How to Save Nature

spineBy Mary Ellen Hannibal

The subtitle of my book, The Spine of the Continent, is:  “The most ambitious wildlife conservation project ever undertaken.”

Now that the book has been out for a few months, and I’ve given a bunch of radio show interviews (most recently on KQED with Michael Krasny), slide presentations, and readings about the book, I wish I had made the subtitle:  “Why nature needs saving and how to do it.”

I remember having fairly protracted discussions with my agent and editor about the subtitle.  I wasn’t ever very keen on it.  Yes, “the spine of the continent” is a landscape initiative to create linked protected areas all down the Rockies, and that is super-ambitious.  But in many ways the concepts I explain, the work people are doing, the problems we face on planet Earth, and the imperative that we do more now, is really a bigger issue than any single project.  But my agent and editor both thought people would see the subtitle, wonder what it was all about, and pick up the book.

The Spine of the Continent, is, in the words of Thomas Lovejoy, “the biography of a big conservation idea.”  I like that so much – the biography of an idea.  As he also says, it’s about “the scientific and conservation pioneers actually making it happen.”  These blue ribbon scientists (like Lovejoy), include Michael Soule, E.O. Wilson, and Paul Ehrlich.  These also include regular people, like Janay Brun, a waitress who told the truth about what happened to a rare jaguar, Macho B, and was arrested for her trouble.  Sherri Tippie, the hairdresser who ends the book, has personally relocated more than 1000 beaver over 20 years.  These women and many others are conservation heroes.  They see the right thing to do, and they do it.  To me, they are the “spine of the continent.”

When people call into the radio interviews, invariably someone asks if I think we can actually save nature.  I say, “I don’t know.”  We DO know what to do – protect habitat, restore ecosystems, ensure connectivity between wild places.  Many people are doing it.  Yet most of us of course tick along in our daily lives and really don’t get it.  There’s a disconnect.  Fundamentally, “connectivity” can save nature because the very concept is about putting two and two together:  us, and nature.

I’m going to be giving a slide presentation at the Main Library next Wednesday, December 12, at 6 p.m. (in the Koret Auditorium).  It’s free and all are welcome.  Let’s connect!

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