Monday, May 13, 2024

Unique book on conservation, A Tale of Two Cranes

 A Talk of Two Cranes: Lessons Learned from 50 Years of the Endangered Species Act 

Prometheus, 2023, 266pp.

Gronewold’s discussion of the 50 years of the EPA is built around the kind of coincidence scientists dream about. Two species, extremely similar to each other AND with very similar conservation stories, in different countries with different approaches to protecting an endangered species.

Gronewold starts by discussing his time as an environmental reporter (where he says reporting was hindered in 2016-2020, not by the Trump administration, but by editors’ insistence on cramming a Trump angle into every story). He spent extended time in Japan, where he became aware of the story of the Japanese population of the red-crowned crane Grus japonensis (the species also lives on the Asian mainland, where it is under threat) and how closely it paralleled that of the whooping crane (Grus americanus). Both were on the edge of extinction: indeed, most American authors felt the whooper’s disappearance was inevitable. Both are now national symbols of conservation success. What can we learn from this?

Gronewold sets his personal story and professional evaluations in a rich landscape that includes everything from Japanese science fiction poetry to the impacts of World War II.  He goes into the global picture of biodiversity and endangered species, where the whooper and some the other species protected by the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) are lights in a darkening picture. He was surprised when the IUCN declared dragonflies, seemingly ubiquitous, are in a global decline. A study of 362 large carnivores of all types showed exactly 12 were improving in conservation status. 

The ESA, he writes, has had an international impact. Many nations have used it as a model. Japan’s 1992 Act on Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (ACES) is one example. ACES goes into more detail than ESA about what agency has what responsibilities and how its mandates are executed. Canadian legislation modeled on ESA has also played a vital part io the survival of the two cranes. Different philosophies are in play, though. The ESA solutions focus on habitat preservation above all and will not even consider feeding programs, while the Japanese, in part due to loss of wildlands proportionally greater than the US has suffered, are committed to a long-term program of feeding their cranes in winter. Japanese conservationists are trying to restore bits of marsh in the crane’s habitat in eastern Hokkaido, but major expansions are precluded by the cost of buying and repurposing land. Gronewold discusses the interconnectedness of species and habitat, and how actions taken to benefit one species may damage another’s chances. 

The author muses on de-extinction programs. He says the extinct thylacine might be brought back and supports it, although he admits partly for selfish reasons: he wants to see them. Whether broader de-extinction is desired or possible is left unexplored. 

Gronewold doesn’t attempt definitive answers, but he presents the story of ESA and wildlife conservation, through the lens of these two species, in a way that will make readers think and perhaps even give them hope. 

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