Birds and Landscapes of the Pacific Flyway
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Washington Press
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Foreword: A Wilderness on Wings
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One of the deepest convictions that geographers bring to every subject they study has to do with scale, a concept they understand with far greater rigor and subtlety than those who have never had to grapple with the befuddling complexities of mapmaking. The rest of us more often than not rely on spatial common sense as we navigate our daily life.
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I started this project while a graduate student in the Geography Department at the University of British Columbia. I was fortunate to have a talented and supportive graduate committee. Cole Harris read more drafts of these chapters than I care to count, and his door was always open if I needed to discuss ideas with him. Some of my fondest graduate school memories are of the field reconnaissances he led into the British Columbia interior.
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One of America’s great wildlife spectacles is found not in Yellowstone National Park or the backwoods of Alaska, but at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge beside Interstate 5 in California’s Central Valley. Situated amid the vast rice farms that carpet this part of the state, the refuge seems uninviting at first glance, particularly in the summer when its ponds shimmer in the heat and the surrounding dry grass is baked brown by the harsh sun.
1. The Wetland Archipelago
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The word “flyway” conjures up visions of an aerial highway that birds follow up and down the continent, taking rest stops along the way. But the word is misleading. There is no interstate in the sky for the birds to follow. Ornithologists realize that beneath the simplicity of the flyway concept lays a very complicated network of crisscrossing migration paths.
2. Elusive Sanctuaries
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During the early twentieth century, the tapestry of wetlands along the southern portion of the Pacific Flyway largely disappeared. Although government agencies did not tally the disappearance of marshes at the time, more recent studies provide some sense of what was lost. By the 1930s, states such as Washington had lost nearly 31 percent of wetlands and Oregon 38 percent.
3. Places in the Grid
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By the early 1930s, migratory bird populations were plummeting. Although both the U.S. and Canada had implemented more stringent hunting regulations and had had some success curtailing market hunting, wetland drainage continued at an alarming rate. Farmers, often with the aid of government agencies, drained wetlands or diverted the water that nourished them for the benefit of agriculture. This onslaught took a devastating toll on the wetlands in the wintering range of Pacific Flyway birds.
4. Duck Farms
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Refuge management involved many things—building ponds, raising food, and regulating hunting. In the mid-1940s, it also entailed flying airplanes and lobbing hand grenades. As waterfowl returned in greater numbers to the Klamath Basin and Central Valley during their fall migration, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service was ready with this new arsenal to contend with flocks of ducks and geese feasting on private farms.
5. Refuges in Conflict
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By the mid-1960s, the Fish and Wildlife Service had secured a place for refuges amid the Far West’s irrigated landscapes and had successfully fended off attempts to open its premier refuges in the Klamath Basin to homesteading. The splendor of the West’s marshes, which had once cloaked many of the region’s larger valleys and basins, was long gone. But amid this destruction, the agency had constructed a network of refuges to sustain migratory birds within an otherwise forbidding landscape for waterfowl.
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In the spring of 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service observed the one hundredth anniversary of the national wildlife refuge system. It was a muted celebration. While the agency praised the growth of the system since the creation of the first federal wildlife refuge on three acres of mangrove swamp in Florida by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, commentators noted that most of the agency’s 540 refuges were underfunded and poorly maintained. As the FWS celebrated the past, Interior Secretary Gale Norton threatened the future by lobbying strenuously for the U.S. Congress to open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
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Publication Year: 2010