Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What would you ask Dr. Wilson about Anthill? (by the WILD READ Team)

Inquiring minds want to know, Dr. Wilson!

Going back to a question raised by a previous moderator, Mark Madison, Conservation Historian with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, regarding truth versus fiction:  I'd like to know what inspired E.O. Wilson to write his first piece of fiction after publishing over 20 non-fiction works.  Dr. Wilson, what is it that motivated you to communicate your passion for the environment in a novel?  Do you think conservation concepts can be "mainstreamed" via fictional works that perhaps appeal to a different audience, professor?  Is it a good strategy to entertain AND educate?

What questions would you like to ask Dr. Wilson?  Or, how do you feel about this idea of possibly reaching a different audience via conservation themed fiction?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

E.O. Wilson on Anthill and Ants by the WILD READ Team



In this speech at the 2010 National Book Festival, EO Wilson reveals why he wrote his first non-fiction book Anthill, the issues he included, and his privileged visit with a southern author (can you guess who?)

EO Wilson tells us why he ended the book with a compromise.  



In this video  Ed Wilson reflects on his boyhood (his "little savage period") and you can observe him in the field with his beloved ants. Wilson demonstrates how fire ants bite to defend their nest and he reflects on why he chose ants to study as his life work.

In this recent video, join Ed Wilson on a ramble through the Alabama woods of this boyhood.

See Ed Wilson with a group of biologists, "Ant Freaks," poking around to identify the rich diversity of the Red Hills of Alabama.

What comments do you have about Ed Wilson or what you learn in these videos?

Thank you Laura Bies, environmental attorney.

The weeks have sailed by and we have enjoyed all of the moderators on the blog offer their discussion questions and perspectives to this shared read. Laura Bies's comments this past week made us think and inspired some of us to flip back to the pages of Anthill to consider the end of the story anew. Thank you, Laura for your thoughtful posts and for taking the time in your busy life to join us!

Over the next week, we will be "connecting the dots."  We invite you to put together the various discussions  from Anthill and the two conservation essays to synthesize ideas that can inform the National Wildlife Refuge Vision.  We will review interviews with EO Wilson to learn why he wrote his first non-fiction book.  We will pull threads from our weekly discussions to reflect on the bigger picture and decide what role books and stories have in conservation.  We want to throw the conversation wide open to you, our WILD READers, so that your dialogue adds up to inform the future.

Friday, June 24, 2011

How Much Is Enough? by Laura Bies

The final deal struck on the Nokobee tract would protect 90% of it. Two alligators would be moved across the lake, from one shore to another. Raff is happy with the deal, Bill Robbins writes a complementary newspaper article on it, and an award from The Nature Conservancy is rumored. The ending of the book brings up a common question for conservationists: how much is enough? How much is enough land to protect from development? How large must a population of a certain species be for it to thrive? How clean should our water and air be? In some instances, there may not be a ‘right’ answer. Wildlife biologists can tell us how large a population of a species we need for it to survive and thrive. But how much land should we protect from development?

In the case of the Nokobee tract, there were obviously many different ways it could have turned out. The entire tract could have been developed, assuming the developers could get around any restrictions regarding rare species on the land. Or it could have been purchased by an NGO or other entity that would put the entirety of the tract in a conservation easement or used another mechanism to make sure it was never developed. Wilson chose to show that in some cases, reasonable development can coexist with conservation. Would it have been a more fulfilling ending if a conservation group swooped in with enough money to purchase the tract and protect the whole thing?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Larger Conservation Community by Laura Bies

In this section of the book, Wilson touches on a few different communities and their contributions to or position regarding conservation. Raff is clearly meant to be part of what is probably viewed as the mainstream, liberal environmental community. In the context of explaining Raff’s trips to the shooting range, he talks about the role of hunters and anglers in conservation. While not a hunter himself, Raff recognizes the value of sportsmen in conservation. Raff and his colleagues at Sunderland talk about the politically conservative culture in their area and the extent to which those citizens support conservation. Raff also has a run in with a religious community, in the form of LeBow and his cronies.

Of these three groups, Wilson seems to view hunters and anglers as most supportive of conservation. I think this is true – the sportsmen’s community is very supportive of conservation. In the future, one of the strongest and most effective alliances for conservation may well be between the ‘green’ community and sportsmen. Raff also tried to explain to his colleagues that the politically conservative citizens of their area care about conservation. Do you think conservatives or liberals are more likely to support conservation? I thought Wilson’s portrayal of the religious community, through LeBow’s group, surprising. Obviously, this group represents a fringe group, not mainstream religion. It also adds an interesting twist to the plot. I’ve certainly never had a similar experience as environmental attorney! What was your reaction to this portrayal? Do you think it added to the story overall?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Following the Middle Road by Laura Bies

Hi, all. My name is Laura Bies. I’m an environmental attorney by training and the Director of Government Affairs and Partnerships with The Wildlife Society, a professional society of wildlife scientists and managers. I have an undergraduate degree in environmental science and graduated from George Washington University Law School, where I concentrated on environmental law. In my current position with The Wildlife Society, I work with our members and leadership to develop the Society’s positions on conservation issues and communicate these to government agencies, legislators, and others.


Going to law school in DC, I had the opportunity to ‘try out’ several environment law jobs through internships at the Department of Energy, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Department of Justice, and the Environmental Protection Agency. After graduation, I took an internship with The Wildlife Society, soon moving on to a permanent position there.


Maybe because of this background, I was surprised when Raff went to work for Sunderland Associates. What about you, did you find this surprising? I think Raff has a good point, that many environmental conflicts can be solved through conflict resolution and following the middle road. However, I think I would have found it very frustrating to be Raff during that first year, putting all my time and effort into supporting an organization he didn’t necessarily believe in or support, hoping that he would be able to use his position sometime in the future to save the Nokobee tract. Do you think you would have been able to stay motivated to go to work every day, not knowing if or when you’d get to accomplish your true goal? Or would you felt like you’d ‘sold out’ by working for ‘the enemy’?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thank you, Kris and Mark; welcome Laura Bies, our next moderator!

Thank you, Kris Hoellen and Mark Madison for sharing your thoughts with us this past week on how to balance economy and ecology, and the value of fiction and non-fiction as vehicles for reaching people on environmental topics. Remember you can continue to comment on Kris and Mark's recent posts - we hope you will keep sharing your thoughts on their posts.

Our next week's moderator is Laura Bies, The Wildlife Society's Director of Governmental Affairs. Laura has a strong academic background in environmental science, which was her undergraduate major, and she also holds a law degree from the George Washington University Law School, where she focused on environmental law. Laura manages The Wildlife Society's government and partnerships programs.

The Wildlife Society's is focused on creating a world where humans and wildlife can co-exist by advancing science-driven habitat management and conservation. The Society's mission is to represent and serve the professional community of scientists, managers, educators, technicians, planners, and others who work actively to study, manage, and conserve wildlife and its habitats worldwide.

Given Laura's environmental law background and her professional focus, we are very excited to have her moderate Section VI of Anthill: The Nokobee Wars. Welcome, Laura Bies!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Truth or Fiction? By Mark Madison

It is interesting that after 21 non-fiction books, Professor Wilson decided to communicate his passion for the environment in a novel. It raises the interesting question: Does non-fiction or fiction provide the most powerful environmental literature? And the related question: What is the best book you have ever read on the environment?

Personally, if I had to pick, my favorite environmental book of all time is Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac. I don't know if it is homesickness for my state of Wisconsin or Leopold's thoughtful prose, but this is a book I re-read every year. If I had to pick a powerful environmental work of fiction, I just recently read Margaret Atwood's Year of the Flood--an all too real extrapolation of present environmental trends. Atwood will be moderating this blog beginning July 3 and I look forward to her thoughts on the role of fiction in environmental thought.

That is all for me, it has been a pleasure co-moderating with Kris Hoellen and all of you who have taken the time to comment!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Economics and Ecology: The Search for Solutions by Mark Madison

Great discussion commenters, thanks for contributing.

Following “The Anthill Chronicles” section, this part of the book has a wonderful description of another hierarchical, workaholic society—Harvard University. Wilson knows this social system as well as he does insects and his description of the inspiring and eccentric professors and their bull sessions rings true. When I was at Harvard the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Department was a wealth of riches. In addition to E.O. Wilson and his revolutionary sociobiological explanation of human behavior, the department also included Ernst Mayr, one of the pioneers in bringing evolution and genetics together, and Stephen Jay Gould perhaps the best nature essayist since Darwin. It was a heady place at the forefront of evolutionary thinking and there were many intellectual groups to join and discuss topics of the day—many led by the professors.

Yet one group I missed was “Gaia Force”—the hugely unlikeable eco-warrior group described in Wilson’s book. In the 1990s the Harvard environmental groups were rather mild-mannered, more along the lines of the Harvard Rainforest Alliance than Earth First! Yet dramatic necessity and poetic license created the Harvard chapter of the fictional “Gaia Force”—oddly named after the Gaia hypothesis a rather new age, peaceful, holistic theory. The Gaians in Anthill believe in the use of ecosabotage to protect mother earth and unlike their real life counterparts (like Ed Abbey and Dave Foreman) they are a rather humorless bunch. Raff recoils from the extremes of the Gaians and thereafter seeks the middle road. He becomes convinced that “nature-versus-jobs could not be solved by outright victory of one side over the other” and he begins plotting to steer such a moderate path in his beloved Nokobee.

This raises some interesting questions.

Can you think of examples where the middle road worked—both jobs and nature benefitted?

Are there ever examples where there is no win-win environmental solution?

As usual I look forward to reading your answers, comments, and real-life examples to this fictionalized conundrum.

Ants, Novelists, and Lawyers by Mark Madison


A very warm welcome from your co-moderator this week—reluctantly following Kris Hoellen’s great discussion of this section. My name is Mark Madison and I am the historian for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is a real honor to be moderating this book blog. I have great respect for those of you who have taken the time to make insightful comments and my own career has been significantly influenced by Wilson’s work.
The first book I read as an undergraduate in 1986 was E.O. Wilsons On Human Naturea look at the genetic and evolutionary origins of human behavior. Two weeks after completing that book (the first book I read all the way through in college), I changed my major from Political Science to Biology. That is the type of impact someone like E.O. Wilson can have on impressionable minds. Later while a graduate student at Harvard University, I encountered countless students like myself who had come to the University or been attracted to the field by Wilsons exciting ideas. As for the natural environment, speaking now as a professional conservationist, I can say without hesitation Wilson is perhaps the most respected member of our field having done more to explain and protect the nature he loves than any other living scientist. So it is very exciting for me to discuss Wilsons first attempt to explain the natural world through a novel.
Which raises the first question: what fiction writers do you think influenced Wilsons novelistic style? Personally I sense a lot of Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and John Grisham in Wilson's Anthill.
The second question comes from the name of this section--The Armentarium. This was definitely a new term to me (and my computer spell check). It is extremely obscure but seems to refer to medical training/tool kit. Presumably Raff is adding a legal degree to his personal tool kit. This begs another question: is a law degree an essential tool for environmental protection? Or to spin it out more broadly: are environmental laws the best means to protect nature?
I look forward to reading your thoughts on one or both of these quite disparate questions. . .

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Better than Before? By Kris Hoellen

Uncle Cyrus tells Raff, “Just because it gets developed, doesn’t mean it has to be any less beautiful.” I was struck by this statement. While I think the built environment can be absolutely beautiful and designed to fit into the natural environment as well as serve all sorts of critical functions, such as providing access, shelter, mobility, etc., I wonder, what are your reactions to this statement? In my work with infrastructure developers, I frequently hear the sentiment of ‘we’ll leave it better than before’ – a truly admirable goal and possibly achieved if one considers the amount of conservation capital that can be obtained from infrastructure projects to perform needed preservation/restoration work, but again, is this possible – what examples can you think of where the natural environment has been left ‘better than before’ as a result of a development project?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Balancing Nature and Commerce? By Kris Hoellen


Hi all, my name is Kris Hoellen and I work for The Conservation Fund. As a bit of background, The Conservation Fund is a national non-profit, established in 1985 and chartered under a dual mission of both conserving land and water resources, and promoting sustainable economic development. While the Fund has been exceedingly successful in conserving land, over 7 million acres since inception, given its dual charter, we also actively promote the concept of balancing nature and commerce in the areas where we work. But, what is a balanced approach? I have had the privilege of working for regulators, the regulated (specifically, infrastructure proponents) and conservationists, and frequently am asked that question. I would be curious as to your thoughts on this subject – is there such a thing as a balanced approach, what does it look like - what would Raff say is a balanced approach?

Additionally, given my own background, I am a proponent of working within the system, if you will, to achieve positive outcomes, but recognize the role that environmental activists play to effectuate positive change. Raff struggles a bit with his philosophy of compromise versus that of his girlfriend’s full attack mode or ‘aggressive polemics’ as he noted when it comes to the environment. Where do you fall on the spectrum and what are the pros and cons of both approaches?

Looking forward to the discussion!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Thank you, Dr. Drew Bell and Welcome to our next moderators!

We have all enjoyed reading the perspective of our entomologist this week, Dr. Drew Bell.  He took us along on a thoughtful journey ranging from the excitement of ant biology to the human need to grasp our natural world through storytelling.  As many of you have done already, we invite you to continue commenting on Dr. Bell's posts for as long as you like.  We are grateful to have Dr. Bell spend time with us online.  Thank you!


We move on to the next section of the book, Anthill, now:  
Section V The Armentarium.  
Your guides for this section will be Kris Hoellen and Mark Madison.  As you read this section in Anthill, consider why we invited Kris and Mark to host this week.  They have both been deeply involved in conservation over their careers, but in different ways.  We hope they will provide us with stories about their own professional lives and we explore the choices Raff makes in his.  WELCOME Kris and Mark!


Kris Hoellen is Director of the Conservation Fund's Conservation Leadership Network. Founded in 1998, the Conservation Leadership Network brings diverse professionals together to forge conservation solutions on the ground via collaborative learning opportunities, sustainability consulting/technical assistance, and innovative demonstration projects. Kris is responsible for the overall strategy, design, delivery and evaluation of CLN's programs; focus areas include strategic land-use planning, conservation partnerships/capacity building, sustainable tourism, and transportation planning among other fields.  Previously, Ms. Hoellen served as a Group Manager for the URS Corporation, as the Director of Environmental Programs for the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, as a Study Director for the Transportation Research Board/National Academy of Sciences, and as the Legislative Director/Associate Deputy Director for the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials.   Ms. Hoellen earned a Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy from Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor’s degree from Emory University. 


Mark Madison has degrees in Biology and History receiving a Ph.D. in 1995 from Harvard University in the History of Science.  He has taught environmental history, American history, environmental ethics, and conservation biology at Harvard University, the University of Melbourne, and Shepherd University. He is currently the historian for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stationed at the Conservation Archives/Museum at the National Conservation Training Center.  He spent three years doing tropical reforestation in the Philippines as  Peace Corps Volunteer.  When he is not working, he is usually coaching soccer for his 3 kids or flyfishing.

Storytelling as Teaching by Drew Bell

One of the goals that Wilson had in mind with writing the Anthill Chronicles section was to introduce readers to the realm of ant biology without overwhelming them with scientific or technical writing. In a way, it is stealth teaching. How many of you learned things about ants that you never knew or that you found to be surprising? How many of you enjoyed learning these things by reading a story? Do these new pieces of knowledge stick with you better than if you had learned them in a more traditional fashion?

Do you think that the book would have been better or worse if this section had been left out and ant biology had been included in the book in the form of footnotes or an appendix?

Finally, since this is my final day as moderator, I wanted to be certain that I put forward the offer to answer any questions you may have about ants or ant biology.

I have enjoyed my time with you and look forward to reading your comments. Thanks for allowing me to share!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Natural Cycles, Ants and Humans by Drew Bell

In the comments to my last post, several of you have picked up themes about natural cycles in The Anthill Chronicles. Wilson has traced the "history" of several ant colonies and their interactions with each other and the environment. Many of you have also pointed out parallels between ant behaviors and human behaviors.

What points do you think Wilson is trying to make about natural cycles? In particular, what do you think Wilson might be trying to teach us about the human place in and impact on nature? Even though this section of the book is written from the ant perspective, is it about ants alone? How does Wilson weave these lessons together with the other sections of the book?

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Ant Point of View by Drew Bell

The Anthill Chronicles section of the book is unusual in that it is written from the point of view of the ants. Wilson has done this to accomplish several tasks, and I would like to take the next several posts examining those different reasons.
When we study animal behavior, one of the things we must do is try to put ourselves in the mind of the creature we are studying. If the animal we are studying is one of the higher vertebrates, for example a wolf, this may be easier because it shares more in common with our own mentality and means of perceiving the environment. However, if the animal we are studying is very different from us, for example an ant, its psychology and sensory perceptions will be alien to us. This can be a challenge for the researcher, as we may have difficulty understanding the motivations that drive the animal.
How did you feel about seeing things from the ant perspective? Did you find the point of view alien? Has your understanding of the motivations of the ant changed? What similarities and differences are there compared to humans?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Anthill Section IV - Moderator Introduction by Drew Bell


Hi! My name is Drew Bell and I will be moderating the discussion of chapters 19 through 27 (Section IV – The Anthill Chronicles) of Anthill.
Like the author of the book, E. O. Wilson, I am an entomologist specializing in the study of ants. In particular, I look at their foraging and territorial behavior. I can identify with the character of Raff Cody (and the author, E. O. Wilson) in that I also grew up exploring nature around my home and, in particular, watching and catching insects. I was especially fond of ants - I think in part because their world was so accessible to me. Unlike many animals, I was able to see all the different stages of ants, and I could see for myself all the things they do that I had read about. For me, they brought the nature I had read about to life.
By way of introduction (at least to me), what nature experiences have you shared in common with Raff Cody?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Importance of Outdoor Mentors by Danielle Brigida

One of the themes in Anthill that resonated with me is the importance of an outdoor mentor.


In the section of The Launch, we see that Raff gets financial support from his Uncle Cyrus to attend college. He chooses Florida State University, where his longtime family friend and mentor, Dr. Norville, teaches.


While at FSU, Raff also meets Dr. Needham, who serves as yet another mentor in Raff’s life and even points him in the direction of studying the anthill at Nokobee.


Who was your outdoor mentor? If you’re like me, you’ve been fortunate to have many. My father was one of mine, along with my college entomology professor, Dr. Michael Meyer (pictured with me on the right) . His enthusiasm for the subject was contagious and his passion and wonder was something I'll never forget.


I think an outdoor mentor is an essential piece to loving the outdoors. Aside from being a helpful person to run ideas by, they can inspire us to learn more and share their love and knowledge for the topic.


Who was an important mentor in your life?
I’d love to hear about a few of them.

Fostering Outdoor Mentors
Outdoor Mentors is a program that does just that, inspiring people to pass on and share their love for nature. There are also organizations like Children and Nature Network and my own, National Wildlife Federation, that are working to empower parents, teachers and other leaders to help get kids to connect to nature and have a passion for the outdoors.

What Needham gave Raff, was not only a professional opinion but also the space to safely grow in his knowledge of entomology. Needham was so passionate about the subject that he even opened up his office to let the students partake in a group called the Bug Bash, where they drank tea, talked about timely topics and always brought the discussion back around to the world of entomology.


Needham was a great listener. When he suggested Raff study the anthill, he didn’t do so forcefully, but merely pointed out that it was an option. I think this is a great example of how a mentor gives you enough space to explore and learn on your own, while listening when you have questions and offering open-ended advice. Raff is a lucky character to have two!


"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in." - Rachel Carson