#4 – We Live in a 10% World

What is “normal” or even “natural” in nature? In a world where everything is constantly changing, the human desire to define things as “normal” has broad implications on how we see the world, and how we choose to conserve it (or not conserve it!).

This desire to establish a personal “normal” leads to a quirk of psychology called Shifting Baseline Syndrome.

Learn about the dramatic impacts that it has in this Jumpstart Nature episode.

Comparison of fish caught from the same Key West location. While just two examples, there are many more that tell the same story.

Join your guide, Griff Griffith, as he explores what shifting baseline syndrome is through some incredible examples. With the help of Dr. Loren McClenachan, Dr. Alison Whipple (San Francisco Estuary Institute), Ben Goldfarb (author and environmental journalist), and Francisco Saavedra Jr (forestry student and member of the Pit River Tribe Madesi band), we look at the many ways that shifting baselines steer us in the wrong direction.

Beyond a podcast, Jumpstart Nature is a movement fueled by volunteers, igniting a fresh approach to reconnecting people with the natural world. In the face of our pressing climate and biodiversity challenges, we’re on a mission to help you discover newfound purpose and motivation.

Join us in this vital journey towards nature’s revival. Explore more and show your support at jumpstartnature.com, and follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter.

For even deeper nature insights, delve into our companion podcast, Nature’s Archive.

Links to Topics Discussed

Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet, by Ben Goldfarb

Eager: The Surprising Secret Life of Beavers, and Why They Matter, by Ben Goldfarb

Everyone’s Guide to Helping our Planet, Jumpstart Nature’s list of easy things you can do…TODAY.

Redwoods Rising

The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean, by Susan Casey

Links to Additional Resources

Anecdotes and the Shifting Baseline Syndrome of Fisheries (Daniel Pauly)

Daniel Pauly’s TED Talk

Documenting Loss of Large Trophy Fish from the Florida Keys with Historical Photographs (McClenachan)

Map of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta Region, from https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/map-sacramento-san-joaquin-delta


This podcast episode was written and produced by Michael Hawk. Our host is Griff Griffith. Michelle Balderston is our associate producer.

Some of the music used in this production is through creative commons licensing:

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Lofi Prairie  by Brian Holtz Music
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/9247-lofi-prairie
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Transcript (Click to View)

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[00:00:00] Griff Griffith: If we went back in time to say, 1777, to a place called Grifftown, Pennsylvania, it would probably be normal to hear people complaining about getting passenger pigeon poop in their hair. This bird, once the most numerous in North America, went extinct in the wild by 1900.

[00:00:18] In 1877, it would be normal to hear someone say that the salmon were so thick in California’s rivers that you could walk across their backs to the other side. Today.

[00:00:29] Salmon species are listed as endangered or threatened, in much of their range.

[00:00:36] In 1977, it would be normal for my dad to thoroughly wash the smashed insects off our windshield. Every time we stopped for gas he had to do this or he wouldn’t be able to see. Today I live and drive in the same places, but I rarely need to take a squeegee to my windshield. The insects just aren’t there. These extreme examples of wildlife population declines happened in just a few generations.

[00:01:03] And despite being obvious in hindsight, weren’t always obvious while they were happening. And even today, there are many other examples occurring right in front of us that most people are completely unaware of.

[00:01:14] This misperception can be attributed to a particular quirk of human psychology called shifting baseline syndrome. This quirk has to do with how you and I perceive normal from a particular place and time. For example, what do you consider to be normal weather? How many birds in our parks is normal?

[00:01:33] What species of trees are normal in our forest? The idea of normal depends on who is doing the observing and when they are doing it.. Historical Marine Ecologist Loren McClenachan unearthed an incredible reference that vividly illustrates This phenomenon at work.

[00:01:48] Loren McClenachan: I was focused on the Florida Keys and the Caribbean, trying to see what sorts of sources existed. and it was actually the very last archive that I was visiting in, in Key West, the Monroe County Public Library,

[00:01:58] I was working with the archivist, basically saying I’m interested in anything that can tell us about long term change And then he came out one morning with this big box of, pictures

[00:02:08] And there were these pictures of, people just come back from recreational fishing trips in the 1950s and 1960s, and there was just these immense, immense fish in the, in the photographs and immediately it was like, a giant light bulb went off so I was in Key West and I went and took repeat photos, in the same sort of vein and then compared them.

[00:02:28] Griff Griffith: These photos were taken at the same spot after similar deep sea fishing trips. And what did she find?

[00:02:34] Loren McClenachan: I found a 90% decline in the size of these large trophy fish over that 50 year time period. Essentially we’ve replaced these large trophy fish that we think of as, as being, these massive, catches and these massive fish on the reef with really small, , fish that have, essentially, replaced the fish, both in the ecosystem and then also in the, fishery itself

[00:02:56] Griff Griffith: Yes, these fishers returned with fish that were 90 percent smaller than just a few decades ago, but they had the same big smiles and looks of satisfaction in their photos as a fisherman of the past who had the much larger fish.

[00:03:08] Loren McClenachan: Yeah, exactly. That’s and that’s the shifting baseline syndrome

[00:03:10] Griff Griffith: They seemingly had no idea that just a few decades ago, they could have been catching fish 90 percent larger. Things had changed, just slowly enough that the fishers didn’t think about it at the moment, because they didn’t have the same baseline of normal.

[00:03:25] But shifting baseline syndrome is so much deeper than just our perceptions.

[00:03:29] Francisco Saavedra: we know historically that it only takes one generation to forget. It only takes one generation to be killed off, displaced or denied access to an area for them to forget the culture.

[00:03:42] Griff Griffith: That was Francisco Antonio Saavedra Jr. A member of Pitt River Tribe. Madaisi band with Yurok ancestry. We’re going to hear more from him shortly.

[00:03:53] So let’s take a deeper look at our sense of normal shifting baseline syndrome and what it means to you, me, indigenous people, and how we treat the environment.

[00:04:03] I’m Griff Griffith, and welcome to Jumpstart Nature.

[00:04:11] A moment ago, we got a small taste of shifting baseline syndrome, and we’ll come back to Dr. McClenachan’s findings in a bit, but first, just what is shifting baseline syndrome?

[00:04:25] Loren McClenachan: shifting baseline syndrome is this idea that, the first time that you observe an environment, you, you think of it as natural and, all changes that you observe after that personally, you think of as, not natural. So you can imagine, you know, your childhood environment, the neighborhood that you grew up in.

[00:04:43] Griff Griffith: Right? Who hasn’t had the experience of returning to a place they know well after several years and seeing everything has changed? What you grew up with is your baseline of normal.

[00:04:53] And now the next generation is growing up with a new baseline of normal. If they’re lucky, they’ll hear stories about the way it used to be, but that will never feel normal to them.

[00:05:03] But is the way it used to be the way it should be in the future.

[00:05:08] Dr. Alison Whipple: what really comes out of that is that our ecosystems. Are not static, they were not and should not be thought of as static. That’s often, a challenging thing when we wanna do like conservation work or restoration

[00:05:20] where we’re like, we’re getting credit to do X, y, or z. We, we wanted to stay that way.

[00:05:26] Griff Griffith: That’s Dr. Alison Whipple of the San Francisco Estuary Institute, referring to a study on the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta in California. In this system, river channels, islands, and sloughs were constantly changing due to floods, droughts, and other environmental processes.

[00:05:42] If we look at any ecosystem, we see frequent change. In fact, there’s an important concept where one ecosystem tends to convert to another ecosystem over time. Ecologists call this succession.

[00:05:54] A great example is a mountain meadow. Picture this meadow. It probably has short grasses and sedges, perhaps even a few hardy wildflowers.

[00:06:01] And it’s often surrounded by forest. This meadow formed because of some dramatic geologic event, , such as a glacier scraping out all the topsoil and plants and leaving behind poor, rocky soil. Grasses and sedges can live in that environment, but not much else.

[00:06:16] Over time, those sedges and grasses grow and die and decompose, adding nutrients to the soil. Fungi and bacteria move in, and new pioneer plants start to encroach around the edges of the meadow. The soil continues to improve, allowing shrubs and small trees to move in, accelerating the soil building. Eventually, the large trees move in, and the meadow is gone.

[00:06:38] Most ecosystems have these types of natural ” pressures” to transition to some different systems similar to what we just described with meadows.

[00:06:47] That is, unless something dramatic happens.

[00:06:50] . Many ecosystems have natural reset buttons, such as wildfire. These reset buttons prevent succession or perhaps even roll back the system to an earlier stage.

[00:07:04] In fact, we’re going to go deep into wildfire in a future episode, but for now know that our obsession with wildfire suppression has allowed succession to continue without reset in many places where it wouldn’t have been possible in the past. Ben Goldfarb, author of Crossings and Eager, has also been thinking about shifting baseline syndrome.

[00:07:30] Ben Goldfarb: it’s a concept developed in fisheries where, , maybe your, grandfather, you know, would catch these giant groupers, and then he fished at those groupers and then, you know, then, and then your father would catch.

[00:07:39] Smaller groupers, but we think it’s still fine, , and today you’re, catching sardines, but you know, you don’t really know any better because you weren’t alive when your grandfather was catching giant groupers and, you know, and someday your children , we’ll be, eating jelly fish, but, you know, that’s okay.

[00:07:51] because , they have no memory of, what the oceans were like during their kind of apex abundance.

[00:07:56] Griff Griffith: Ben’s example of eating jellyfish might seem a bit extreme, but it powerfully drives home the point.

[00:08:02] Often, these shifting baselines cause our expectations of nature’s abundance and productivity to decline. And this can create a destructive feedback loop.

[00:08:12] Let’s consider a hypothetical new development project Perhaps a new strip mall is being proposed for some area of land.

[00:08:19] The developers and politicians, and probably most people, assess the impact of the project based on current conditions. What does this land do for us today? Perhaps that land is abandoned agricultural land. It’s not providing much ecological value. . So officials decide to approve the strip mall.

[00:08:37] But our baseline of the land is totally wrong. Perhaps that spot back in 1900 was a wetland that helped buffer floods and supported fish, frogs, bats, and a generally abundant ecosystem. And could easily be restored. But our baseline tells us otherwise.

[00:08:53] So the decision to build on the land didn’t fully consider the ecological potential of the area. Our acceptance of these new baselines is extremely damaging. But shifting baselines run deeper still.

[00:09:05] Loren McClenachan: one example that I alluded to, earlier was the goliath grouper in the Florida Keys. And so this is a fish that has existed, in great abundances for centuries.

[00:09:14] it was fished intensively over the last century and it was protected in the 1990s because of, a realization that it was, it was really, depleted. And since then it started to come back, which is great. But, people who, have recently moved to the Keys, for example, will say things like there’s more now than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.

[00:09:34] which is true, but it’s also just part of the story. And so in the absence of a longer term perspective, those voices really dominate the narrative

[00:09:42] in the case of the goliath grouper, there’s been pressure to reopen the fishery essentially every year since it was closed in, in the 1990s. And it just was successful in this last year, which I think is unfortunate. I think partially that’s a result of, sort of sense that, you know, things are, things are better than they were in terms of the populations and these fish that people were used to seeing rarely in these ecosystems are coming back

[00:10:05] Griff Griffith: This rebound effect is also common. Without a proper baseline, we tend to mistakenly perceive a partial recovery as a much more significant improvement.

[00:10:14] And at this point, I feel like I just need to give the ocean a shout out. You probably know that nearly 70 percent of our planet is covered in oceans. You might also know that oceans play the most prominent role in our climate, where ocean temperatures and currents influence major weather patterns and trends.

[00:10:30] It’s easy for us to see what’s happening on land, which plants and animals are growing, how much land is used for people and agriculture, but only a tiny fraction of us spend any real time on our oceans.

[00:10:41] We don’t have the same intuitions about how they work and what they support. To help wrap our minds around this, people often cite that 70 percent statistic, but it goes so much deeper. Literally. Susan Casey, author of The Underworld, Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean, says if we think of the parts of the Earth that support life, 98 percent is ocean.

[00:11:03] That’s because life in the ocean generally occurs all throughout its depths. Above sea, life is restricted to a thin slice close to the Earth’s surface.. Despite the importance of oceans, we seem to have a lot of problems with shifting baselines in marine systems.

[00:11:17] Loren McClenachan: humans are terrestrial animals. I think we just have a much shorter set of observations under the ocean than we do in terrestrial systems. And so, in marine systems, we developed SCUBA and the ability to essentially be aquatic animals for short periods of time in the 1960s and 1970s.

[00:11:35] And so scientists began to use those and study those systems, a few decades ago. And so we have observations coming out of that history of marine science, but the average person doesn’t spend a lot of time underwater. And so I think there’s just a lot less, sort of knowledge about the changes that have happened.

[00:11:53] Griff Griffith: It’s frightening to think how much has changed in our oceans in such a short period, and our general lack of knowledge going back further in time. But historical

[00:12:00] But historical ecologists, like Dr. McClenachan, find creative ways to uncover the past.

[00:12:05] Loren McClenachan: So I worked with, some early pirate journals, and descriptions of, travels through the Caribbean, which was really fun. there was this one pirate named William Dampier, who was just an amazing natural historian. He recorded the different species of mangroves, and he was really interested in turtles, which is how I came across him.

[00:12:23] But his, narrative of his voyages and his trip around the world really includes a whole lot of ecology, actually, which is, sort of surprising,

[00:12:31] Griff Griffith: And this makes sense. Making a living at sea, regardless of the ethics of that living, requires a deep understanding of the ocean and its animals. A pirate in the 1600s would be totally dependent on the oceans for food, travel, and just general survival. If you weren’t a skilled observer taking detailed notes, you probably wouldn’t survive long.

[00:12:51] Back to the land for a few minutes. Dr. Alison Whipple and her colleagues at the San Francisco Estuary Institute have spent significant time establishing an early to mid 1800s baseline of two parts of California. Let’s first look at the San Joaquin Sacramento River Delta. This is just downstream from the famous 49er gold discoveries .

[00:13:13] Dr. Alison Whipple: This is a very unique system, we don’t have a lot of inland deltas in the world. So this was a, historically a freshwater but tidal system. So we had the, the two rivers in the Central Valley, the Sacramento and the North, and the San Joaquin and the South coming through the Central Valley draining the Sierra Nevada and other, the Western coastal systems.

[00:13:39] And coalescing into Pretty crazy mess of tidal channels in the delta.

[00:13:45] we mapped over 360,000 acres of tidal freshwater wetland in the delta

[00:13:52] Griff Griffith: There’s a ton of interesting geology here, but I’ll keep it to the basics. As Dr. Whipple said, the Sierra Nevada mountains act like a blockade on storms and force a lot of rain and snow out

[00:14:02] All this water flows downhill, seeking the ocean, but it runs into another mountain range. Thankfully for the water, there is a narrow opening in the mountains near San Francisco.

[00:14:13] Both rivers converge at this point, forming the massive delta. Okay, that’s a lot of words. We’ll put a map in the show notes, but just recognize that we have a lot of water trying to go through a narrow area.

[00:14:25] So it creates this huge delta into California’s Central Valley. In the 1800s, this delta was enormous, biodiverse, and very productive.

[00:14:33] Dr. Alison Whipple: contrast that to today where we’ve really done a lot in terms of hemming in those tidal channels basically levying off the small dendritic channels that used to weave within. The tidal wetlands and quote unquote reclaiming that land for agriculture. Those peat soils are very rich for crops.

[00:14:53] And so they’ve been great for many decades now. And so we’re really yeah, that’s that big contrast shifting to an agricultural landscape. So we’ve seen what we documented in, in our mapping was about a 97% loss of the tidal freshwater wetlands. So we really have only very small patches today.

[00:15:14] Griff Griffith: Today’s Central Valley is perhaps the most productive agricultural land in the United States. Full of almonds, walnuts, citrus, tomatoes, grapes, garlic, and dozens of other crops.

[00:15:23] So what’s the downside of channeling the Delta and creating more farmland? Well, with intensive agriculture, the fertility of these existing soils are declining, and we’re no longer generating as much new fertile soil. Of course, there is also the loss of many ecosystems, and biodiversity, and negative impacts to fisheries.

[00:15:41] Without insights to the early 1800s baseline, we’d be inclined to continue to reign in the river delta and expose more productive soils.

[00:15:50] But understanding how the system worked in the past and what created this fertile land in the first place gives us the knowledge to make better decisions.

[00:16:00] Francisco Saavedra: we don’t necessarily suffer from shifting baseline syndrome in the same way. We know that we were stewards of the land. We know that the land’s been altered. We, we know that history, it has been passed down orally mostly,

[00:16:23] my name is Francisco Antonio Saavedra Jr. My Yurok name is Chpgi, C H P G I. It means Osprey in Yurok.

[00:16:35] Griff Griffith: We briefly heard from Francisco earlier. He studies tribal forestry at the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California.

[00:16:41] He’s also a forestry apprentice in one of the largest restoration projects in the United States. It’s called Redwood Rising, and it’s happening on the Yurok people’s homeland.

[00:16:50] The Yurok people reside in far northern California. While the Yurok tribal lands today overlap with their ancestral lands, they have been reduced from roughly 1 million acres down to about 56, 000 acres.

[00:17:02] Francisco Saavedra: we’ve been stewards for the land of, for over 10,000 years, and sometimes that’s some of the disconnect that I see with the loss of like species, like the salmon. you know, we’ve experienced dramatic environmental changes and decline of species, of staple foods.

[00:17:19] Griff Griffith: One of the staples of the Yurok is the lamprey eel or Pacific lamprey as some call it.

[00:17:25] Francisco Saavedra: The amount of eels that my grandfather used to catch in the fifties, in the sixties was in the hundreds. It was a lot. Uh, guys could go out there and catch hundreds of eels to the point where they’re taking turns, catching eels, and It was sustainable because at that time, lamprey eels made up 90% of the river’s biomass.

[00:17:48] That’s something that when I tell people that, when I say, Hey, did you know that lamprey eels made up 90% of the river’s biomass as far down as the Sacramento River? Think of all those indigenous nations who’ve maybe never even seen a lamprey eel because of hydroelectric damming, because of redirection of water, because of loss of streams and habitat through commercial logging.

[00:18:10] Griff Griffith: It’s estimated that the lamprey eel have decreased by 90 percent since the 1960s. A couple of things stand out here. One, remember that number, 90%. And two, this demonstrates how complicated shifting baselines are. Francisco clearly knows the history.

[00:18:26] He knows the baseline. But many others, even some conservationists, may not know this. And part of that reason is not only because of shifting baselines,

[00:18:35] Colonists.

[00:18:36] Francisco Saavedra: created hydroelectric dams and classified the lamprey as a parasitic fish. He didn’t make no fish ladder for them. He only made it for the salmon. The lamprey died off in massive, massive numbers.

[00:18:48] Griff Griffith: Yes, Western cultures love to label everything.

[00:18:51] In this case, the lamprey eel was labeled a parasite. That label alone is filled with negative connotations, reducing the chances that anyone would try to save this fish. But who are we to judge the strategies that life has evolved to embrace? And we actually need creatures like lamprey eels to maintain balance in our ecosystems.

[00:19:09] But the view of shifting baselines from an indigenous perspective runs much deeper.

[00:19:14] Francisco Saavedra: we know historically that it only takes one generation to forget. It only takes one generation to be killed off, displaced or denied access to an area for them to forget the culture.

[00:19:28] Griff Griffith: California indigenous people are reclaiming their culture and lands.

[00:19:32] And the real story of what happened to them is starting to become more clear. I know when I was in school, we weren’t taught about the systemic genocide of Native Americans in California and other parts of the USA. Yes, I know the term genocide has taken on different legal and common meanings, But it’s hard to ignore the intent of policies and the reality of actions that were taken, very often violent actions.

[00:19:53] Thousands of Native Americans were killed directly through massacres or forced starvation. Many thousands more were separated from their families, enslaved, Or put in very oppressive boarding schools. In fact, there were land grants and related policies that encourage colonists to clear the land, removing numerous oak trees from the landscape These were oak trees that the indigenous people depended on for food and other things.

[00:20:21] As we learned in episode one, oak trees are also the champion species of biodiversity. Stick with me here. Have you ever heard of Silicon Valley?

[00:20:29] It’s the part of California where silicon based microchips, computer processors, were developed and mass produced. It’s now known for its tech culture. Depending on how you define its boundaries, it’s home to 4 to 6 million people.

[00:20:41] You look around today and you see business centers, office parks, and suburban sprawl…. But this area used to support exceptional varieties and quantities of plants and animals.

[00:20:50] Dr. Alison Whipple: The Santa Clara Valley, certainly as you head north and head towards the bay you start entering into more of a seasonal wetland complexes, alkali seasonal wetland. And then moving into, once you hit tidal influence the tidal marshes of the bay historically.

[00:21:06] Griff Griffith: Santa Clara Valley is the proper geographic region that is known as Silicon Valley. Wetlands and tidal marshes are some of the most productive ecosystems, most of which have been filled, channelized, or entirely cut off.

[00:21:18] But this area was also home to many, many oak trees, especially further south.

[00:21:22] Dr. Alison Whipple: Again, really a really profound and dramatic loss of oaks in that period of, mid 18 hundreds to that early 1930s period based on reconstructing you using methods to take the trees that were documented in those GLO notes, those general land office notes, and then extrapolate out what that would’ve meant in terms of numbers of trees based on the densities that we’d estimated. And so we found that there was probably around 50 trees per hectare, or that’s 20 trees per acre which can be roughly approximated to about 20 trees in a football field, if that’s something folks can imagine.

[00:22:00] Griff Griffith:

[00:22:00] This research was in a narrow area of the south part of Santa Clara Valley.

[00:22:04] Dr. Alison Whipple: sources that we are able to use for the work is, mostly generated by those who occupied California in the early 18 hundreds. So the Spanish explorers, the missionaries, the 49 ERs, et cetera

[00:22:15] Griff Griffith: It revealed the loss of basically 50, 000 of the most important trees we have for biodiversity. I think it’s safe to say that most of the businesses and homeowners in that area have no idea what was lost.

[00:22:27] And this is why we’re such advocates for planting native plants at home, at school, at your place of worship, or place of business. And if you’re listening, say, in Ohio, Florida, Texas, New York, or pretty much anywhere else, the story is the same. Just change the name of the species.

[00:22:41] 50,000 oak trees down to 300 is roughly a 99 percent reduction. Can you recall earlier when I said, remember the 90 percent reduction? Here’s Dr. McClenachan again.

[00:22:53] Loren McClenachan: that work found a 90% decline in the size of the largest fish that were caught in the Florida Keys. There was work from, from Maine, from this part of the world that showed a 90% or more decline in the abundance of cod, on the Scotian Shelf since the Civil War. , one of the early papers in this field showed a 90% loss of, pelagic fish like billfish and tuna caught on Japanese long pit, longline fisheries since the 1950s. So, I think it’s, it’s really sort of stunning that across these different geographies and time scales and species and ways of measuring, it’s a really consistent finding, which is this 90% or order of magnitude loss. there’s a Canadian journalist, who I think put it really nicely and saying that, we live in a 10% world. So the world that we’re living in now has, various ways that you look at it, 10% of the abundance and the biomass and the productivity that it had, you know when you look farther in the past


[00:23:47] Griff Griffith: , in many ways, we now live in a 10 percent world. Can you imagine the beauty, awe, and wonder of a 100 percent world?

[00:23:55] So what can you do to help? Our earlier episode, The Yard of the Future, gave you one of the most powerful things that you can do, and that’s plant native plants wherever you can, . And jumpstartnature. com has a special downloadable PDF called Everyone’s Guide to Helping Our Planet, which has over 100 simple steps that you can take.

[00:24:14] You don’t have to be overwhelmed, but you should get started.

[00:24:17] Today we’ve heard how shifting baseline syndrome skews our perception of the world causing us to miss dramatic changes altogether misinterpret typical processes such as succession, diminish and gloss over injustices and overestimate small rebounds in populations.

[00:24:32] What are some examples of shifting baseline syndrome that you’ve seen?

[00:24:35] We’d love to hear from you. And we’re curious, you can email us at podcast at jumpstart nature. com, or leave a comment on one of our social media pages. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at jumpstart nature.

[00:24:48] A big thanks to.

[00:24:49] Loren McClenachan, Francisco Saavedra Jr., Ben Goldfarb, and Alison Whipple. Alison Whipple also wants us to acknowledge the historical ecology team at San Francisco Estuary Institute that’s currently led by Sean Baumgarten . And was founded by Robin Grossinger.

[00:25:05] if you want more shifting baselines, Nature’s Archive has a full length interview with Loren McClenachan. It’s episode number 78.

[00:25:12] And jumpstart nature. com slash podcast has a transcript and full show notes for today’s episode, including links to topics we mentioned and additional resources to help you learn more about shifting baseline syndrome.

[00:25:24] Michael Hawk: Jumpstart Nature was created and produced by me, Michael Hawk. Michelle Balderston is our associate producer and our host is Griff Griffith. The song Lofi Prairie by Brian Holtz Music was used in this production with permission via creative commons license. The song is available from filmmusic.io and the full license information is in the show notes at jumpstartnature.com/podcast. As always. Thanks for listening.

#3 – The Age of Connectivity

Human society is more connected than ever. Between mobile phones and internet applications, we can connect with each other instantaneously, around the globe.

We’ve carved our lands into isolated islands, but we can fix it!

And more traditionally, the United States alone is home to nearly 4 million miles of roads, structures which, for many of us, have only served to enhance our sense of connectedness to the cities we live in, to our families and friends, and to the larger world around us. Yet, these same roads that connect people have the opposite effect to the natural world, extracting an extreme toll on the plants and animals around us, and in many unexpected ways.

And roads and highways are just the tip of the iceberg. Join us as we unravel the many complex dimensions of wildlife connectivity while revealing the surprising toll that human activity has inflicted on the movement of species. Join your guide, Griff Griffith, as he is helped by experts Ben Goldfarb, Beth Pratt, and Robert Rock, who will also teach us how we can help restore essential links while supporting the health of the living beings around us.

Beyond a podcast, Jumpstart Nature is a movement fueled by volunteers, igniting a fresh approach to reconnecting people with the natural world. In the face of our pressing climate and biodiversity challenges, we’re on a mission to help you discover newfound purpose and motivation.

Join us in this vital journey towards nature’s revival. Explore more and show your support at jumpstartnature.com, and follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter.

For even deeper nature insights, delve into our companion podcast, Nature’s Archive.

Links to Topics Discussed


Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet, by Ben Goldfarb

Lights Out Program from the Audubon Society

Living Habitats, Robert Rock’s landscape design company

Phantom Road Experiment

Save LA Cougars

Related Podcasts You Might Like

Links to Additional Resources


This podcast episode was written and produced by Michelle Balderston. Our host is Griff Griffith. Michael Hawk provided production oversight.

Transcript (Click to View)

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[00:00:00] Griff Griffith: Imagine you are a skunk. Not just any skunk. You are a male skunk in late winter. And like all male skunks in late winter, you are feeling strongly motivated by the carnal urge to find a mate. You can’t resist it.

[00:00:14] You leave your familiar territory armed with one of nature’s most effective… and stinky defenses, and you’re hoping to find love, or at least an available female to breed with, but you encounter a new predator while crossing a road. This lightning eyed hunter barrels down on you with a speed that you’ve never witnessed.

[00:00:34] You raise your tail in warning, but it’s undetoured. The brightness of its eyes get larger and larger the closer it gets. It’s uninterrupted growls grow louder and louder. You spray. The next morning, the smell of your failed defense is obvious even before your crumpled up body is spotted on the side of the road. Nothing in your evolutionary heritage prepared you for a freeway. Your genetic lineage is gone.

[00:01:01] And this straightforward problem of roadkill provides just a glimpse into the broader problems stemming from the isolation and fragmentation of natural habitats.

[00:01:12] Ben Goldfarb: Lots of research shows that they’re genetically fragmented and isolated by highways, or at least, you know, certainly many populations are. You know, they can’t cross roads to find new mates and, you know, their gene pools kind of stagnate as a, as a result.

[00:01:27] Beth Pratt: I think we tend to, think that plants don’t need to move, but they do. It’s, it’s the same principle that resiliency, genetic resiliency.

[00:01:36] Griff Griffith: Most people are astonished to learn about all the ways that the highways and their associated noise and lights affect wildlife. The impacts can range from gene flow to auditory barriers and result in the slow or alarmingly fast removal of wildlife species from the landscape. But don’t worry! A lot of innovative progress is being made around the world to reconnect these important pathways, and you can even be a part of these solutionary actions in your very own backyard, porch, park, patio, balcony, workplace, place of worship, and or school.

[00:02:09] I’m Griff Griffith, and welcome to Jumpstart Nature.

[00:02:14] Beth Pratt: Yeah. Wildlife connectivity, I think in a nutshell, I mean, you can get into, you know, really robust scientific definitions, but it’s, it’s ensuring animals and plants can move from landscape to landscape. That you don’t have barriers that impede movement.

[00:02:36] Griff Griffith: That’s Beth Pratt, who is a wildlife advocate, author, and California Director for the National Wildlife Federation.

[00:02:42] You may know her best as leader of Save L. A. Cougars, a campaign to build the largest wildlife crossing in the world, that’s going to cross Highway 101 in Los Angeles. It’s called the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, and it will help to reconnect two mountain ranges and their wildlife.

[00:02:58] Ben Goldfarb: The notion of habitat connectivity is just the idea that wildlife can move through all of the different habitats they need to meet their various needs.

[00:03:06] Griff Griffith: And that’s Ben Goldfarb, an independent conservation journalist and author of the new book, Crossings: How Road Ecology is Shaping the Future of Our Planet. These two experts have introduced easy to understand definitions of connectivity, which again, is the ability for species to move freely and uninhibited within or between environments.

[00:03:25] But we need to understand exactly why this is so important.

[00:03:29] Beth Pratt: Connectivity and connected landscapes is something we didn’t realize was so vital for the health of functioning ecosystems. At least when I was first starting out in conservation, we thought islands of habitats worked, we now know they don’t.

[00:03:43] And movement is important for many reasons. Obviously if animals get killed while they’re trying to move to find food or shelter or mates, that’s not good.

[00:03:53] If you have barriers that impede genetic diversity, that’s not good, right? So if animals can’t move to find mates, maybe they don’t die, but the barriers are something that, prevent them from finding food, shelter, or mates.

[00:04:07] Ben Goldfarb: I think that migration, you know, this kind of seasonal movement between points is a really obvious example of the importance of habitat connectivity, but, when you think about the other needs that animals have, of course, you know, they need to find mates, that’s a really fundamental part of wild animal life and, you know, the ability to, you know, move from your, sort of your natal population where you were born and potentially disperse out into an area, you know, with unrelated males or females that you can access.

[00:04:33] Griff Griffith: Habitat connectivity supports genetic diversity, which is critical for maintaining species health in the long term. If a species gene flow becomes stymied, populations begin to dwindle and ecosystems can even break down. Fragmentation also causes increased competition for prey and space and other resources. It also increases the number of encounters between humans and wildlife, which as we know, can go bad really fast.

[00:04:58] The impacts stretch far beyond the immediate and are becoming more severe as habitats become more and more fragmented. Fragmentation is kind of the opposite of connectivity. It refers to the many discontinuous patches among larger habitat. Just imagine one big island breaking into a bunch of little tiny islands. The National Wildlife Federation has named fragmentation as one of the primary threats to survival of wildlife in the United States.

[00:05:23] And what’s driving this fragmentation? In a large sense, it’s all the built environments and structures that humans have introduced in our short time on this planet. From buildings and infrastructure to agricultural fields and forestry activities.

[00:05:36] But there’s arguably no bigger culprit than roads. In the United States alone, there’s an estimated 4 million miles of roads with nearly 50, 000 miles of interstate highways, which are home to about 25 percent of all traffic, and each and every one of those roads presents a challenge, a question, to surrounding wildlife. To cross or not to cross.

[00:06:00] Ben Goldfarb: Not crossing highways in some ways, as some researchers pointed out to me, you know, it’s almost more dangerous than attempting to cross.

[00:06:06] Griff Griffith: We’ve highlighted some of the implications of wildlife not crossing. Now what happens if they do? I think we all know the answer to that. Many, unfortunately, become roadkill. It’s hard to estimate just how many animals are killed by our vehicles every year but the number according to Beth Pratt sits around 1 to 2 million per year, and that is very likely way, way lower than the actual amount of dead wildlife on the sides of our roads.

[00:06:33] Beth Pratt: I think there’s a moral cost to it that we have not reckoned with. If you just look at stats, you have eight to $9 billion worth of damage in the US every year just from these animal vehicle collisions. And that’s just the human costs, right? That’s medical costs, that’s property damage. Your car gets wrecked. That’s loss of work. If that was caused by anything else, it would be a public health outrage. We’d be taking action against it.

[00:07:00] Robert Rock: It’s everything from the cost of cleanup to the insurance impact to the impact infrastructure.

[00:07:07] Griff Griffith: And that is the voice of Robert Rock, Landscape Architect, Principal and Chief Operating Officer of Living Habitats, an Illinois based architecture firm that puts sustainability and ecological well being at the heart of their designs.

[00:07:19] Notably, Robert and his design team are behind the previously mentioned Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, which we’ll be talking about a lot through this episode.

[00:07:27] Robert Rock: Yeah, when you take all those things in total and you understand it’s that big of an economic impact, it’s kind of shocking.

[00:07:33] Griff Griffith: And that’s just what we CAN see. But our roadsides are home to a diverse array of species and it’s not just the bigger, more visible species that are held back by our roads, even plants face similar consequences.

[00:07:47] Beth Pratt: I think we tend to, think that plants don’t need to move, but they do. it’s the same principle that resiliency, genetic resiliency as I think we all learned is, you know, we can’t be in breeding with our relatives. And that is the same for animals as it is for plants.

[00:08:04] Griff Griffith: And if plant populations start decreasing…

[00:08:06] Beth Pratt: You start pulling any one plant out of an ecosystem, there is an animal that depends on that plant, whether it be a butterfly or a deer or whatever.

[00:08:15] You start having localized extinctions that then actually can affect the whole. So think about if you are a, you know, a plant that’s dispersing seeds, whether it be through wind or other animals, and the only seed dispersal that’s happening, or genetic exchange is right around you because there’s a road in the way.

[00:08:35] So you start creating these islands of genetically like plants. And as we know over time, that does not bode for a, a resilient population, you need genetic diversity.

[00:08:47] Griff Griffith: That’s certainly a problem in and of itself. But there’s one major factor that’s increasing risks and that is climate change. This should come as no surprise given the devastating wildfires that have consumed many parts of North America over this and the past several summers.

[00:09:03] The number of people who have been forced to flee their homes is staggering. We can’t survive such inhospitable and dangerous environments and neither can wildlife.

[00:09:13] Beth Pratt: You know, if you’re an animal who is living on a landscape that is burned, you need options. And if you can’t get to an unburnt landscape because there’s a roadway in the way, you’re gonna starve to death. And indeed, we saw that happen with the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains.

[00:09:30] Ben Goldfarb: Drought, fire, these other climatic, conditions are increasing the imperative that animals be able to move between patches of habitat and roads are exactly the problem that are preventing them from doing that.

[00:09:41] Griff Griffith: Because of changing climatic conditions, namely warmer temperatures and environmental disasters like droughts, wildfires and extreme weather, species need escape routes.

[00:09:51] But with so many roads in the way, that has become increasingly difficult, if not downright impossible. And to prevent this from happening, first and foremost, meaningful action on climate change is absolutely necessary around the world. But of course, this is a huge issue that will take time. So let’s get inspired by taking a look at what will soon be the largest wildlife crossing in the world. And it will be spanning one of the busiest freeways in California. Currently under construction, the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing will span 10 lanes of Highway 101 in California, and by Beth Pratt’s estimates, endures 300 to 400 thousand cars each and every day. The crossing is expected to be complete in 2025.

[00:10:33] Beth Pratt: The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, I think is, um, my colleague called it a Bridge of hope, and I, I think that’s the best thing I can call it. It is a visionary project that is reconnecting the Santa Monica mountains to the rest of the world. It was cut off decades ago when we put the 101 in and really isolated the entire mountain range.

[00:10:55] So this bridge is not just going to get animals from point A to point B, you know, it’s not just gonna be about mountain lions crossing over. On top is going to be a living landscape that pretty much reconnects the Santa Monica mountains to the rest of the world. So, along with mountain lions crossing on it, you’re going to have monarch butterflies laying their eggs on top of it. You might have a fox family living on it. You’ll have western fence lizards.

[00:11:18] It’s a living landscape on top of one of the world’s busiest freeways. And I just can’t think of anything more hopeful than that.

[00:11:25] Griff Griffith: Robert Rock as one of the architects on the crossing can speak more about what truly makes this bridge more than just a bridge.

[00:11:33] Robert Rock: You have to think about this type of infrastructure, not as a bridge, it’s better to think about it as an elevated piece of habitat. Sure, there are structural components that are classic to bridge architecture, but all of those incredible engineering feats as a part of this project are done in service of the environment.

[00:11:59] Ultimately when we’re designing things like this, You are creating this microcosm of the natural world.

[00:12:05] Griff Griffith: Once complete, this crossing will claim the title of the largest in the world, restoring habitats within a densely populated area that has been heavily degraded by human activities and development over many decades.

[00:12:18] Its proponents hope to see the crossing allow for the free movement of a broad variety of species without the risk of car collisions, while also enhancing the health and well being of many previously isolated populations. Outside of California, similar crossings or corridors have been popular in parts of Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and more, highlighting a trend which is only continuing to grow globally. And more and more regional or federal agencies are making it mandatory to consider wildlife safety.

[00:12:48] Great. So we build more wildlife crossings like the Wallis Annenberg wildlife crossing. That’s problem solved, right? Well, unfortunately, it’s a bit more complex than that.

[00:12:59] Beth Pratt: Light pollution is an incredibly big barrier and can cause death, disorientation, and, and many other impacts to wildlife.

[00:13:10] Griff Griffith: Most migratory birds, including ducks, geese, and songbirds will migrate under the cover of darkness, given that the nighttime skies are often cooler and calmer with less risk of predation. Unfortunately, with the light from our cities, distracting them from their paths, once they get lost, they can be left circling the same area of the sky over and over becoming very tired.

[00:13:31] Worst case scenario, this exhaustion can put them more at risk of predation, lead them to collide with physical structures, or even cause death.

[00:13:39] Ben Goldfarb: Of course, so many nocturnal species that rely on darkness to hunt and to avoid predators and to feed.

[00:13:44] Robert Rock: It throws off circadian rhythm, their foraging and their, their hunting activity, their sleep cycle, their mating habits.

[00:13:50] Griff Griffith: There’s a whole other piece about how artificial light can push migratory animals to migrate earlier than they biologically should or otherwise would. Yet, it’s not just birds who are in trouble.

[00:14:01] Beth Pratt: Dr. Travis Longcore did a light map and pretty much showed that the late P-22’s route to Griffith Park was probably dictated almost entirely by avoiding light pollution.

[00:14:12] Griff Griffith: P-22 is the famous mountain lion of Los Angeles who miraculously crossed multiple freeways to get to Griffith Park in search of a territory of his own. Unfortunately, he only found isolation in the urban Griffith Park and died famous, but unmated.

[00:14:26] So species can be inhibited by visual barriers just as much as they can be by physical ones. An artificial light, which has become such a fundamental component of modern human societies, is causing so much harm to the natural world by eradicating natural patterns of lightness and darkness.

[00:14:44] Whether it’s from light bulbs, headlights, or the glow of our phone screens, this perpetual light has undoubtedly revolutionized the way that we as humans live. But if it can cause such harm to other species, perhaps there’s some harm it can cause to us too.

[00:14:58] Luckily, when it comes to solutions for enhancing connectivity,

[00:15:01] Ben Goldfarb: I think that’s something, that’s something that wildlife crossing designers and engineers are increasingly conscious of, the fact that, you can have this wonderful wildlife crossing, but , you know, if that crossing is brightly lit and noisy, animals are less inclined to use it.

[00:15:17] Griff Griffith: Taking the Wallace Annenberg Wildlife Crossing as an example, Robert Rock and his team were acutely aware of the negative impacts of light pollution on migratory and nocturnal species. While considering the benefits to human safety that highway lights often provide, they needed to devise a design which held human and wildlife wellbeing in equal regard.

[00:15:36] Robert Rock: When you have surfaces that are lighter in color, they have an increased amount of reflectivity. The concrete barriers that are in the median or along the edge of the freeway are painted white on purpose, you know, to reflect that light, to make them a a bit more visible.

[00:15:52] But ultimately, when artificial light hits those surfaces and it bounces off of them, it creates this illumination that creates what’s called sky glow.

[00:16:02] What you get is kind of this halo effect from any of these portions of, of developed area and, and infrastructure where you’re affecting those species and their ability to exist within a certain offset distance from the, freeway itself.

[00:16:16] Griff Griffith: This sky glow was ultimately addressed through more intentional design choices meant to resolve a seemingly inherent conflict between human safety needs and wildlife safety.

[00:16:26] Robert Rock: We worked pretty deliberately and diligently with the electrical engineers at Caltrans to change essentially what’s been, you know, the last couple decades of, push in a different direction to be more efficient with light sources.

[00:16:40] The stationary ones that are along the freeway. Where the light fixtures would get higher, they would get brighter, and they would be spaced further apart. Well, the challenge with that is that obviously that light, when it’s pushed in those extremes is impacting further and further from the freeway itself.

[00:16:54] So we asked them if we could bring those lights back down to more proximate height. We could put them a little bit closer together. Uh, and then we also worked with them to change the, the color temperature of the lights.

[00:17:04] Ben Goldfarb: The designers, you know, have really gone to great pains to mask some of those light pollution impacts, through vegetated screens and berms and walls and other, other measures.

[00:17:15] Griff Griffith: Those two considerations alone, through the use of more efficient, less invasive light sources to the construction of these large earthen berms -doubling as both visual barriers to light pollution and ecosystem enhancer -will go a long way to restoring wildlife connectivity along the 101 in Southern California.

[00:17:32] And more progress is taking place elsewhere too. International guidelines have been developed under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and Wild Animals or the CMS to address artificial light as a major source of pollution and detriment to nature.

[00:17:48] These guidelines will be presented for adoption at an international conference later this year. Additionally, a number of cities have begun participating in quote unquote lights out events, a campaign developed by the Audubon Society, which encourages reducing unnecessary artificial lights during critical migration periods.

[00:18:07] Now, what’s the deal with noise?

[00:18:10] Beth Pratt: Noise pollution, another one, in the ocean and elsewhere, animals tend to try to avoid human noises, and especially on our roadways, some of them won’t even get to a road to try to cross because the noise is so impactful they turn around before they even get there.

[00:18:28] Ben Goldfarb: There are lots of, studies showing that, uh, you know, animals avoid noisy areas, or, they have to modulate their calls. If you’re an amphibian or a songbird to kind of be heard over the din. Road noise is really a form of habitat loss.

[00:18:43] Griff Griffith: Okay, so we know that large structures like roads prevent wildlife connectivity, and we know that artificial light pollution poses another challenge.

[00:18:52] In the same way, species can often become disoriented by the human made noises around them, especially near a busy freeway, which then either deters them or confuses them to the point that they’re not able to reach their intended destinations.

[00:19:07] Take this for example. You found yourself in a crowd full of people and you’re trying to find your friend. You hear them calling your name faintly in the distance, but you can’t exactly make out where their voice is coming from. Humans rely on auditory cues to move through our environments just as much as other species do. And noise pollution is posing a huge problem. According to the World Health Organization, noise pollution is one of the most detrimental forms of pollution. There’s a specific name for this kind of human-made noise, called anthropophony, or anthrophony for short. This term was coined by musician and soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause along with his colleague Stuart Gage and refers to the sounds that are generated directly by humans or our technologies.

[00:19:52] While there’s a bit more nuance and details we can get into, this term is important as it sets itself apart from geophony, the sounds of natural non biological things such as wind or water, and biophony, or the sounds of living organisms.

[00:20:05] Why is it important to distinguish human made sounds from other living or non living sounds? Well, estimates suggest that the rustling of leaves might be as quiet as 20 to 30 decibels, while a small stream might be 40 decibels.

[00:20:19] In contrast, the sound of a lawnmower can be as loud as 90 decibels. The wail of a siren? Up to 140 decibels, both of which far exceed the threshold at which sound can damage a human’s ears. And things become even more serious if those sounds persist over long periods of time.

[00:20:41] Ben Goldfarb: I didn’t quite realize the extent to which all of that noise was impacting me until you read the literature about the human health effects of road noise and, you know, and realize that, I mean, that constant racket, that stress, is raising our blood pressures and, you know, making us more susceptible to stroke and cardiac disease and, all kinds of problems. I mean, road noise is literally shortening our lifespans. You know, it’s, it’s one of the great, I think, unsung public health crises of our time. You know, and it has kind of a similar, uh, effect on wildlife as well.

[00:21:14] Griff Griffith: If humans were removed entirely from these landscapes, just think of how quiet things would be. The consequences of anthropophony are striking.

[00:21:24] Ben Goldfarb: if you’re an animal, a wild animal, you know, your, hearing is indispensable, right? if you’re an owl or a fox, you know, that’s how you detect your prey. And, if you’re a prey species, that’s how you detect your predator, right, is primarily through hearing. you can’t hear, you know, you’re going to avoid that area.

[00:21:41] Griff Griffith: Researchers have studied this very effect in what is called the Phantom Road Experiment…

[00:21:47] Ben Goldfarb: …which was conducted in Idaho by researchers at Boise State University. And, basically what they did was they recorded the sound of traffic, and then they played the noise of the road, this otherwise unroaded, forest, during songbird migration season.

[00:22:02] And, you they found very clearly was that, birds tended to avoid that noisy area, and the birds that did stick around, were in worse body condition because, they were sort of constantly having to look around for predators rather than hear them, and they, fed less as a, as a result.

[00:22:19] So they were kind of skinnier and less equipped to, uh, complete their migration. So that was just, you know, kind of a, a brilliant study that, proved, I think very conclusively that, isolating noise as a variable, road noise is, is still a, a huge issue.

[00:22:32] Griff Griffith: Studies such as this one have highlighted the negative implications of noise pollution on species health and richness, where decreasing species abundance has resulted from traffic noise as low as around 45 to 55 decibels.

[00:22:46] Other species such as frogs and toads have been known to adjust their vocal behaviors in the presence of anthropophony by adjusting the frequency or amplitude of their calls or ceasing their calls altogether.

[00:22:59] This may leave the females without the ability to find their mate. Or it could trigger a stress response in them which leaves them immobile.

[00:23:07] Now, the best part about noise pollution is that unlike other forms of pollution, it doesn’t linger once it’s been removed from the environment. You turn off the sound, you start to restore connectivity.

[00:23:17] Remember those large earthen berms I mentioned earlier that have been integrated into the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing? That’s another brilliant example of how landscape architects like Robert Rock consider the different barriers to wildlife connectivity and integrate these considerations into corridors and other connectivity projects, as these walls do a great deal to diffuse noise as well.

[00:23:41] Robert Rock: You put up a sound wall because we hear high and medium frequency sounds, and we want to attenuate those sounds to make our, our lives better on the backside of those walls, so we don’t hear that sound coming off the freeway.

[00:23:52] But the challenge that exists when you’re designing a crossing like this, where we really, truly are restitching the entire ecosystem, is that those areas that are adjacent to the crossing structure themselves will host species that are part of that environment, that have a home range that’s so small that we are creating a home for them.

[00:24:11] We’re creating a home for some of these species that are more impacted by the low frequency sounds than they are by the higher the medium.

[00:24:18] So what we’ve designed are these series of earthen berms that stretch along the freeway in all four directions, off the corners of the structure that are a combination of different layers of material that flank the edge of the roadway and extend back into the habitat area so that we can vegetate the backside of that and create habitat on the backside.

[00:24:39] And create enough mass between the roadway and the habitat that we’re creating to attenuate sound on the order of 20 to 25 decibels.

[00:24:48] Griff Griffith: In cities in Europe, acoustic walls and rubberized roads have been piloted to diffract the sound of traffic. As recognition to this invisible type of obstacle to connectivity becomes more common and these types of solutions become popularized around the world, we’re sure to do a great deal of good for our own health and the health of the species around us.

[00:25:09] I hope it’s clear by now that wildlife connectivity, whether physical, auditory, or visual, is absolutely crucial to preserve The well being of biodiversity and we humans with every additional road or structure we build have made that increasingly difficult. And it’s not just roads and highways that we need to think about. Anywhere we’ve built structures that impede animal movement, anywhere that our artificial lights cut through the dark of night, and anywhere our noises boom through habitats offers us the opportunity to see how we’re impeding wildlife connectivity and try to improve it.

[00:25:42] Beth Pratt: You’re not gonna have wildlife in the future if you keep building more parking lots and start accommodating like electric bikes off trail.

[00:25:50] But yeah, I think, you know, our biggest barrier is us.

[00:25:53] Griff Griffith: But not all hope is lost. There are some incredibly inspiring initiatives taking place across the United States and the world that are successfully working to rebuild these essential links.

[00:26:02] Take the Wallace Annenberg Wildlife Crossing in California as a striking example of human ingenuity and compassion for our fellow living beings.

[00:26:11] Understandably, not all of us can just go out and build wildlife crossings, but there are still little steps that we, as individuals, can take to make a positive difference. For example,

[00:26:21] Beth Pratt: I mean, obviously donating to projects, but volunteering, getting the word out about why this is important.

[00:26:27] But I think the biggest impact you can have is actually just in your own space, whether you have a backyard or an apartment balcony or whatever, put on your wildlife eyes and look at how you may be contributing to the problem. Are you leaving your lights on at night? Do you have lights that are impacting wildlife? If everybody shut off their lights, wow, that would just be an amazing impact.

[00:26:52] Ben Goldfarb: citizen science is really powerful. Or community science or participatory science, you know, whatever, whatever term you wanna use for. that’s kind of one of the, one of the beautiful things about, participatory road ecology is that, it doesn’t really require any, you know, special expertise to identify, you know, a dead raccoon or a skunk, by the side of the road.

[00:27:10] And there are many programs and apps, that collect that data and use that data. And, you know, there are some wonderful case studies community collected data,, informing the location of wildlife crossings or, you know, or, or contributing to, our understanding of the range of species. Roadkill, you know, for all of its tragedy is also this really useful scientific tool.

[00:27:31] Griff Griffith: There’s lots of reasons to have hope.

[00:27:36] Beth Pratt: I do think overall the views of wildlife are changing across the country. Um, some areas it’ll take a lot longer, but you know, science is now showing what or as animal lovers, you know, I grew up with animals my whole life, knew, which is they are capable of emotion, they do have personalities, they have an intrinsic worth.

[00:27:57] we take for granted every day being able to get in our car and driving to the grocery store without being killed, without having to navigate an obstacle course.

[00:28:06] I think if we started thinking about what it would mean if we had to face all these obstacles, we’d have wildlife crossings everywhere.

[00:28:14] And I think the good news is it’s not that we have to give up doing any of these things. We don’t have to give up mountain biking or boating or driving. We just have to do those things with wildlife in mind.

[00:28:25] Griff Griffith: Many of the impediments to connectivity we discussed today happened consistently over generations, and surprisingly, despite being obvious in hindsight, it was not so obvious while it was happening. With the actions we discussed in today’s episode, we can help biodiversity recover.

[00:28:44] But there are many other examples of dramatic generational changes that we miss or misinterpret.

[00:28:49] For example our elders have told us of a time when salmon were so plentiful that you could walk across the river on their backs or a time when you had to pull over your car and wipe all the bugs off your windshield just so you could see the road but current generations may be unaware of this history Due to a phenomenon known as Shifting Baseline Syndrome.

[00:29:10] In episode four, we’ll hear an indigenous perspective, a marine biologist perspective, and an environmental scientist perspective to help us understand how to go from a place of wildlife deficit to creating a story of hope, a story of lots of wildlife coexisting with us as we move forward.

[00:29:28] How do you or will you support connectivity in your own community or even your own backyard? We’d love to hear from you. You can email us at podcast at jumpstart nature. com or leave a comment on one of our social media pages. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and you can also follow our personal Tik Toks. Mine’s @GriffWild.

[00:29:47] And a huge gratitude shout out to Ben Goldfarb, Beth Pratt, and Robert Rock for their contributions to today’s episode. Ben and Beth have also been featured in our sister podcast, Nature’s Archive. If you’re interested in hearing full length interviews about the fascinating world of connectivity and more, check them out.

[00:30:05] Ben Goldfarb also has a wonderful new book out called crossings, which I highly recommend checking out. if you want to learn more about widespread ecological transformations that roads have driven, including many of the topics we’ve touched today, be sure to get his book. I am loving it.

[00:30:23] And be sure to check out jumpstartnature.com/podcast, where we’ll include links to all the resources mentioned during today’s episode, a transcript of the podcast and additional resources to help you learn more about how to support connectivity.

[00:30:37] Michael Hawk: The Jumpstart Nature Podcast was created by myself, Michael Hawk. Today’s episode was written and produced by Michelle Balderston. And our host is Griff Griffith. Thank you for listening.