A previous issue of Creation’s Corner addressed the recent loss of much of Creation’s megafauna at the end of the last ice age. What has happened to the mastodon, mammoth, dire wolf, short-faced bear, and hundreds of other large species of mammals that occupied Earth (outside of Africa)? The simple answer is they are extinct. The apparent causes are climate change, human hunting, and other factors associated with the increasing human population. For those of us who love the Creator and are thus called to be Kingdom People in God’s unfolding Kingdom, the loss of Creation’s fruitfulness cuts deep into the soul.

This is difficult and painful for me to write, and I expect it is also difficult for you to read. But if we take seriously our life in God’s Kingdom today, we must face both the joyous and the difficult tasks of Kingdom people. Ignoring the pain of Creation is not an option. It will not go away. Even when the task seems overwhelming, there are ways that each of us can do our part.

I am a conservation biologist, and for my tribe, the concept of extinction is more complicated than it might seem. It is not just those species that no longer exist. Two other categories of extinction must be considered. Indeed, the extinction triad is inseparable as we think about God’s fruitfulness principle – that all God’s species were given the blessing to be fruitful and to multiply (Genesis chapter one).

EXTINCTION — AS COMMONLY UNDERSTOOD: These species no longer exist as living forms, The list of extinct species goes back to the earliest traces of life on Earth. However, our primary focus in Creation’s Corner will be the much more recent loss of species during the last few hundred years. Nearly all these recorded extinctions, that number in the thousands, are attributed to humans. Considering only the vertebrate species, since the 16th century more than 680 have been lost. What are the primary causes of these extinctions? Habitat loss, hunting\overharvesting, human caused disease spread, human introduction of nonnative species, and climate change.

EXTINCTION IN THE WILD: Another species group includes those that no longer live in the wild but are maintained in zoos, animal parks, botanical arboreta, etc. It is hoped that the captive populations of many of these species will increase, eventually allowing their re-introduction into the wild once the threats have been reduced/removed. A good example is the California Condor. The last wild bird was captured in 1987 and joined a captive breeding flock. Release back into the wild occurred about 15 years later and continues. The wild population now numbers over 500. See the following link for a current example – Hawaiian honeycreepers. Only five individuals are left in the wild! https://www.cnn.com/2023/11/02/world/hawaii-akikiki-honeycreeper-extinction-c2e-spc-scn-intl/index.html. This species does not do well in captivity which closes the door to captive breeding for subsequent release.

ECOLOGICALLY EXTINCT: Species in this category continue to exist in the wild but have populations so small that they are no longer significant players in the local ecosystem. Typically, their historic range has been reduced to one or a few isolated populations that threatens their gene flow and genetic diversity. Unfortunately, the number of species in this category is large and increasing. Audubon Society considers two-thirds of the North American bird species to be at increasing risk due to climate change and other factors. European insect populations have declined by 70 to 80% in recent decades. Ecologically extinct species (missing from most of their historic range) would include the Woodland Caribou, Grizzly Bear, Gray Wolf, American Bison, California Condor, Spotted Owl, Marbled Murrelet, etc. And I am only mentioning a few vertebrate species.

Faced with the magnitude of the problem, one is tempted to simply ignore it. Pain hurts. Out of sight, out of mind. But that is not an option for Kingdom People. There are things that we can do to slow climate change. We can also participate directly or indirectly in habitat preservation. Consider our own Whidbey-Camano Land Trust that has permanently protected more than 9,000 acres on Whidbey and Camano Islands! Check out their work to protect our island home! How can you be involved locally and beyond?

— Joe Sheldon

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