The Wild River Speaks
The stories of New Mexico's last free-flowing river

Natural Disasters
Is it the end of the natural world as we know it?

Hillsboro's Other 9/11s
Sept. 11 was a memorable date back in 1879 and 1885

The Great Pretenders
The Sonoran gopher snake evolved to mimic a rattler

2012 Writing Contest Winners

Adventure at the Silver Bell Mine
There's nothing worse than a ticked-off ghost

Notes on Being a Newcomer
Where life sometimes moves into the subjunctive mode

Adobe Tears
This year's best poem

Columns and Departments

Editor's Note
Desert Diary
Southwest Gardener
Henry Lightcap's Journal
The Starry Dome
Talking Horses
Ramblin' Outdoors
Guides to Go
Continental Divide

Special Sections

40 Days & 40 Nights
The To-Do List

Red or Green

Sunrise Kitchen
Dining Guide
Table Talk

Arts Exposure

Arts Scene
Gallery Guide

Body, Mind
& Spirit

Control Issues
The Grudge Report

About the cover


Natural Disaster

With species in decline, is it the end of the natural world as we know it?

by Larry Lightner



It may not be the apocalypse, but something surely is going on with nature. (For more speculation about apocalyptic thinking and doomsday preparations, see "Apocalypse Now?" in the July issue and "Doomsday Scenarios" in August.) Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tornadoes seem to be increasing in numbers never before seen since they were begun to be recorded. The Arctic is melting as glaciers become smaller and smaller, while global warming seems to be a fact.

The mule deer populations throughout the west are on a major decline. (Photos by Lisa D. Fryxell)

As I write this in summer, we are currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in American history; 56% of the lower 48 states are in a moderate to very severe drought condition. Here in the Southwest we are in that moderate stage, and that, to my mind, seems severe. The Midwest falls under the severe to very severe and that is our breadbasket, folks.

Already some are predicting food shortages before the year is out, with prices soaring for groceries. Whom is this going to affect the most? Virtually everyone on a fixed income, and if you remember in my interview last month with a federal law enforcement officer, he stated that 40% of the nation gets some sort of compensation from the federal government, including Yours Truly with Social Security! In Grant County, 27.3% of the population relies on Social Security, which accounts for 11.5% of total personal income — that's double the national average, so we'll really feel higher food prices.

If I look at my tiny valley as a microcosm of the country, it supports those doomsday postulations. My streambed running through my property has not run full in more than a year now. In fact, this year, it hasn't even run partially, whereas when I moved here seven years ago, it flooded and took out my fence regularly and did so for the first five of these seven years. I have a backyard of about a third of acre; it is usually green from July onward. This year it is bare earth for 80% of it.

But there is even a more alarming trend and it has potentially dire consequences for all mankind: Animal, bird and insect life are disappearing and no one really knows why, although there are many guesses out there and I plan to give my own before I am through here.

I read a recent study that songbird populations are declining dramatically in the US. This article mostly blamed domestic and feral housecats. Yet, according to other sources, songbirds are declining in remote and wilderness areas, too. From veterinarians to universities to special scientific study groups, all have their own reasons for the decline. Some say it is due to environmental loss, others to poisons such as lawn products, others to drought, habitat loss and water pollution and forest fragmentation.

In our little valley, my wife Jeri takes care of the birds; she gives them water and seed on a daily basis. They have trees and brush for shelter and the entire acreage is surrounded by a four-foot-high web fence. Yet she remarked this summer that we just didn't have the bird population that we used to have. We once had a small myriad of varieties coming to water and feed; now we have only several standard species such as sparrows, collared doves and bluejays. Now she gets excited when she spies a different bird occasionally pass through. What happened to them all?

I am and have always been a hunter of critters, and my first observations that something was happening began with two other birds — mourning doves and quail. When I moved here in 1988 it was nothing to go afield and encounter hundreds upon hundreds of both species in a day. Sadly, that is not the case any longer. The quail this past winter were gone, almost to the point of extinction.

Fellow hunters echoed what I saw, and we all quit hunting rather than disturb the already sensitive situation. That goes for doves, too. There formerly were migration routes with thousands of birds in the desert, heading south; they are virtually all gone in our region of the state.

I've heard various reasons given: drought, too much rain at hatch time, pestilence, disease (avian flu), predation by roadrunners, coyotes, hawks and eagles, and, of course, hunting. But once more, the experts cannot agree on any clear cause.


But it isn't just bird life. The mule deer populations throughout the west are on a major decline, with all of the above reasons similarly put forth. Again, let's look at my little valley as an example. My valley is almost three-quarters of a mile long and my house is the only one in that distance; no hunting is allowed because it is close to town.




You're on Page 1

1 | 2 | ALL

Return to Top of Page