I went for a hike over the weekend with my girl friend. Unfortunately I forgot to charge my camera’s battery, so no fancy photos of the hike today. I found something unexpected on my hike though. We were hiking in Devils Canyon in McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area. What I saw on the hike were signs set up explaining the geology of the area with little cartoons of a geology teacher I had in high school. He was a professional geologist before becoming a high school teachers and one of the people who influenced me towards studying science (I actually started college as a geology major). He died in Moab Utah of a heart attack while hiking in Arches National Park at 55. This happened just a year or two after I was out of high school. It happened a long time and although he had an influence on my life, I wasn’t very close to him. Really seeing him in cartoon form, pointing out rock formations and signs of erosion just made me think about life and death. For individual people but also for populations, species, families of organisms. Although I consider myself a conservationist, it’s important sometimes to remember that even species will inevitably go extinct just like you and I and every person alive must surely die. The problem facing us now is the extent of the species facing extinction and the amount of raw genetic material being lost on which evolution can never work. Just as sometimes for societies to advance, some people must die and new generations with new ideas must be born, so with the advance of evolution. Some things must die for evolution to work, some things may even need to go extinct, leaving open niches. Look at the dinosaurs, we say they’re extinct and sure on a species level Velociraptor mongoliensis is extinct but the genetic material, the lineage of dinosaurs lives on in living birds.
I think it’s important to think about conservation as saving enough biodiversity to allow a robust continuation of life not only for our life times or even the life time of our species but for millions of life times to come. In the wonderful weather of spring, I like to think not only of extinction but of rebirth; of dinosaurs becoming birds.