The University of Arizona

Saving Biodiversity

The Alliance for Reconciliation Ecology

To save the earth's biodiversity, we need to tear down the imaginary wall that separates humans from most other species. We need environments where both humans and a very large number of wild species can survive and prosper. The science of Reconciliation Ecology discovers, designs and deploys productive human habitats that also support wild native species.

Reconciliation Ecology is already working all over the world — in ranches, farms, forests, power plants and residential areas. For example, in our region, ranchers use it to save a small leopard frog; neighbors use it to help defend an endangered fish; and Tucson Electric uses it to protect our remarkable populations of hawks and owls from electrocution.

But so far Reconciliation Ecology projects have been piecemeal. And they have focused on harvesting the low growing fruit: easy species, and only one or a few at a time. And easy habitats, too, without the give and take of diverse human interests. To succeed, Reconciliation Ecology must address the challenge of a whole region, one that is full of people and their enterprises, full of life and its richness, full of the modern contradictions and choices we face everyday.

Because reconciliation ecology is all about integrating the works of civilization with those of nature, it has to work with society and with society's structures and regulations. It must discover new habitats that humans thrive in and prefer. It must face the intellectual and social problems of deploying these new, almost-natural habitats. Just as we face the scientific unknown, we also face aesthetic unknowns, business-model unknowns and a maze of regulatory constraints that were put in place when no one could predict all their consequences. So community-wide reconciliation requires politicians and urban planners, landscape architects and developers, ranchers, neighborhood organizations, realtors, the military, and civil servants, too. For success, all must take their place at the table.

The bottom line is clear: The Alliance for Reconciliation Ecology must take on the entire set of unknowns simultaneously. They interact, so we won't solve any unless we look at them all, and look at them, not for a single neighborhood, not for a single species, not for a single land use, but for the entire interlocking complexity that characterizes human society in a whole region. Such an organization has never before existed.

But Harrison Brown offered the best advice for dealing with a set of interacting problems: "Sometimes," he wrote, "it is easier to solve ten interlocking problems simultaneously than to solve one by itself."

Why Tucson?

So far, reconciliation projects have focused on a species here and there, or a landscape already owned by the public — the low-hanging fruit. Now that is a perfect place to begin but the time has come for reconciliation ecology to tackle more difficult challenges. Because a regional approach to reconciliation ecology must deal with the complexity of ecological, social, economic and political issues in a whole slice of modern life, Tucson & eastern Pima County is the perfect place to reach out for the fruit at the top of the tree.

The Sonoran Desert landscapes of Eastern Pima County, Arizona, pulse with life. The region encompasses 2000m of elevational variation with a substantial variety of major habitat types. It is a hotspot of biological diversity, full of a host of wildflowers, mammals, birds, butterflies. These already delight its people and attract visitors from all over the globe. And they have inspired the leadership of Pima County to establish a conservation plan that is taught and used as a model around the US.

Tucson is not too large and not too small. Its million residents have impacted the landscape severely but have yet to turn the region into pure concrete and macadam. Most of its species have retreated in the face of competition from human beings but they retain considerable remnant populations from which we can learn — and which we can build back to sustainability.

Through its successes in Pima County, The Alliance for Reconciliation Ecology will ensure that our natural heritage will be here forever, and that our children's children will enjoy the same simple pleasure that humans have always taken in nature since first we walked the earth.

Reconciliation Ecology Resources

Michael L. Rosenzweig Director Tumamoc: People & Habitats & Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology University of Arizona Tucson, AZ 85721-0088 Editor-in-Chief, EER