Science-Based Conservation under Attack in 2017

Candice Gaukel Andrews January 3, 2017 12
In 2016, the giant panda was downgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” on the global list of species at risk of extinction, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. ©Brad Josephs

In 2016, the giant panda was downgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. ©Brad Josephs

We’ve closed the books on 2016. It’s natural to want to assess the past year, now that we’ve made it through to the end. In the past 12 months, there has been some significant, positive progress: according to World Wildlife Fund, the giant panda is no longer endangered; for the first time in years, tiger numbers grew; the Arctic’s federal waters were spared from U.S. drilling plans; and newly developed, antipoaching technology led to dozens of arrests in Africa.

What do all of these gains have in common? They were made possible because of science. It was research-based data that proved that panda and tiger populations were in grave danger, leading to the establishment of more reserves and legislation to protect them; it was empirical knowledge that showed that drilling in the Arctic’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas would cause tremendous risks to indigenous communities, wildlife and the environment and that there was no way to effectively clean up after a spill; and it was technical know-how that led to new infrared cameras that could identify poachers from afar by their body heat—even in the dead of night.

Can 2017 hope to have any similar gains for wildlife, public lands and the environment when an attack on science has just been declared?

In Wisconsin

In 1970, after seeing the aftermath of a massive oil spill in California, then U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin proposed Earth Day, an annual observance for environmental awareness. ©National Park Service

In 1970, after a massive oil spill in California, then U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin proposed Earth Day, an annual observance for environmental awareness. ©National Park Service

I come from and currently live in the state where John Muir grew up and attended college, and where the first Earth Day was held, on April 22, 1970, as an environmental teach-in by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson. Wisconsin has traditionally prided itself on its environmental leadership.

But I woke up to news today—just three days into 2017—that shocked me. On December 21, 2016, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) removed language from a page on the Great Lakes on its website that stated that humans and greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change. Whole sentences attributing global warming to human activities and rising levels of carbon dioxide have gone missing.

The Wisconsin DNR now says climate change is a matter of scientific debate. Formerly titled “Climate Change and Wisconsin’s Great Lakes,” the web page used to correctly assert that “human activities that increase heat-trapping (greenhouse) gases are the main cause” of climate change. The old text goes on to say “scientists agree” that the Great Lakes region will see longer summers and shorter winters, decreased ice cover, and changes in rain and snow “if climate change patterns continue.”

Now, under a new title of “The Great Lakes and a Changing World,” the DNR says, “As it has done throughout the centuries, the Earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the Earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Department of Natural Resources.”

The Wisconsin DNR also deleted a page from its site that included a toolkit for “classroom teachers and informal educators in parks, refuges, forestlands, nature centers, zoos, aquariums, science centers, etc., and is aimed at the middle-school grade level. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with six other federal agencies—National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, NASA, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management—developed the kit to aid educators in teaching how climate change is affecting the nation’s wildlife and public lands, and how everyone can become climate stewards.”

Apparently, teaching the next generation what’s actually happening to the planet and how to care for the Earth is no longer considered worthwhile.

Glacier retreat is one of the most visible climate impacts. Notice the change in Alaska’s Kenai Fjords Bear Glacier from 1909 to 2005. ©National Park Service

Glacier retreat is one of the most visible signs of rapid climate change. Notice how far the Kenai Fjords Bear Glacier in Alaska has retreated from 1909 to 2005. ©National Park Service

In reality

Despite what climate-change deniers currently in charge of the Wisconsin DNR would have us believe, the science behind human-caused climate change is not being debated.

In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international body set up by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program to assess the science related to climate change, issued a report that surveyed the latest climate change science and found that with 95 percent certainty “that the human influence on the climate system is clear and is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming and understanding of the climate system.”

The report—the United Nation’s fifth since 1990also states “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean[s] have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”

Rapid climate change results in increased sea levels and storm surges, such as this one at Golden Gate National Recreation Area. ©National Park Service

Rapid climate change results in increased sea levels and storm surges, such as this one at Golden Gate National Recreation Area. ©National Park Service

In 2017

It’s January 2017, and we’re entering into a dangerous time. If we don’t limit the average global temperature increase to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (or 2 degrees Celsius) above the preindustrial level—and the U.S. pulls out of the Paris climate accords—the world as we know it will suffer drastic changes; alterations so dramatic that humans and ecosystems both will have a hard time adapting.

But we’re also entering another—almost more sinister—epoch. Now, politicians seem to think that if they don’t like what scientific data proves, they can make the results go away, just by hiding them.

Three days into January 2017, I also read a story from Wisconsin Public Radio. It said that Wisconsin lawmakers are considering breaking up the DNR, scattering its environmental, fishing, forestry, hunting and parks programs among three existing agencies and two new ones. In other words, we won’t have a department of natural resources anymore; nor, I dare say, soon after that, any natural resources left.

I want you to be vigilant in 2017. I want you to stand up for science. I want you to be alert, attentive, observant, watchful, eagle-eyed, hawk-eyed and on the lookout for the wildlife and the places you love.

Or they could be taken from you, sentence by sentence, with a few strokes of a pen.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Jibralta Merrill, MBA July 26, 2017 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Of course, WI has 2 GOP US Senators, a GOP governor & it’s the age of anti-science courtesy of Trump.

  2. Lawan Bukar Marguba March 23, 2017 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    Sometimes some people become foolish before they realize their folly and become reformed. These states will no doubt retrace their steps when the reality sinks in.

  3. Thomas Sawyer March 2, 2017 at 9:15 am - Reply

    The state of Wisconsin will hopefully in time, see their errors, and make science-based conservation efforts a very high priority, as should the rest of the nation, especially from an educational perspective, and as we can pretty easily speculate, somewhere behind the Wisconsin DNR (and from others) lies a host of political influences (although not specifically mentioned in your article). They need to understand that these effects are both natural occurring as well as man-made, and what can be expected in future generations may be irreversible.

  4. Thomas Sawyer March 2, 2017 at 9:14 am - Reply

    Unfortunately, there may be far to many politicians that are just plain closed-minded and fearful of perceived and unfounded threats that science may interfere with business interests and profits. The IPCC does offer other interesting and worthwhile notions, namely the concepts of “Procrastination Penalties,” and most importantly, “Precautionary Principles.” Regardless of how science may be perceived by politicians, these two strategies are well worth further examination, but being closed-minded does not allow educational opportunities or the chance to become more enlightened. In addition, the IPCC even discusses scientific “uncertainties” which in itself, is not justification for avoiding preventive action and event the most remote possibilities of further damage to the environment let alone scientifically proven probabilities and certainties.

  5. Pamela Jackson March 2, 2017 at 9:14 am - Reply

    OMG. What is wrong with people? By the time “people” realize and finally admit to the reality of climate change, it’s going to be too late…this is the 6th mass extinction event happening now and known as Holocene.

    The Holocene extinction, otherwise referred to as the Sixth extinction or Anthropocene extinction, is the ongoing extinction event of species during the present Holocene epoch mainly due to human activity.’s frightening but true: Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. We’re currently experiencing the worst species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. What part of extinction don’t you understand? We are the apex predators soon to be gone, er EXTINCT. Oh, don’t worry the planet will survive, she always does. And so it goes.

  6. Susan Pierce March 2, 2017 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Truly disturbing. I wish these politicians would educate themselves and travel around the world. Human induced climate change is a scientific fact, backed by 97% of the world’s scientist. Only in the U.S. has it been reduced to a belief system.

  7. Shalyn Zappulla March 2, 2017 at 9:10 am - Reply

    I wrote to them and shamed them. Maybe others will do the same and it will have an effect.

  8. Jon E. Hove January 30, 2017 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    I thought we had left the discussion re. human activities, greenhouse gases and climate change behind, and that we were to use our energy on how to reduce how much greenhouse gases we add to the atmosphere… that’s a sad story you have there. However, people are in the know about this all since long. Those few people who are desperately trying to argue the case of keeping status quo, and continue human activities blindly as before, have a lost case. We just have to be persistent and stand up to all of this nonsense. That’s my 2 cents in anyway.

  9. Matt Holmes January 9, 2017 at 7:47 am - Reply

    Agreed Noodin.

  10. James Beard aka Noodin January 9, 2017 at 7:44 am - Reply

    Can’t put a like to this. Sad.

  11. Alexandra Robedeaux January 5, 2017 at 4:16 am - Reply

    The earth is our home, one that we share with our animal relatives. And with this comes a blessed responsibility. For in our hands and
    hearts lies the future.

  12. Travis January 3, 2017 at 11:02 am - Reply

    I called the DNR customer service line today about the removal of all language concerning climate change from their website and resources. The man on the phone struggled to find the statement he was instructed to read, but he found it eventually. They “had not updated the website in a few years” and needed to address “changing demographics.” This seems irresponsible for an agency charged with protecting our environment. If it matters to you, the call takes 30 seconds.
    1 (888) 946-7463

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