STILL ASK 'WHAT GOOD IS IT?'
question never goes away. What good is it? People often ask ecologists
and environmental educators what good is this or that animal or plant.
is seldom malicious. People really want to know what justification exists
for protecting certain species. Providing a good answer is not always
I give varies. Not because I keep changing my mind, but because the
question has lots of acceptable answers. Many people want to understand
why protection of endangered or seemingly insignificant species is important.
ask why we should protect species that can be dangerous or that restrict
economic development. People want the justification to be relevant to
their own lives.
people relate differently to different answers, I try to pick the best
one for the particular audience.
remember a talk I gave to a group of deer hunters. As I was showing
them a canebrake rattlesnake, someone said, What good is it?
Thats a fair question to ask, but the man did sound a tad hostile,
like I was the reason his hunting dog had recently been bitten on the
face by a rattler. So I paused to consider the right response, especially
when I eyed the shotgun lying on the floor beside him.
I could speak, another hunter in the room looked at the man and said,
I can answer that. What good are you?
chimed in with Yeah. Yeah. My suspicion is that the other
hunters were more interested in jabbing their buddy than standing up
for the rights of rattlesnakes, but their point was actually valid.
situations and with some groups, one way to respond is to point out
that other species could ask the same question of us. This is especially
true for certain individuals.
If I had
responded to the hunter, I might have advocated for the environmental
value of rattlesnakes by describing a situation I had heard of in a
local residents destroyed a hibernation den where rattlesnakes congregated.
The next year the community was overrun by rats and mice. Apparently
the townsfolk had exterminated the rodents primary predator.
might have little sway with the hunter who had the snake-bit dog, but
others in the room might well have embraced a new perspective.
purely people-centric point of view, one reason to champion a species
is because it has research value that can result in tangible benefits
for example, have been used to detect unsuspected radioactive contamination
in the environment.
situation turtles lived in a lake near a nuclear reactor. Scientists
discovered the lake was contaminated by radioactive cesium and strontium.
had incorporated low levels of radiation into their bodies and shells.
In a research program that sampled turtles moving overland between lakes,
we detected radioactive turtles and were able to demonstrate that a
contaminated habitat was present somewhere in the vicinity.
served as environmental sentinels that cast a spotlight on a bad situation.
We subsequently were able to pinpoint the source of the radioactive
contamination so that a cleanup process could be undertaken.
I am certainly
not alone in asserting that to be good stewards, people must protect
the natural environment and the plants and animals that inhabit this
world with us.
some folks will maintain that certain species should be eliminated because
they pose a threat to humans.
I have one more valid answer to the question what good is it?
And that is we dont know yet. Sometimes species can
have on overall value that exceeds the problem they can cause in specific
or animal in the world could have some behavior or genetic makeup that
might be of value to us.
and turtles have already proven they have such traits. For most species
we just havent found out yet what those qualities are.
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