Wilderness news of 2013: The good, the bad and the hopeful
The Rim fire destroyed more than a quarter of a million acres in the Stanislaus National Forest and parts of Yosemite National Park. It was started by a hunter’s illegal campfire; authorities have still not made an arrest or revealed the results of their investigation, even though the fire started in August. What gives?
Above: A firefighter watches the Rim fire burn near Yosemite National Park in August.
The western black rhinoceros was declared extinct. According to Scientific American, by the mid-20th century hunting and industrial agriculture that reduced its range had caused its numbers to shrink. And then, starting in 1960, Mao Tse-tung’s call for a renewed emphasis on traditional Chinese medicine led to rampant poaching; powdered rhino horn was said to be a virtual panacea, including as a cure for cancer. Within 35 years, 98% of the remaining population was wiped out by poachers.
Above: A black rhinoceros that has been de-horned, followed by a calf, at the Bona Bona Game Reserve in South Africa in 2012.
U.S. moose populations are dropping precipitously, and though there are several theories about the main culprit -- worsening infestations of ticks and other parasites, heat stress or pine beetles that damage its habitat, the northern forests -- all are linked to climate change.
A new study found that coral reefs are better at resisting the ravages of climate change than scientists had thought. Earlier reports had forecast that the reefs could be gone by mid-century. The newer study found that the reefs adapt somewhat to the changed conditions. But the news is only partly good -- that means that the reefs will probably be around until the end of the century, and only if there are reductions in carbon dioxide levels.
A new book, “Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean,” along with a study by scientists for the United Nations, report that jellyfish populations are way up, along with the number of jellyfish “blooms,” leading to worsened fishing conditions and many painful interactions between swimmers and jellyfish. The dramatic increase was attributed to overfishing -- some fish are predators of the jellyfish -- and warmer ocean temperatures.
Two reports in early 2013 found that federal catch limits to prevent overfishing, and California’s network of marine protected areas where no fishing is allowed, have shown remarkable success in a very short time. A February report by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that of 44 fish stocks that had been severely depleted, 48% had rebounded to target levels. There was significant improvement for an additional 16%. And another study by marine scientists found that the populations and average physical size of several important species of fish have grown since the state established its first marine reserves. In addition, a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that hauls by fishing boats were growing; the report credited catch limits implemented in recent years.
Above: Sport fishing boat returns to King Harbor in Redondo Beach.