How to save Earth's species in the midst of human enterprise

Chapter 6

Hard-Core Reconciliation

Progress . . . depends on the
encouragement of variety.

Calvin Coolidge1

Carole and I were sitting in the shade of the second floor gallery of the Casa de las Conchas in Salamanca, Spain. Besides the geometrical elegance of the gallery itself, all we could see were the red-tiled roofs that typify so much of the country. Suddenly a small, dark, and handsome thrush hopped onto the stone railing across the courtyard. Its flashes of auburn told me it was a male black redstart. The bird quietly went about its foraging business in full view of us tourists, evidently paying no attention to anything but bugs and perches. I could not see whether any insects were there for the taking, but the bird was acting as if its belly were being loaded. Soon it flew away.

A black redstart sings from his perch atop a ceramic roof tile in a French garden. Digiscope image by Alain Fossé.

Amazing! Amid all that old tile and stone, here was a lovely, wild thrush. I have seen black redstarts on the ocean's shore. I have seen them in the desert's stony solitude. I have seen them even among the high-mountain, rubbly wilderness above the tree line. And here they were coexisting with civilization in a most unpromising habitat—touristic monuments in a city center that had not seen its natural environmental state for perhaps 500 years.

Some thrushes are like that. The European blackbirds and American robins strut about fearlessly and successfully in almost every patch of grass we plant for ourselves. But some thrushes—like Townsend's solitaire—are quite shy of people, hardly ever seen except by the intrepid sort that seek out the Earth's most pristine habitats.

Many birds find homes in our habitats. For instance, Little and Crowe counted birds in and around the apple orchards of South Africa's Elgin district.2 The apple orchards—especially those that use green methods of pest control, such as natural enemies—do not turn out to be so bad for birds: 7 species lived in the heavily sprayed orchards, 12 in the green-managed orchards, and 22 in the patches of natural vegetation left around the orchard landscape. A total of 24 species lived in at least one of these three situations.

But Little and Crowe observed 30 bird species in their work, not 24. Where did they see the other six species? They saw them in a nature reserve not far from the orchards. The reserve lies in the heart of the fynbos, a magical heathland habitat of immense plant diversity. Fynbos gives us a very large number of flowering houseplants and flowerbox species, such as geraniums. Until European settlement, all of the Elgin district was fynbos.

Twenty-four of thirty species. So, converting fynbos to apple orchards had wiped out six of the thirty species. In the Elgin district, they now live only in the fynbos reserve. Two of these—the orangebreasted sunbird and Victorin's warbler—are strict specialists. When enough fynbos goes, the world will lose them altogether.

German has words to distinguish between animals that we help—or at least that live with us successfully—and those that avoid us like the plague that we are. Species that endure or profit from the habitat changes we wreak on the face of the Earth are called kulturfolger, "culture followers." Those which will have nothing to do with us are called kulturmeider, "culture avoiders."3 Those six special fynbos species are kulturmeider.

Words may help us communicate. But they can also—if we let them—freeze our perceptions of the world. In this case in particular, they can fossilize our attitudes to species. Kulturfolger—these we help, and we do it simply by being ourselves. No need for conservation measures. Kulturmeider—these we hurt, but we cannot do much about it. It is part of their nature. God has popped them into the box of species that avoid us. Too bad. Conservation measures won't help either, except perhaps in reserves.

Nonsense! Reconciliation ecology proposes to make kulturfolger — culture-following species — out of kulturmeider species. I know we can do it, at least for some species, because we already have. The distinction between kulturfolger and kulturmeider species is not so rigid after all. In this chapter, I will show you some examples.

Nest Boxes for Bluebirds

We have already considered the thrush family. We labeled as a kulturfolger some thrushes like American robins. In contrast, Townsend's solitaire is a kulturmeider. But it's not always so clear where a species belongs. Consider the case of the eastern bluebird.

Bluebirds are thrushes, too. They hunt insects in open fields and shun deep, primeval forests. They like nothing better than the bucolic scenery of rolling farmland. At one time, they thrived in such human habitats. They nested and fledged their babies successfully in school grounds, in front lawns, and along country roads. Kulturfolger without a doubt. Or so it would seem.

But when was the last time you saw an eastern bluebird? In fact, very few of them remain, and most of those live far from people. Once, it was one of our commonest birds. It nested in residential areas of cities and towns. It covered a vast range from Quebec and Nova Scotia in the northeast, west to the plains of eastern Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, and south throughout the USA from Florida to Texas. What went wrong for the bluebirds?

Some may trace the problem to a severe winter in the southeastern U.S. in 1957-58. Bluebirds suffered terribly. Indeed, their populations never recovered. But 1957-58 was not the first bad winter for bluebirds. Going back only a bit more than a century, we find such winters in 1894-95, in 1939-40, and again in 1950-51. After each previous debacle, the bluebirds—prolific breeders—recovered in only a few years.

Part of the reason for bluebird decline is that bluebirds nest in holes. In a primitive world, dead and dying trees provided these holes in abundance. But dead and dying trees offend our sense of order and beauty. So, we manicure our properties and deprive hole-nesters of homes. Moreover, for several human generations, some bluebirds found replacement holes in our wooden fence posts. But now we use steel posts and they are totally useless to bluebirds (and a number of other species).

But shortage of holes for nests is just the beginning of what ails bluebirds. Their real malady is two aggressive, alien, outrageously abundant bird species that also like to nest in holes. House sparrows and starlings.

Did you know that we deliberately brought the house sparrow to our shores? It seems hard to believe now, but we did. Starting in 1851, we transported and released a series of shipments of the pests in various places along the eastern seaboard. On purpose! They thrived and, at first, bird enthusiasts delighted in them. But soon the threat they posed to native species ruined any pleasure we might have taken in them. Consider the contemporary witness of E. Howard Eaton:

In the year 1879 there were no English [i.e., house] sparrows in the village of Springville (NY), where the author's boyhood was spent. That winter he visited the city of Buffalo and was delighted to see the English sparrows about the streets and dooryards amid the deep snow in the coldest weather. Two years later the sparrows had thoroughly established themselves at Springville and before the year 1888 had occupied practically every hamlet in the state. During the last 20 years they have been working their way from the cities and villages into the country and nearly every large farmyard is thickly inhabited by these troublesome parasites.

. . . the sparrow builds so early in the season that nearly every available box and hollow limb is occupied by the time the bluebirds, chickadees and nuthatches, martins and Tree swallows begin to think of their nestbuilding, so that the scarcity of nesting sites, which becomes greater and greater in all civilized communities, is multiplied tenfold by the occupation of all the available hollows by the indefatigable sparrow. . . Thus the number of bluebirds and martins that nest in our dooryards or about the village is becoming smaller and smaller.4

One might have thought that house sparrows were bad enough. But in 1890, an ignorant do-gooder named Eugene Schieffelin brought a small group of European starlings to New York's Central Park and released them. The country will never be the same. Eaton (see p. 220) did not dream that starlings "could ever become the pest that the English sparrow has proved itself in all parts of the country." But they have. Starling populations have exploded and they live just about everywhere that people do.

To bluebirds, starlings are a pox even worse than sparrows. Like sparrows, starlings also nest in holes. But starlings are aggressive and larger than bluebirds. Starlings evict bluebirds from any nest site they want for themselves. As if that were not bad enough, starlings eat the berries that the bluebirds need to survive during the winter.

Eaton feared the result would be a bluebird disaster and he was right. Any bluebird nest in the vicinity of agriculture or human habitation was doomed to pass to sparrows or starlings. The bluebird population plummeted. In a few decades, it had disappeared almost entirely from our company. Sparrows and starlings had changed an abundant kulturfolger to a scarce kulturmeider. What a disastrous step backward!

But devotion, diligence, and reconciliation saved the bluebird.5 First, people discovered that a nest box with a hole 1½ inches in diameter suited bluebirds but excluded starlings. Then they found that house sparrows do not like shallow boxes; a nest box only four or five inches deep discourages them but not bluebirds. A compendium of sparrow-thwarting, starling-foiling nest-box designs are now available.6 In 1979, the North American Bluebird Society was founded to spread the word and to encourage people to deploy appropriate nest boxes on their property. Bluebird numbers began to build back.
Eastern bluebird and a bluebird nest box. Drawing by Jack R. Schroeder.

Today's North American Bluebird Society has expanded its goals. It still promotes the recovery of the Eastern bluebird, but it has spread its wings to cover both Western and Mountain bluebird species, as well as other bird species that need cavities for nest sites. It sponsors research into better nest box design. If you log on to its website,7 you will see a variety of nest box plans and construction details.

The society publishes a magazine, Bluebird, that four times a year disseminates the latest information about supporting hole-nesters. It educates the public about ways to limit the damage that comes from house sparrows. And it explains the importance of keeping house cats under control and away from nesting bluebirds.

The National Wildlife Federation also lists the specifications for the nest boxes of many other bird species. These can all be placed in appropriate areas to supply a key requirement for the successful reproduction of wild birds. Moreover, in many cases, research proves that the boxes do not just attract birds, they actually increase their populations. We've already seen that holes boosted Eglin Air Force Base's population of red-cockaded woodpeckers. Nest boxes added to swamplands did the same for America's wood ducks, too. And various studies in Europe have identified a number of other species—like pied flycatchers—whose populations rise dramatically after nest boxes are installed.

Not all birds nest in holes, but those that do cannot find enough of them. People usually do not tolerate the dead or diseased timber that used to furnish these holes in the days before chain saws. But they do not mind the nest boxes that we can use to replace these scarce resources in a reconciled habitat. What delight they find when a bluebird or a purple martin family decides to take up residence in a nest box set out on their own land!

No doubt few species are attractive enough to inspire the sustained devotion of a large group like the Bluebird Society. But luckily, most species will not need such a single-minded effort. Yes, they will need some of us to adjust our habitats to make room for them to flourish. But unlike bluebirds, they will find their way with the help of less structured organizations, like neighborhood gardening alliances. Or they will find homes in government-sponsored reconciliation efforts like the one at Eglin Air Force Base. But they will succeed if we help them.

Perches for Butchers

Possibly you've never even heard of shrikes, but they are remarkable songbirds. They are often called butcherbirds. Why? Because of the way male shrikes advertise their prowess during the breeding season. They impale the corpses of their prey on twigs, thorns or even the barbs of an old-fashioned barbed wire fence. Potential mates get turned on by these grisly displays. Did I tell you about the black feather masks that shrikes wear over their eyes? I am not making this up.
A loggerhead shrike.
Drawing by George Miksch Sutton.

Butcherbird displays give you a fine idea of a shrike's varied diet: mostly larger insects like grasshoppers, dragonflies and bees, but also spiders, lizards and even the occasional mouse. If you're in the right size range for a shrike to hunt, look out!

So, if they're so good at eating all sorts of common things, why aren't they all over the place like sparrows and robins? Because shrikes prefer to hunt in a certain restricted way. They like to sit up on a post or branch and scan the ground around them. Then they pounce.

Compared to birds that do hunt on the wing, shrikes are not spectacular fliers. So they rarely take prey that is airborne—unless it is something slow like a butterfly. They also rarely hover to scan the ground below. Hovering is very hard work, and usually makes their meal too expensive. Would you run a marathon for a slice of bread?

Because of their hunting style, shrikes need a semi-open landscape. Low vegetation, like grasses, interspersed with shrubs from which to scan and pounce. Not a terribly scarce landscape at one time, and it proved a recipe for success in both the Old World and the New.

The world has 30 species of shrikes. In the Old World, they range from Japan to Norway and down to South Africa. Two species live in North America. Australia has no true shrikes—the very similar looking Australian butcherbirds are unrelated. South America also lacks shrikes.

Today we must face the very real possibility that all species of shrikes are on the road to extinction.8 In European and American countries where bird counts are a tradition, shrike populations have declined by over 50 percent. Some countries have lost entire species; Switzerland, for example, has lost two of its four. So has the Czech Republic.

Most likely, a variety of changes precipitated the decline of the shrikes. The soft edges of small farm fields, with their hedgerows and scattered trees, gave way to the sharp edges of modern agriculture: corn to woods in two meters. Perhaps, also, pesticides poisoned the grasshoppers, crickets and beetles that form the bulk of shrike diets. And, whereas the barbed wire fences of yesterday were supported by wooden fenceposts that made great shrike perches, today's fences use thin steel posts, which are not so good for a shrike's business ventures.

Whatever the underlying causes, there is all too real a chance that our great-grandchildren will not be able to see any shrike—except in books alongside the pictures of other once-common marvels that we have swept aside. But there are many people who have decided never to let that happen.

Among the most active is my friend Reuven Yosef—you remember him from the pseudo-salt marsh he built in Eilat. Yosef was the guy who suggested that male butcherbirds impale their prey to show off for their mates, and then he backed up his interpretation with convincing scientific evidence. Believe it or not, this common and ostentatious behavior had gone without its true explanation since the dawn of natural history. Reuven nailed it.

Yosef did his Ph.D. on a very special working ranch in the middle of southern Florida. The MacArthur AgroEcology Research Center is a unit of Archbold Biological Station. It's not called a ranch for old-time's sake; its 10,000 acres really are devoted to cattle raising. It has a bunch of cowboys, a ranch house, horses, pastures, corrals. I've seen the place myself, and I can tell you that—except for the high humidity—it makes me feel right at home, almost as if I were in Arizona.

Yet, as you surely guessed from its name, the MacArthur AgroEcology Research Center is not just a ranch. Its job goes beyond beef. The folks at Archbold want to discover how to make money from cattle that graze in an ecologically sound landscape. Keeping diversity high is, for sure, a part of that. Sounds like reconciliation ecology, doesn't it?

Yosef studied the ranch's population of loggerhead shrikes.9 That's the more southern of North America's species, and it is certainly one of those in trouble. He banded them, weighed them, watched them hunt. He studied the times they nest and the number of times they would try to re-nest if weather or a predator destroyed their first effort in a season. He followed their babies' progress as the parents struggled to bring up their own. Experienced shrikes seemed to accept him as a natural phenomenon—if not a member of the family. I have seen him call them, and watched them come promptly to his field vehicle for a treat of mouse flesh.

From his work, Yosef figured that a lot more shrikes could use the pastures. There were plenty of big insects where no shrikes lived, but the pastures had very few perches. He went to a lumberyard and got some fence posts. He stapled a little bit of barbed wire to one end to help the shrikes keep their footing. Then he installed them in a pasture where shrikes lived but did not use much of their territory for hunting. Being a card-carrying scientist, he did not do this to all the shrike territories, but only to half, keeping the other half as the controls. The most difficult part of his job was convincing the cowboys not to climb in their jeeps and use the fence posts as a slalom course.

Here was the idea.

Yosef guessed that those shrike territories were as holey as a Swiss cheese. The birds were hunting only near a proper perch—that was the cheese part—and ignoring the parts too far from a perch—that was the holey part. He wanted to use the fence posts to fill in the holes.

If he succeeded, the shrikes should shrink their territories. Why? Because territory is expensive to defend. Not only that. It also costs a lot to fly from your nest to your hunting perch and back, especially when the perch is far from your nest. So why defend a territory larger than you need?

And if the shrikes did shrink their territories, that would make room for more shrikes. Aha! Yosef was really conducting an experiment to bolster the population of a bird in trouble.

Results came quickly. Within the first spring, territories with extra fence posts shrank dramatically. On average, the experimental territories were 77 percent smaller. The minimum shrinkage was 68.6 percent, and one had shriveled up by 83.9 percent. But the controls had stayed the same size.

As expected, new shrike "homesteaders" settled in the land left vacant by the smaller territories. The loggerhead shrike population increased 60 percent.

The smaller territories brought another advantage to the nestlings. They helped them survive. Parent birds in smaller territories had 33 percent more successful clutches than controls, and raised 29 percent more chicks per successful clutch. Clearly, oversize territories do hurt.

It all amounts to a recipe for reconciliation. Now we know how to raise the reproductive success of loggerhead shrikes and provide them lots more habitat in a working cattle ranch. There is no need for these shrikes to join the list of the doomed in the Red Book of Rare and Endangered Species.10

Many other species of shrikes in trouble are also being helped. Yosef's methods seem to work for the fiscal shrike of South Africa.11 In Belgium, Dries van Nieuwenhuyse has increased the population of the red-backed shrike with a technique quite similar to Yosef's, working in a hilly area used for cattle breeding. He trims shrubs and hedges, piles up dead branches, and even sets out balls of barbed wire in strategic locations. But he does not ask the cattle to go away!12

In Germany, Martin Schön has performed similar miracles for great grey shrikes.13 He alters the monotonous agricultural landscape and makes it a patchwork of microhabitats, including the great piles of stones that farmers used to leave at the edges of their fields as they plowed them up. Shrikes soon return to breed successfully where they have not bred for many years.

Shrike reconciliation ecology teaches us some general lessons. First, drink deeply from the natural history of the species you want to help. Study their reproductive cycles, their diets, and their behavior. Abstract the essence of their needs from what you observe. Then apply it without worrying whether your redesign of the human landscape will resemble a wilderness. It won't, so feel free to be outrageously creative. Birds and other animals appreciate abstract art more than you think!

Natterjack Toads

Reconciliation ecology is not always going to be as easy as a taking quick trip to the lumberyard. Ecologists may need to do a lot of research, perform a lot of trials, experience a lot of error. Consider the case of Bufo calamita, the natterjack toad.

Natterjack toads are rare and endangered in the United Kingdom. To preserve the species, 50 ecologists engaged in a detailed, multifaceted and sustained effort over the course of a quarter of a century. Their studies of the natterjack toad constitute a model of what may often need to be done and how remarkably successful we can be in doing it. Those studies have culminated in the development and installation of habitats that are saving the natterjack toad in the United Kingdom.14

Bufo calamita
, anonymous.

The work of this team began by finding out what natterjacks do for a living. Yes, of course they eat insects, but in what special habitat? The natterjack toad turns out not to do well in thick, tall vegetation such as birch, gorse, and bracken. Instead, it pioneers and thrives in more open plant cover such as that surrounding the rich pools of coastal dunes and the poorer ones of inland heaths.

Natterjacks have a fierce competitor, Bufo bufo, the common toad. But many things distinguish it from its competitor and permit it to stay in business. Unlike common toads, it burrows in sand. When foraging at night, it operates at a body temperature 1.4 degrees Celsius higher than B. bufo. Such higher temperatures prove crucial to natterjacks. They lose weight if forced to forage in dense, cooler vegetation. This helps to explain why its population declines if tall vegetation begins to invade and shade natterjack habitat. The increased shade also lowers the water temperature of the pools, slowing the development of natterjack tadpoles and subjecting them to more damaging competition from B. bufo.

In developing their picture of good habitat, the research team studied a very long list of environmental factors. They looked at a single-celled parasite, Prototheca richardsi, that lives in natterjack guts. They measured predation by salamanders, Odonata, water beetles, water bugs, and Notonecta larvae. They also studied pond chemistry and water quality (chlorides, sulfates, orthophosphates, ammonia, iron, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, alkalinity, conductivity, color, and turbidity). They even studied pond depth and the contour of pond slopes.

Soon they began to advance schemes to redesign part of the dune world on behalf of natterjacks. They cleared dense vegetation and reintroduced grazing to prevent its regrowth. They fought acidification of the water by adding slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) to natterjack ponds every year or two, or by scraping most of the sulfate-rich silt from the pond bottoms. To give the natterjacks a fair start, they even removed some common toads.

Most amazing to me was that they had learned enough to build successful natterjack ponds where none had been before. They used old bomb craters and active golf courses, and they built some 200 new ponds—not too deep, for that would have encouraged invertebrate predation—and not too steep, for they need a lot of shallow, warm water—and sometimes lined with concrete to fight acidification.

At all sites with new ponds, natterjacks used at least one and usually most within a year or two of construction. The new ponds rescued or increased natterjack populations in two-thirds of the sites. New research results are explaining the failures and supporting retries but nearly everything about the story is encouraging, including the great pride that local residents have taken in the work. Even the grazing has turned a small profit!

The bat roost near Comfort, Texas

This bat roost was built to increase the local bat population in order to fight malaria-carrying mosquitoes. About 1,000 bats of two species currently live in it. The roost was designed by Charles Campbell and built in 1918 by Albert Steves, former mayor of San Antonio. During Steves's time as mayor, San Antonio resolved to protect its bats and made funds available for a municipal bat roost. Once, 16 bat roosts existed in the U.S., but today only this one (a National Historical Landmark) and another, on Sugarloaf Key, Florida, remain. Not far from Comfort, Bat Conservation International offers help and plans for bat roosts on a smaller scale. Drawing by Anna Flatten © 1984.

Cattle Tanks for Chiricahua Leopard Frogs

Frogs and toads are in the news a lot these days. Unfortunately, the news is usually bad. Like the shrikes, many of their species are in danger of extinction. Scientists are not sure why, but in one case we know exactly what is going on. We even know what to do about it. It is the case of the Chiricahua leopard frog.

Chiricahua leopard frogs are quite ordinary four-inch, green and gold frogs that live in remote corners of southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northern Mexico. Once, nobody paid them much attention. In their scarce local habitat—streams running through desert canyons—they croaked away in abundance. For the last few decades, however, they have just croaked. They have disappeared from about 75 percent of the places in which they lived only a short while ago. On 13 June 2002 (perhaps auspiciously, a Thursday rather than a Friday), their plight was officially recognized—the government of the United States declared them "threatened."

The trouble began with their small size. Compared to bullfrogs, they make slim frog's legs. So, Man brought in the bullfrogs and set them loose. Once we introduced them, the bullfrogs spread rapidly with no further help.

Disaster. Bullfrogs eat other frogs. They eat their own species and other frog species. And they eat a lot of them. In one study, conducted by Phil Rosen and Cecil Schwalbe on the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge (Cochise County, Arizona), about one-third of the bullfrog's diet was other frogs!15 So, you should not be surprised to hear that Chiricahua leopard frogs vanished from the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge by the late 1980s.

Bullfrogs are not the only introduced enemy destroying leopard frogs, shrinking their range and threatening their prospects for survival. Green sunfish, with their appetite for tadpoles, cause problems, too. But the leopard frogs did have one last chance. Neither bullfrogs nor sunfish inhabit the isolated stock tanks that ranchers use to water their cattle. In addition to frogs and cattle, many other species of wildlife use these tanks.

The Magoffin Ranch lies a few miles east of the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge.16 In the early 1990s, it still had two populations of leopard frogs. They were living in water holes on the ranch. One, called Rosewood Tank, almost lost its leopard frogs during severe droughts in both 1989 and 1994. In fact, without the cattle, it would have. Both in 1989 and early 1994, the watery mud that accumulated in the cattle's hoof prints actually saved the leopard frogs from death. But the 1994 drought got even worse during the spring. By April, the leopard frogs were doomed. Except, the Magoffins refused to quit.

They dug an unnatural ten-foot-deep pool in the bottom of Rosewood Tank as it dried. Then they collected 400 leopard frog tadpoles from the drying tank bottom and moved them into their new hole. Every week throughout the dry summer, they hauled water to the hole in a 1,000-gallon tank truck and kept the frogs alive.

Owner Matt Magoffin has since dug out the bottom of the main tank so that it holds more water. And he has changed the outflow channels to improve the tank's depth. When the next drought hits, Rosewood Tank should be about 12 to 15 feet deep. Meanwhile, the leopard frogs are doing well. And so are the cattle.

Once he saw what he could do, the Magoffins expanded their efforts at reconciliation. They tackled a second water hole on the ranch. Belency Tank had dried completely during the drought of 1989. The frogs recolonized naturally, but the Magoffins saw that such flirtations with extinction were bound to lead to a calamity in the future. So, they dug a well for Belency Tank to prevent the recurrence of a total frog kill. Belency Tank now has about as many leopard frogs as Rosewood. The Magoffins then renewed a smaller tank, Choate Tank, with a windmill to pump water and a small pond, thus producing the support required for a third population of Chiricahua leopard frogs on the ranch. Efforts to reintroduce the frog to the National Wildlife Refuge depend on the Magoffin populations for colonists.

The Magoffin Ranch has joined with several other ranches along the Arizona-New Mexico border just north of Old Mexico. The association is named the Malpai Borderlands Group.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service termed the ranchers' role in frog recovery "crucial." Moreover, in its listing of the frog as threatened, it specifically exempts livestock tanks from the usual prohibitions associated with a threatened species.17 Approximately half the Chiricahua leopard frogs alive today live in stock tanks or artificial reservoirs. Thus, the listing of this species appears to represent the very first time that a national government has recognized the importance of reconciliation ecology in ministering to an endangered species. Hopefully, there will be many more such acknowledgments.

In truth, the Malpai Borderlands Group is much more than a society for saving frogs. They are out to preserve ranching as a way of life. But in doing so, they have quickly come to realize that they must preserve the land on which that life depends. They must save its species—frogs and snakes, pronghorn antelopes and native grasses. They must manage its fires, care for its soil, cherish its water.18

One day, the light dawned, and they saw that they were conservationists.

In the west, most of the time, ranchers and conservationists tend to tear at each other's throats. A rancher-conservationist? What a contradiction in terms! The Borderlands ranchers must have felt like they had split personalities. Prognosis? Probably being on everyone's enemies list.

Undaunted, they got together with some flesh and blood conservationists. They shared a concern that the grazing lands of the west be preserved in ecological health. Soon, the ranchers learned about conservation easements, and the conservationists learned that nobody was taking better care of their environment than those ranchers. What a surprise! Everyone got along real well.

In the rangelands of the west, conservationists reflexively oppose ranchers as environmental enemies. And ranchers see environmentalists as demons trying to deprive them of their land and way of life. The Malpai Borderlands Group has shown us that reconciliation ecology can change all that. The Malpai Borderlands Group has established the "radical center."