cover image Condor's Shadow

Condor's Shadow

David S. Wilcove. W.H. Freeman & Company, $24.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-7167-3115-3

Environmental Defense Fund ecologist Wilcove's important report takes readers on a chilling tour of the killing fields of America--the abused ecosystems where one-third of all U.S. plant and animal species are in immediate danger of extinction or are severely threatened. Written with great clarity, this survey underscores that the much publicized decline of songbird populations is only one tragic example of the assault on nature through habitat destruction, hunting, air and water pollution, disease and the introduction of alien or nonnative species. Modeled after Peter Matthiessen's classic Wildlife in America (1959), Wilcove's eloquent study is written from a more ecological, less historical perspective. With case studies ranging from Florida's Everglades to Hawaii, from the ravaging of once vast grasslands on the central plains to the damage inflicted on rivers, lakes and coastal regions, Wilcove shows how the parts of an ecosystem are interrelated and how disruption of one element affects all components. There is much horror here--the ruthless campaigns to eliminate wolves and grizzlies; the near-extinction of the California condor; the ongoing decimation of American elms, beeches, hemlocks, Fraser firs, red spruces--but there is also some good news. Wilcove points to ecosystem restoration projects underway around the country, with decidedly mixed results. Tracking the remarkable comebacks of persecuted species like rebounding sea otters, he applauds efforts such as the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which simultaneously prevents erosion and protects vanishing birds by paying farmers to retire erodible soils from crop production and plant them with cover. This engaging report, sprinkled with sensible, targeted solutions to specific problems, is essential reading for concerned nature lovers, as well as a basic resource for environmentalists and policy makers. Photographs by Susan Middleton and David Liittschwager. Author tour. (Apr.)