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Monday
Aug122013

Is this the Swan Song of the Bobolink?

Do you know what a Bobolink is? Well, we might want to memorize this bird song and admire its beauty. The song of the Bobolink may not be heard much longer in the land and our children’s children may see and hear it only through the Internet.  According to an Ontario government report, the Bobolink is an “area-sensitive grassland species.” It requires “relatively large patches of suitable field habitats” and the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005, suggests, says Environment Canada, that: “The loss of grassland habitat has had serious consequences for grassland species of birds. Birds such as the Upland Sandpiper, the Bobolink, and the Loggerhead Shrike have declined since the early 1980s.” The Bobolink is in trouble.

It’s time for confession. For most of my life I have lived in a rural area and commuted to the city for work. Smugly, I have been alternately angered and saddened by the way that the city continues to sprawl out into the farmland yet I have chosen to put the connection between Bobolinks and houses out of my mind as I drove by those fields of houses. Now, from disappearing open grasslands to nests in local hayfields, the Bobolink is struggling to survive, and must compete with farmers who also need that first spring cutting of hay for their own survival strategy. Who do we save?

In British Columbia, the fate of Fish Lake is in the balance. A mining firm wants to drain it to gain access to the minerals underneath, a potential economic boon to the financially desperate area. Others see the draining of the lake as a tragic and futile mistake which will destroy an environmental jewel that took millions of years to create. It has emotional, spiritual, ecological and physical meaning which is hard to put into dollar terms. What do we do? What is the right decision?

There may be a new approach that gets us out of the either/or dilemma.  New insights about how we measure the cost of biodiversity may prove helpful. “We can begin to quantify just how expensive the degradation of nature really is” says Richard Anderson, Business Reporter for BBC News. We can put an economic value on the loss of grassland habitat and the Bobolink, for example, or the collapse of the bee colonies. We can begin to talk about a new system of accounting that considers natural capital and human needs. This way of describing the cost benefits of natural resources would be essential data for discussions which looked for shared values and common ground between opposing ideas about how to view and use our resources.

John Helliwell, a co-director with the Social Interactions, Identity and Well-Being Program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research has been exploring the areas that involve natural values and sustainable human values, looking for the collaborations that can keep us, our children and our children’s children connected, living in ways that contribute to everyone’s well being. This means keeping the dialogue and disagreements flowing until there is resolution and not imposing solutions too soon. If we don’t find a new approach, one that takes us beyond “I’m right” and “You’re wrong,” it won’t just be the Bobolink that’s singing her last song. The bill for the Bobolink has come due. Who’s going to pay?

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