of the science that tells us how to preserve nature, which we are otherwise losing way too fast. It is also an update on the doings of inspiring and often amusing people — hunters and ranchers, hairdressers and waitresses — who are doing their part to keep nature going. Because I started out as a book review and travel editor, and am pretty much a standa

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