The Allegheny Front Rewind: New Focus for Wildlife Conservation

Winged, web footed or woolly, wildlife in Pennsylvania is all around us. But the species living here are shifting. And so is the conversation about how to preserve and protect them. This week on The Allegheny Front Rewind, Kara Holsopple looks at those changes.

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OPEN: †Winged, web footed or woolly, wildlife in Pennsylvania is all around us. †But the species living here are shifting. †And so is the conversation about how to preserve and protect them. †This week on The Allegheny Front Rewind, Kara Holsopple looks at those changes.

TAGUE: †A few years ago I came upon a young duck that was stranded upon some rocks near the Carnegie Science Center. The duckling was only a wad of fluff, and no larger than a tennis ball. †It's slow peeping caught my attention. †There were no other ducks in sight, and this tiny thing could never survive on it's own.

HOLSOPPLE: †That was naturalist Chuck Tague, recorded for The Allegheny Front ten years ago. He and many others over the years, have proven that you don't have to go far, even in the city of Pittsburgh, to interact with wildlife.

But our attention to cute balls of fluff and larger, visually appealing animals-- or to put it in conservation lingo - charismatic megafauna --got the goat of another Allegheny Front guest in 1995. †Charles Bier of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy was on the show to talk about the comeback of Peregrine falcons. †But he suggested we should also be talking about less sexy animals:

BIER: These are the things that are usually smaller. They don't have the big brown eyes. They're not feathery and furry. †Many of them are green small plants - mosses, fungi, and also a whole realm of organism that we loosely refer to as invertebrates. †But really, there insects and mollusk, and many of the small animals that are really driving ecosystems out there on the landscape. We're not really paying much attention to that right now.

HOLSOPPLE: †According to Greg Czarnecki, executive director of the Pennsylvania Wild Resource Conservation Program, †that's exactly what they're paying attention to now. †Not the individual species themselves--adorable or otherwise--but the ecosystem as a whole. †

Why? †Two words that donít give anyone a warm, fuzzy feeling--climate change. Czarnecki says it's no longer enough to preserve and restore land so that species thrive. †He says, the landscape is evolving differently, and so are the animals. And it's just starting to be noticed in Pennsylvania:

CZARNECKI: Bob Curry, a professor at Villanova, is documenting is the encroachment of a southern species on Pennsylvania, the Carolina Chickadee which is moving to the north and beginning to displace and hybridize with the Black Cap Chickadee, which is the species here.

HOLSOPPLE: Those Carolina Chickadees are moving their way north more than a half a mile a year, and our warmer temperatures are making them feel right at home. †Czarnecki says Pennsylvania will be working with neighboring states more than ever, monitoring these changes and ferreting out their implications for the ecosystem and for us.

He says education will also be important. †But for a population that's pretty disconnected from their environment, that could be a bit of a bear--climate change isn't well understood. †And it doesn't necessarily leave its paw print on our imaginations like animals do.

CZARNECKI: ††As we look at climate change, we need to focus more on ecosystems rather than species, I think thatís going to be even more of a challenge because it's harder for people to identify with ecosystems.

HOLSOPPLE: †He says climate change may have to get more dramatic before residents notice. †And THAT may make it more difficult to fund studies for Pennsylvania's non-game animals and their habitats. †Thatís because the wildlife conservation program relies heavily on public donations and the sale of state wildlife conservation license plates--the ones with the cute river otter on them. †Charismatic megafauna, anyone?

For The Allegheny Front Rewind, I'm Kara Holsopple

OUTRO: †To hear Chuck Tague's full 2001 account of his encounter with the duckling and his advice for handling--or not handling-- young wildlife, mentioned in this story, check out our website, www.alleghenyfront.org.