Tony Hiss at Cary, on ‘Rescuing the Planet’

MILLBROOK—The Cary Institute of Ecological Studies once again brought a riveting conversation to a large and diversified Zoom audience when it presented award-winning author Tony Hiss on Thursday, Dec. 1.

Hiss’ new book “Rescuing the Planet” shows readers how to look at and understand what the Earth is as well as the plants and animals it encompasses and the things that threaten them. It also describes what can be done to alleviate those threats, and that involves the Half-Earth concept.

Cary President Josh Ginsberg and Sarah Charlop-Powers, director of the Natural Areas Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and conserving New York City’s 20,000 acres of forests and wetlands, also spoke. With a background in land-use planning, Charlop-Powers has worked at Scenic Hudson, Mohonk Preserve, and New York City’s Department of Transportation.

Hiss talked about O.E. Wilson, the biologist, author and Pulitzer Prize winner who authored “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life” in 2016. He believed that by reserving half of the planet for nonhuman species, we might be able to mitigate the badly suffering biodiversity. Hiss is credited with coining the term “Half-Earth” when he wrote about it in a Smithsonian Magazine article.

Hiss also discussed the recently identified North American coastal hot spots from New Haven to Tampa-Hillsborough, and Chicago, Austin and Houston. A hot spot is identified by having more than 1,500 vascular plants, and having lost 70% of its habitat.

Hiss pointed out the need to know more about other species, their needs and their habits. He discussed Pluie, a 5-year-old gray wolf fitted with a satellite tracking collar that could follow her no matter how far or where she went. She was tracked at over 100,000 miles from the Yukon to Yellowstone, and was the inspiration to protect the large areas needed for survival by bigger carnivores. He talked about the global animal tracking project ICARUS helping to research these areas, showing how modern technology can help us to learn more about other species.

When we think of conservation, usually we picture large, forested areas, or mountains, or even large bodies of water. We seldom think of New York City and conservation, but 11% of the city is natural habitat. It needs help, and a canopy of trees is being created because the temperature is 5% cooler under trees. Most of the areas being used for this, however, are 100 years old or more. When first settled by the Dutch and later during the Revolutionary War the British chopped down trees. Later, when the city was divided into grids, little space was kept for greenery. Most trees that were cut down were thrown into water areas, creating kills.

Hiss also discussed M.C. Davis and the Piney Woods Project in Florida. Davis, once very poor but later a billionaire businessman, spent $90 million claiming properties for conservation. He saved thousands of acres of forests and swamps across the South, planting 8 million longleaf pine seedlings, and preserving several species of animals.

As with most Cary Conversations, the audience asked questions, mainly involving what they can do and what needs to be done. Hiss and Charlop-Powers said many groups are already involved in this fight, but individuals can donate money and time, and volunteering in various ways. They can learn, research, talk about the problems and enlighten people.

Read his book, Hiss said: It talks about the people who are already involved, such as the Indigenous Leadership Initiative and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, a Canadian-U.S. initiative connecting and protecting habitat so people and nature can thrive. It also documents the engineers, biologists, botanists and geologists who are working to save the planet.

When at one point Ginsberg stated, “Our planet is very fragile,” Hiss agreed. But he also said, because he is optimistic, “This is an exciting time to be alive—there’s so much we can do.”

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