SciSun: Out of Fashion   Leave a comment

This is a Fisher.Fisher WA Dept WildlifeThis is a Great Egret, fishing.Great Egret fishing NPS

While they both appear to have something to do with fish, that’s not really the connection the two share. Egrets mainly eat fish (along with frogs, snails, and other small aquatic animals); while the Fisher, despite having he word ‘fish’ in its name, is a rather extreme predator that preys on medium-sized mammals including the porcupine, an animal with basically no other enemies. Fish, it seems, aren’t much of a challenge to the Fisher. So the reason the Egret and the Fisher are both in the news this week isn’t their name or their diet; it’s because one was once in danger of extinction; and today, the other has been recognized as possibly facing the same fate. Which is more news-worthy than eating fish or threatening porcupines, but far more serious. Except to the fish and the porcupines themselves, which probably don’t want to be eaten by anyone.

The Fisher (Pekanian pennanti) is a moderately-sized, weasel-like mammal that’s today generally found only in regions along the United States/Canada border and similar environments with dense, mature woodlands and deep forests. At one time the Fisher range extended into the Southern Sierra Nevada and as far south as Tennessee, and occasionally sightings of the animals are still reported within its historical region. Just last week one variety of Fisher – the West Coast Distinct Population Segment – has been recognized as needing protection to survive, and has been placed on the Endangered Species list as a Threatened Species. While all Fishers belong to the same species, the general population has been so fragmented and separated that distinct populations are now cut off from each other, and while one regional population may be relatively strong and secure, other populations may be struggling to overcome challenges. Within the Pacific Coast region, for example – where this Fisher population is now Threatened – continued human development, including illegal marijuana farming, is destroying Fisher habitat, food sources, and sometimes the animals themselves.

Just over a hundred years ago the Great Egret (Ardea alba) and Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), along with numerous other bird species were at the edge of extinction due to current fashion, specifically womens’ hats. The style in those days, for reasons hard to understand now, was to wear animals on your hat – bird feathers; entire wings and heads; or even complete bodies artfully arranged to appear alive and vibrant. (Too bad the animals, themselves, were no longer alive and vibrant). If birds weren’t your fancy, hats were also available with frogs, lizards, mice, and other small animals. Hooray for fashion!

Bird hat WIKI

By the late 1890’s many women decided enough was enough, and started campaigns to end this indiscriminate use of wildlife for personal adornment: It’s estimated from the 1880’s – 1890’s over five million birds were killed each year, and at one time the feathers of particularly hard-to-find birds were worth more than gold (probably hard-to-find because so many were being killed). History isn’t clear if there was any specific event or occasion or point that led these women to take a stand – many were wealthy, upper class and accustomed to the finer things, so personal excess wasn’t a factor – maybe it was the overall culture of the time, when the natural world was being systematically destroyed in the name of ‘progress’; fields and tree-lined roads that had disconnected residential areas from commercial and industrial zones were being developed, removing any sense of separation between the working and the privileged classes; or the ever-expanding growth of factories during this industrial age, resulting in pollution and child factory workers and overcrowded city housing. (Ed. Note: Upton Sinclairs’ The Jungle is NOT a book about a wildlife research expedition).

So, at a time when much of ‘civilized’ society was starting to recognize our environments are unique and, at the rate ‘progress’ was progressing, without forward-thinking planning and responsible actions the natural and scenic resources that enabled modern conveniences and made ‘America the Beautiful’ so beautiful could be lost forever. In fact, while a few years later saw the writings of John Muir and the establishment of protected lands (some of which became the National Park System) and Theodore Roosevelt proclaiming “We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so.”; some historians point to the groups of society women who, in the last decade of the 19th century, at lunches at tea-times and book-readings, decided there’s no fashion in wearing dead animals on your head. And sometimes, the latest trend that’s new and modern and all the rage today, even though ‘everyone’s doing it’, could be incomprehensible tomorrow and reason to ask: ‘Why?’.


Michonne Says: This Threatened and In-Dangered list is a very good thing because it means any animal who’s on the list will be protected and can’t be chased or hurt. But to be on the list you have to be an animal that already has been chased and hurt so much, there aren’t many left. Wouldn’t it be better not to chase and hurt, and then no one would have to be on the list?

Posted October 12, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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