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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Breeding Bird Revival– After Habitat Restoration

On a June morning, I recorded few birds along a transect in the gloomy oak woods of Somme East in either 2002 and 2006. But similar monitoring in 2016 and 2017 told a different story. The results, before and after restoration, (combining two years of data in each case) are shown below: 


Year
# of birds
# of species
Before restoration
2002/2006
15
8
After restoration
2016/2017
112
26

Many years earlier, before we’d done much restoration in Somme Woods, I approached Jeff Sanders and asked if he might be willing to monitor the breeding birds there. Jeff is a highly-respected, dedicated, excellent birder, though not always an optimist. He checked out the place and, understandably, turned me down. “What’s the point of monitoring birds where there are no birds?” he said. 

I had confidence in the future. As it turned out, however, the habitat improvements came slowly. More than a decade passed before even a few acres were well under way. But there were clues. When initial stewards Drew Ullberg and Tom Murphy cut the first Somme Woods brush, in an area of beautiful old oaks, our first pair of blue-gray gnatcatchers moved in and wove their charming little nest. A year or two later, in the middle of another small area where Drew and Tom cut over-dense pole trees, their work was honored again, this time by our first Cooper’s hawk stick-nest. The gnatcatchers and Cooper’s seemed to vote for restoration. Indeed, most birds don’t try to raise a family in an invasives-clogged oak woods, degraded by lack of fire. (See Endnote 1 for a description of this woods – before and after  restoration.) 
Blue-gray gnatcatcher gathering nest material.
Breeding gnatcatchers were our first indication that we were on the right track.
Photo by Jerry Goldner.
In the western part of Somme Woods, where Drew and Tom began in 1989, the vegetation had been gradually recovering, and more and more species of breeding birds were returning. But we had no “before data.” My records show that it took me until 2002 to finally get up off my own duff and sample a transect through the eastern part of the woods (see Figure 1). There had been no habitat restoration then, but we hoped we’d get to it. 

Beginning at 6:00 AM on June 29, 2002, I hiked a loop as marked on the map, clipboard in hand, watching and listing. The basic principle is that you go slowly and quietly, write down all the birds you see, and, more importantly, all the birds you hear. You identify many more birds by sound than by sight. So, to do a breeding bird sampling transect, you have to be able to identify birds by their songs and chirps. (This takes some practice, but I highly recommend learning bird calls as a one component of appreciating the ecosystem. So much more is around you than you usually see!)

The six species I recorded are shown below (numbers of individuals in parentheses): 

Red eyed vireo (3) 
Great crested flycatcher (1) 
Black-capped chickadee (1)
Hairy woodpecker (1) 
Blue jay (1) 
Wood pewee (1) 

It then wasn’t until 2006 that I managed to sample this transect again. That time I recorded five birds of four species:

Downy woodpecker (1) 
Red-bellied woodpecker (1) 
Red eyed vireo (2)  
Blue jay (1)

None of the 2006 species were birds of conservation concern (see End Note 2). The concerns of Jeff Sanders were still haunting me on that day. 

On the map below, an acronym indicates where I saw or heard a bird of a given species. For example, REV shows where I saw or heard the red-eyed vireo.

Breeding bird monitoring map from 2002
Compare the map above with the map from 2016:
 
Figure 2. Breeding bird monitoring map from 2016.
This change is a triumph of conservation. 43 birds of 24 species sing and eat bugs (mostly) in the June woods because hundreds of trained volunteers (mostly) and staff people have been doing successful and beautiful work. The many birds of conservation concern that have returned to raise families at Somme include American woodcock, northern flicker, red-headed woodpecker, and scarlet tanager. For the full list of birds on this transect map, see Endnote 3.

The restoration in the eastern two thirds of Somme Woods (the area mapped and discussed here) had begun when Forest Preserve contract staff in the early 2000s cut the buckthorn out of the southwestern 15 or 20% of the area mapped. Some of this limited work had been done by the time of my 2006 monitoring. A second round of funding and contractors cut pole trees from this same area, but the ground beneath remained dark and bare in summer, and, though I have no data, my impression was that little natural vegetation nor birds revived or returned.

But more ambitious restoration by volunteer stewards had been slowly working its way east, led since 1997 by steward Linda Masters. By 2010, stewards reached this "Somme East" area – cutting over-dense pole trees and planting the herb layer (grasses and wildflowers) that are essential to a healthy oak woodland. (More detail on this in Endnote 4.) It would take more careful research than we have resources for to determine the relationship between a rich herb layer and oak woodland birds. But it is my impression that many bird species increase as the richness of the herb layer recovers. Among the species that spend a lot of time among the herbs are indigo bunting, yellowthroat, eastern bluebird, goldfinch, and blue-gray gnatcatcher. Also many woodpeckers, flycatchers, hawks, and owls seem to get a lot of food from the herbs and the species that eat them. Although most people think of scarlet tanagers as treetop birds, in Somme Woods I have also seen them hunting food among rich grasses and flowers.

Long ago, as it seems to me, in the early days of restoration, we focused on the vanishing prairies. We cut the trees and shrubs that were shading out the prairies. By doing so, we saved a lot of rare plants and animals (especially invertebrates). But we also destroyed the habitat of others. Judy Pollock (of the Bird Conservation Network) and Alan Anderson (of Chicago Audubon Society) deserve credit for encouraging us to notice the loss of rare shrubland bird habitat in some areas. At Somme Prairie Grove today (immediately west of Somme Woods), some of our most beloved (and bird-filled) areas are our increasingly-natural shrub thicket areas. They support such species as the orchard oriole, brown thrasher, field sparrow, cedar waxwing, black-billed cuckoo (in some years), towhee, and many more. 
The great crested flycatcher nested in Somme Woods before restoration began.
We wondered: would it still be there after all the habitat changes?
Photo by Jerry Goldner. 
It seemed like the next logical step was a focus on oak woodland birds. Since the natural prairies, savannas, and woodlands of the tallgrass region were all at death’s door when restoration began; and since most animal species require more acreage than the early “test plots” that worked for plants; and since good quality restoration may take decades – we are only just beginning to learn what natural richness these ecosystems are capable of recovering. As our techniques improve and our resources increase (see Endnote 4), we’d like to hypothesize that we might reach the sort of richness documented for Somme Woods by Frank Woodruff in 1908 (see http://woodsandprairie.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-unexpected-discovery-of-somme-woods.html). The northeastern 75% of the area covered by this report saw no restoration at all before 2014. The increased avian richness here in just three years is inspiring to many.

Will we soon be seeing nesting screech owls, cerulean warblers, chats, redstarts, and thrashers? Or will we see them decades hence as the community of plants, invertebrates, herptiles, and birds continues (we hope) to improve? Or will we see current nesting birds drop out? Time will tell us. (At least it will if we keep studying the biota.)

We badly need more and better studies to compare a variety of approaches – to help us make better conservation and habitat management decisions. We need more generous leaders and volunteers of all kinds. Conservation also needs more resources, understanding, and spreading of the word. (See opportunities at https://sommepreserve.org). Everyone’s invited. Thanks for your interest.

PS: Since this post is already too long, many additional details will be relegated to a subsequent post that may be entitled something like “Qualifications, Justifications, and Fun Details.”

Endnotes
Endnote 1

At Somme Woods, invasive species had darkened the habitat into nearly a “bird desert” in most areas. There were few grasses, wildflowers (except brief spring ephemerals), and few young oaks. The ground in summer was mostly bare dirt or seedlings of buckthorn or maple. Sadly, this state was common in this region’s oak woods. 

A natural maple woods can be a fine habitat, but we have only small pockets of that in Illinois. It’s typical to our east (including southeast and northeast). Maple forest birds include wood thrush, ovenbird, and hooded warbler. 
The scarlet tanager nests in mature woods, whether oak or maple.
It feeds its young on insects, like this one is gobbling, that would otherwise degrade the forest.
Woodlands without birds are not healthy woodlands.
Photo by Jerry Goldner. 
Most of the Chicago region was naturally prairie, oak savanna, or oak woodland. Sunny, grassy, flowery (and sometimes shrubby) – oak woodlands depended on frequent fire. The birds that ate the kinds of insects, seeds, and fruits growing in those sunny woods are in many cases declining and have few other places to go. These birds include the American woodcock, red-headed woodpecker,  northern flicker, and ruby-throated hummingbird – all of which have returned to the areas of Somme Woods that are under restoration, sometimes only after many years. Also returning or increasing are some species that might be found in both maple and oak woods, including the great crested flycatcher, wood pewee, yellow-throated vireo, and scarlet tanager. 

For some "before and after" photos of Somme Woods restoration, skip the first (prairie) photo, and check out the next few at: Six Minute Talk (on conservation success).

Endnote 2

Bird conservationists have a variety of lists that help habitat managers focus on the species that need help. Robins and downy woodpeckers are fine birds, but they don’t seem to need special conservation help. American woodcocks, northern flickers, red-headed woodpeckers, and scarlet tanagers need higher-quality habitats. We are especially happy when our habitat restoration attracts such species.  

The great crested flycatcher, hairy woodpecker, and wood pewee – recorded in the 2002 sample – depend to some degree on specialized quality habitats. One concern we have about restoration is whether existing birds of conservation concern will thrive in the changed habitat as it is being restored. 

Endnote 3

On June 3, 2016, 43 birds representing 24 species were recorded along the Somme east footpath. They are listed below – alphabetically by acronyms – to make it easier for you to check what was where (with a repeat of the map, below), if you wanted. (In parentheses is the number observed.) 

BCC     Black-capped Chickadee (1)
BJ        Blue Jay (4)
BGG    Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1)
BO       Baltimore Oriole (1)
Cow     Cowbird (1)
DW      Downy Woodpecker (1)
HWo    Hairy Woodpecker (2)
GCF     Great Crested Flycatcher (2)
GF       Goldfinch (1)
GHO    Great-horned Owl  (1)
GK       Grackle (1)
IB         Indigo Bunting (5) 
NF       Northern Flicker (1)
R          Robin (3) 
RBW    Red-bellied Woodpecker (1) 
REV     Red-eyed Vireo  (3)
RHW   Red-headed Woodpecker ()
RTHk   Red-tailed Hawk (1)
ST        Scarlet Tanager (3)
SS        Song Sparrow  (2)
WD      Wood Duck  (1)
WP      Wood Pewee (3)
WBN   White-breasted Nuthatch (2)
YTV     Yellow-throated Vireo (1)

Birds recorded on June 2, 2017 that were not recorded on June 3, 2016:
EB        Eastern Bluebird
CY        Common Yellowthroat

Other birds that we saw commonly through the nesting season, but were not recorded on these two transects:
CH       Cooper’s hawk
AW      American Woodcock (males performing courtship flights; unfledged chicks observed in multiple areas)
Hum    Ruby-throated Hummingbird (commonly seen wherever red flowers were blooming; seen performing courtship flights)

Thus, according to this data, no breeding species were lost from the oak woods – and twenty species were gained. 

Endnote 4

This report covers the area within and surrounding the Somme east footpath – a loop trail covering 2.1 km or 1.3 miles. It did not exist until 2014, but my memory (and the maps I made) suggest that those two earlier bird transects generally followed the same route as the current footpath. (Its course follows the way a person would walk, to avoid crossing wetlands more than needed.) 

The people who constructed this path and did most of the restoration in this area are the intrepid volunteers of the new Somme Woods Community, which started with a recruiting “kick-off” in 2014 (credits below). Since that time, eight new “Zone Stewards” have been leading group “workdays” most every weekend, and special projects are under way on many other days. 

Somme Woods restoration by volunteer stewards typically starts with cutting and herbiciding the stumps of buckthorn, oriental bittersweet, box elder, maple, basswood, and other species that are unnatural to (or now overabundant in) the oak woods. The “native trees” we cut are typically “pole trees” – tall, mostly leafless trunks with narrow tops that are fighting to reach the light. Maples and basswoods usually win this race. Many dead young oaks, which don’t survive in this little light, stand among them. We also cut many red oaks and hickories (sometimes herbiciding the stumps and sometimes leaving them to re-sprout like shrubs) when they’re too dense for reproduction of the oldest trees, which are generally white and bur oak (and swamp white oak in wetlands). Our goal is to increase light levels sufficiently for oak reproduction, at least as the older oaks die.

Our thinning of pole trees was probably more extensive than most woodland restorations but was less ambitious than some interesting efforts underway by the Lake County Forest Preserves. (It would be interesting for these efforts to be compared scientifically – with each other and also with the good work being done at Busse Woods, Deer Grove, and elsewhere by the Cook County Forest Preserve staff, partnering with Openlands at Deer Grove.) 

Our brush and tree cutting is mostly done in late fall and winter. We spend much of the summer and early fall gathering seeds of hundreds of species of grasses, sedges, wildflowers, and shrubs, which we broadcast in the areas thinned to reduce shade. We try, especially in the initial stages, to burn most areas at least every second year. This burning kills the seedlings of invasive trees and encourages a thriving herb (grass and wildflower) layer. It rarely damages the old oaks.
Indigo buntings are not thought of as forest birds, but they're one of the most common species
of our newly restored oak woods, even in areas with few shrubs. We have much to learn (and appreciate).
Photo by Lisa Culp Musgrave. 
What is the best way to manage the shrub component of oak woodlands? This is a question that should not get a one-size-fits-all answer. Some natural woodlands were largely free of shrubs, and these were important habitat for many bird (and other) species. Other woodlands (or areas of woodlands) had plentiful shrubs, on which other species depended. At Somme, one of our ponds is bordered by a thriving thicket of willow and silky dogwood, but when we started most shrubs had been lost from most areas (as was documented for woodlands generally by Marlin Bowles of the Morton Arboretum in a study for Chicago Wilderness). I remember hazel in Somme Woods from long ago, but we found none to protect during the restoration process. The only upland shrubs we found in any numbers were black haw (Viburnum prunifolium). These were mostly pitiful, light-starved survivors just a few inches tall (although often spreading over areas ten to fifty feet in diameter). To allow these thickets to recover, we have remedially raked around them to protect them from fires and caged some to protect them from the deer. 

Credit for the ambitious work of the expanded Somme Team (starting in 2014) goes initially to Friends of the Forest Preserves, Audubon Chicago Region, Friends of the Chicago River, and to the Forest Preserve District which helped train the new stewards and to fund organizer Josh Coles. The Woods and Prairie Foundation funded organizer Cecil Hynds-Riddle. 

The speed and quality of the restoration has continued to benefit mightily from Forest Preserve staff and contractors who conduct the prescribed burns and hire contractors (who spray large areas of buckthorn re-sprouts after areas are first burned, to ready them for the next conservation steps. 

But the real credit goes to the volunteers, especially the Zone Stewards: Eriko Kojima, Jim Hensel, Karen Glennemeier, Linda Masters, Matt Evans, Paul Swanson, Sai Ramakrishna, and Stephanie Place.

If you’d like to learn more about the work of the stewards, check out other posts in this blog and the two Facebook pages and other resources at https://sommepreserve.org
 
Gnatcatcher on nest - beautifully woven of spider silk and camouflaged with lichens.
Neither the gnatcatcher nor this hawthorn tree can survive in the dense shade of unburned woodlands.
They depend on more light - like so many oak woods plants and animals.
Photo by Carol Freeman.

First published April 15, 2018
Last revised: April 17, 2018


Friday, April 6, 2018

Ecology and Revolution

Toward the end of his powerful life 
Martin Luther King called for a radical revolution of values.

How does that call relate 
to the revolutions needed for conservation of the Earth?

Dr. King profoundly changed us. As continues to be the case with his and Gandi’s mentor, Thoreau, the revolutionary ideas may take long periods of time to settle in.

As I’ll try to describe below – influences from Martin King, Henry Thoreau, and Jane Wood underlay the genesis of the influential Chicago region conservation community that arose in the 1970s.  If you’re mostly interested in plant and animal biology, you may want to skip this post. It’s a personal essay on values and strategy.

A nature nerd as a kid, I attended the Wendel Phillips Parker Nature Training School and later the Daniels School of Forestry and Conservation each summer until my second year in high school. Then adulthood began creeping in, as I had to get deadening summer jobs. But when the Sixties came, I left nature and jobs behind and devoted my life, night and day, to civil rights, peace, and liberations.

Initially, we “Sixties activists” opposed war, racism, our parents, “the establishment,” the Republicans, Democrats, capitalism, communism, and repression of all kinds, including, for that matter, sexual repression. We thought we could make a revolutionary new world, without all the bad things.

As history unfolded, millions of us marched, rallied, closed down most college campuses in protest at various times, and, to various degrees, supported war resisters, Freedom Riders, Students for a Democratic Society, Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Organization, the Mobe (Mobilization to End the War), Wounded Knee protestors, the grape boycott and United Farm Workers Union, women’s liberation, and gay liberation.

We opposed the draft, monopoly capitalism, big corporations, nuclear power, corrupt unions, fascist police, and the complicit media (most of it)(fake-ish news).

The line I recall best from the Pentagon Papers was possibly from Defense Secretary McNamara (as you may be starting to realize, I don’t remember it perfectly and don’t know how to find it). It went something like:

“In the end, the biggest cost of the war may be a distortion of the social and political structure of the United States, which may last for generations.”

We hoped that “distortion” would. We believed that “distortion” meant: lack of respect for authority, a re-birth of the American dream that would lift all out of poverty and would replace competition and greed with teamwork, and people judged by the content of their character.

Hated, evil president Richard Nixon repeatedly urged the youth to stop protesting war, racism, and corporations and to instead direct their energies to the environment. That was good enough to sour the people I knew on ecology.

During those years, the one piece of “environmental” literature I remember handing out was a sort of comic book that summarized ecological problems, pointed the finger of blame at big corporations and corrupt politics, and ended with drawings of armed guerrillas under the banner “Ecology Grows Out Of The Barrel Of A Gun.” That line paraphrased Mao: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” First, we overthrow the establishment, then we can help the planet.

At the time John Kennedy was shot, I hated him, as a traitor. When I heard the news, I was heading off for a protest against his growing war in Vietnam. My emotions about the assassination were clouded with guilt for that hate. When Martin Luther King was murdered, people like me felt that the politics of sanity and rationality were gone for good. Revolution is raw power. We imagined that we’d engineer a revolution that took the mostly bloodless form  of the ones in Cuba and, later, in Poland and Iran. That is, the whole country would finally agree with us, except for a few die-hards, who would mostly flee, and a general strike or some such process would allow the freedom and justice generation to take over. Perhaps with no shooting, I hoped, but then again, perhaps there’d be a certain amount. Revolution. But can that happen as they kill or disable our best leaders as soon as they are recognized?

I did feel, and many people felt (sort of along the lines of that warning in the Pentagon Papers) that I had been warped, and our Movement was warped. Sometimes warped is the best you have to work with.

I had gone to the march where King gave his “I have a dream” speech. Yes, the speech was compelling. But I reserved a mental protest. Partly, it seemed to me that black people were then demanding to be like white people, and that goal seemed degraded to me. Black music was better, black political leadership and many African-American values, as I perceived them, were better. Becoming like the Establishment seemed in many ways like a step backward, but the oppressed have the right to define their own demands, so I supported and marched. In the last year of his life, King struggled to expand the dream into revolution of values.

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
Martin Luther King
April 4, 1967

As leaders were assassinated, jailed, or retreated into self-important sects – those of us who had become full-time activists had to make choices. Some briefly went underground as terrorists – in retrospect, tantrum-istically. Many headed to law school, got jobs in labor unions, became college professors or carpenters – typically with the self-justification that they would use the powers they gained for what we all believed in. To us still committed, they seemed to be defecting into the establishment. Many maintained their vision and ideas impressively, but “the revolutionary Movement” devolved into little. Some fine and dedicated people I knew descended into depression and killed themselves. Some joined cults, Transcendental Meditation, faith healing, etc.   None I knew made Nixon happy by becoming “environmentalists.”

For myself, after a lot of run-ins with police agents and agent provocateurs, I felt mentally unhealthy, paranoid, and in need to escape. There was a brief period (around the time of Nixon’s impeachment) when agency leaders tried to dodge going down with Nixon’s ship by revealing their spy files to those spied on. With little confidence, I wrote for my files. To my surprise, by return U.S. mail, I got thick files on me from three agencies (if I remember right the FBI, CIA, and military intelligence). Although heavily redacted, they revealed much – and confirmed that my “paranoia” wasn’t simply a mental problem. But I decided that I needed and deserved “a break” from extremes. After some hesitation, I returned to my roots and wrangled my first respectable-seeming job, with the Illinois Environmental Council. My deal was that I would be paid $95 per week, which I would have to raise myself. I insisted that I not be assigned work on “birds and bunnies” issues but would focus on corporate polluters and corruption.

Then, oddly, in my “spare time” I organized a grass roots, Sixties-style, “participatory democracy” group to conserve the birds, bunnies, tender plants, and the whole ecosystem of some local prairies. The combination of that job and that avocation led to the beginning of a career with the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission – which was, yes, birds and bunnies but also an uncompromisingly idealistic institution, in fact, so much so, that the forces of bureaucracy (as it seemed to me) fired the director and our whole staff three years later.

Then America came to my and the ecosystem’s rescue. The well-funded and entrepreneurial Nature Conservancy hired me to continue “whatever it was that I was doing” that had so good a reputation among conservationists and in the media.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is an establishment organization. I became part of “the establishment” - but with little “selling out” – or so I thought. In time I’d be meeting and strategizing with Richard M. Daley, “the green mayor” as I dubbed him in Chicago Wilderness magazine, the son of the very Mayor Richard J. Daley whose forces had beaten, arrested, spied on, and detested my kind of people. I became good friends with Wendy and Hank Paulson (he, later CEO of Goldman Sacks, president of The Nature Conservancy, and U.S. Treasury Secretary) and many others in the same circles with Wendy and Hank. 

I owed a lot of my Nature Conservancy success to Jane Wood. Despite my introvert, nature-nerd background, I turned out to be very good at organizing communities and building a movement or constituency. I learned that from Jane Wood, who found me after college, as I lived in New York City (and was part of the Sixties radical media group called the “Newsreel Collective”). While I worked for no pay to make and distribute films about civil rights, peace, and community control – a slumlord was trying to kick me and my neighbors out of our inexpensive apartment building. Housing activist Jane Wood came to our rescue, teaching me and a couple of my Hispanic neighbors how to organize a tenants group. I later learned she was legendary. At the time, she just appeared out of nowhere, paid attention to us, and taught us. She empowered leaders, coached strategies, and radiated ethics and confidence in the face of apparently hopeless odds. Cuba! I’ve felt her generous spirit ever since. 

My history of living on very little stayed with me. I did what I thought right and didn’t worry all that much about internal politics. Less corporate and “more grass-rootsy” – I became seen by some as not an overall TNC-team-player. But others saw me as a national leader, and I survived there fifteen years – and then another fifteen years at the National Audubon Society. I did pretty much what I believed in, the whole time. If they didn’t like it, they could fire me. Mostly they liked it. For a while.

I remember one Illinois Nature Conservancy board chair trying to rescue me from myself, as he saw it. Did I really want to spend my life as I got older leading burns? I pointed out that I was teaching the next generation of burn leaders. Yes, he said, but wouldn’t you like to get out of the field and rise in the organization? “Some people like to control things, for the good,” he pointed out. Didn’t I want to move up from “Director of Science and Stewardship” and become overall state director – the guy who hires and fires people like the kind I now was?

No, I did not. Part of the problem was that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy (or be good at) the director job, which is part lawyer/MBA, part accountant, and largely getting donations from insanely wealthy donors. (Some people find it fun.) He was certainly right in one regard: the national and state boards decided on our overall directions, and they were changing TNC away from the core of what I believed in.

My true calling was building community which included that revolution of values. I found and empowered generous volunteer leaders. The heart of the community was those leaders (along with a few dedicated staff people in a few agencies). Volunteer leaders were finding and promoting part-time escape from the rat-race of consumer and career competitions. We spent our time collaboratively saving nature side by side with like-minded people, of the kind you want around you every day.

Looking back, I thanked Henry Thoreau, Martin King, and Jane Wood. Happiness for me was freedom to dream, envision, and do good stuff.

Some influences go through media, like Thoreau to Gandhi to King and Mandela. Some influences are personal. But I got from Jane Wood what I seem not to have been able to get from books and TV. (Out tenants group had largely female leadership, which the national organizations didn’t then have. Our strength was interpersonal and collegial.)

I had needed that cheap apartment (and little part time jobs) to be a radical activist. Getting used to living on little turned out to be my salvation. I hadn’t got married in part so that I wouldn’t have financial responsibility for kids, which would chain me to a job, whether that job was deadening and supported the evil system or not. “Married” and “a parent” meant growing up, in the worst sense. (If I had clicked with someone who loved me and wanted “to partner with me in the struggle” – I wonder what would have happened.)

What turned out to be key, when I came to focus on my conservation mission, was the freedom to do the best work I could find (or dream up) for little or no pay. Then, without expecting it, my Jane Wood organizing ability led to a reputation – and unexpected jobs. When agencies started offering me salaries, I still spent hardly any of it. I continued on, monk-like. Consuming didn’t appeal.

Certainly, ecology narrowed me. In the sixties we broadened ourselves in some ways that led to narrowness in others. Every member of the collective needed to think the same way about war, race, immigration, gender, economics, strategies, and so much more. Many people were forced out over minor differences.

We biodiversity conservationists at times need to focus narrowly on saving crucial parts of the planetary inheritance – while deciding how much attention to spare for the rest of the human condition. How much should we broaden to partner on the many interdependent issues?

The strategy of the fascists, then and now, has been to promote paranoia and conflict. Division in American seems toxic. On one level, Hillary Clinton represented much of what MLK was heading toward. But she also represented Wall Street, the elite, and consumerism. Trump did too – but sneakily. Republicans now have a dilemma: for decades they supported messy immigration by an underclass so that Republican businessmen could hire cheap labor in semi-slave conditions and maintain control through police threats. Their current racist America First “base” conflicts with their differently-racist past. Traditional Democrats have nearly a reverse, perverse conflict.

Though I’ll always vote for the best candidate that has a chance to win, the “true revolution of values” doesn’t seem to be emerging from either party. Our country and culture changed profoundly in the wake of Martin Luther King, the sixties, and the post-Sixties women’s and LGBTQ movements. Those good changes may prove to be irreversible, or not. The “March For Our Lives” kids are a great sign.

Today I often find myself wishing I could offer young people help and insight on how to spend a life in conservation. I seem to have little to offer. There could be great numbers of ecological improvement jobs – after the revolution of values. Today they are limited. Get hired, if you can. Or volunteer: Work a regular job (mail carrier, nurse, teacher, computer programmer) without “living on the edge of your resources” and thrive in the volunteer world. (Big organization with wealthy boards can accomplish much, but they typically won’t be revolutionary when needed. Volunteers, grass roots organizations, and entrepreneurs are more likely sources of revolutions.) One piece of advice I can give: “Be true to your best self. Don’t enslave yourself in consumerism.”

Today I do the same teaching, writing, and restoration work I did with TNC and Audubon, without the paycheck, that I don’t need, at age 75. It’s what I enjoy and get satisfaction from.


Yes, we need a radical revolution of values, focused on positives that will release us from militarism, prejudice of many kinds, economic exploitation, and consumerism. They cheapen life and drive planetary degradation. People are ready for the liberation of human potential for beneficial and happy lives.