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How much is a species worth?
July 18, 2010 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) is a small songbird that lives almost exclusively in the lower peninsula of Michigan. During the 1970's they were on the verge of extinction, partially due to the fact that they prefer young jack pine trees as a nesting place, and improved fire safety efforts had led to a lack of new growth in the forests. To address the lack of young jack pines, the Forest Service started a controlled burn on May 5, 1980. The fire quickly got out of control, and the resulting wildfire lead to the death of local firefighter Jim Swiderski, and the destruction of 64 homes. A recent Radiolab segment has again raised the question: how much is a species worth? posted by ivey (17 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
False dichotomy.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:15 PM on July 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Well yes, we humans have done a lot of damage, but I'd say we're still worth keeping around, if possible.
posted by washburn at 3:26 PM on July 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


The reason for using fire?

It's way cheaper than using people. But the timing has to be bad -- and the forests we have now aren't well suited to fire, they're way too young and full of "dog hair" (little trees close together all the same age).

The same clearing can be done -- more carefully -- with hand and power tools, and making widely separated piles of the excess woody debris, with a big sheet of brown paper over the top of it, and then waiting to burn those brush piles until after it's rained a few times and there's no wildfire risk.

Do that a few dozen times over a couple of hundred years and you get back to the big-trees-and-shade-canopy forest, in which fire behaves rather better.
posted by hank at 3:33 PM on July 18, 2010


My fiancé saw one of these out in Magee Marsh in Ohio.
(The warbler, not a forest fire.)
posted by charred husk at 3:37 PM on July 18, 2010


With a side order of chaos theory, does this even mean anything? I mean, how many people would you be willing to kill for the next bit of plastic crap you buy? OK, how many have died in the last week in an accident with a truck hauling plastic crap around?

At some point you can frame every decision someone makes (or every one of life's little screw ups) as the moral equivalent of letting the serial killer go because he told you that if he doesn't brutally murder a sorority girl once a week, the whole universe will implode.

And from that point you can argue either side.

And I can go play video games.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:41 PM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think a more pertinent question is what is living in the forest in a small wooden structure worth? Because forests eventually? always burn.
posted by fshgrl at 3:52 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wrong question. Mistakes happen. That doesn't mean anything about how much species are worth (though it is obviously more than the value of a few homes or individual lives, mine included).
posted by anarch at 4:03 PM on July 18, 2010


During the 1970's they were on the verge of extinction, partially due to the fact that they prefer young jack pine trees as a nesting place, and improved fire safety efforts had led to a lack of new growth in the forests.

Or, in other words, "improved fire safety efforts" led to forests which burn all at once in massive all-devouring conflagrations, rather than a cycle of low-burning fires.

This has less to do with starting one particular fire for a bird than it does with 100 years of putting out fires which would have helped the birds (and the townsfolk) naturally.
posted by vorfeed at 4:36 PM on July 18, 2010


The fourth sentence in the first paragraph of the linked Wikipedia article: This habitat was historically created by wildfire, but today is primarily created through the harvest of mature jack pine, and planting of jack pine seedlings.

So, um, what?
posted by Sys Rq at 4:36 PM on July 18, 2010


...Forest Service started a controlled burn on May 5, 1980. The fire quickly got out of control...

People playing with fire really should take pains to actually know what they're doing.

Earlier
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:21 PM on July 18, 2010


As much as I hate animals and think they should be food or clothes, they don't bother me anywhere near as much as the argument that because 64 houses and a firefighter died as a result of protecting them, they aren't worth protecting.

To address the lack of paint on the wall, the painter started a controlled paint on May 5, 1980. The ladder quickly got out of control, and the resulting fall lead to the death of the painter, and the destruction of 64 antique pots. A recent Radiolab segment has again raised the question: how much is painting a wall worth?

Fire is natural and necessary, and this tragedy 30 years ago was more a result of 100 years of poor fire policy than a single burn to encourage birds to settle in the area.
posted by doublehappy at 5:35 PM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Turns out I pretty much just copied the last part of my comment from vorfeed. Nice.
posted by doublehappy at 5:37 PM on July 18, 2010


What is the connection of your question to the scenario? The event was speaking about carelessness and accidents that might happen because of human action.
posted by JohnD at 6:17 PM on July 18, 2010


how much is a species worth?

Millions
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:29 PM on July 18, 2010


MAN OR BIRDS: DECIDE NOW.

If you absolutely must frame the discussion this way, why not put it in terms of one human being now, or the chance of continued existence of a species of animals for millions of years?

I probably wouldn't be as upset if reasoning like this wasn't used all the damn time by people around here in Georgia, usually as an excuse for discounting the value of anything that isn't Southern Human.
posted by JHarris at 6:59 PM on July 18, 2010


"how much is a species worth?"

It's Monday, I've been awake for half and hour and I think I may just go back to bed. Christ.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 7:57 PM on July 18, 2010


The same question has been asked about DDT.

Easy to ask and answer all sorts of questions after the fact.
posted by eccnineten at 7:50 AM on July 19, 2010


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