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The Most Ambitious Wildlife Conservation Project Ever Undertaken

by Mary Ellen Hannibal

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7627-7214-8
Publisher: Lyons Press

Hannibal (Good Parenting Through Your Divorce, 2006, etc.) explores the ambitious Spine of the Continent Initiative, a massive project to protect wildlife and land by connecting expanses of acreage across North America.

The concept, pioneered by conservation biologist Michael Soulé, has been picked up by many others over the years, as a long-term way to help preserve wildlife and plant life in the West. Its ultimate goal was to unite discrete areas of publicly and privately owned wilderness to create one huge nature preserve stretching from Alaska to Mexico. In the first third of the book, Hannibal focuses on the history of conservation biology. The last two-thirds spotlight some of the many small organizations and researchers that are contributing to the larger vision, including projects focusing specifically on beavers, jaguars and wolves, among others. Throughout, Hannibal repeats the idea that everything in an ecosystem is connected. It’s a seemingly simple concept, well-backed by research, and the author discusses how, in the long run, working for the preservation of even a single species links directly to larger issues such as climate change. Because Hannibal writes in a casual first-person voice, the narrative is occasionally haphazard, as she delves into the history of the beaver-pelt trade in America in one section and explores Soulé’s life-changing experience with Zen Buddhism in another. It has its share of odd moments, as when Hannibal compares beaver ponds to the concept of romanticism, or when she asks a scientist who experimented on temperature-intolerant pikas in the 1970s, “How could you fry those bunnies?” The author doesn’t fully explore the opinions of anyone who might oppose the Spine plan, but the book works well as an introduction to modern conservationist figures and concepts for casual readers.

A fine overview of wide-angle environmentalism.