Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pelicans vs Skimmers: How do You Encourage Biophilia?



Moderated by Jim Siegel, FWS - NCTC

In his essay, “The Extinction of Experience,” Robert Michael Pyle uses metaphor to describe two very different approaches to engaging nature: the Brown pelican dives into the ocean with its whole body when seeking a fish, but the Black skimmer gracefully flies along the surface of the sea, fishing with only its bottom beak in the water.  Pyle says human engagement of nature often reflects the style of one bird or the other:

“In my view, most people who consider themselves nature lovers behave more like skimmers than pelicans.  They buy the right outfits at L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer, carry field guides, and take walks on nature trails, reading all the interpretive signs.  They watch the nature programs on television, shop at the Nature Company, and pay their dues to the National Wildlife Federation or the National Audubon Society.  These activities are admirable, but they do not ensure truly intimate contact with nature.  Many such "naturalists" merely skim, reaping a shallow reward....How can we engage our biophilia?”

In the conservation field, we work with people on a daily basis.  We may interact in different capacities – some of us in large office complexes, some of us in the field or on a refuge.  How do you leverage these interactions to cultivate your own inner pelican? In what ways are you helping others shift beyond “skimming” nature so they can more deeply connect with what’s wild? 

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pyle’s basic analogy seems to fit a majority of experiences with people and nature I have had. Who are we to judge that the person doesn’t feel they have contact with nature or that their experiences reap a ‘shallow’ reward? A simple walk in the woods may be a huge reward to someone who has had a tough day at the office. If we are talking ‘reward’ as in payback to nature through conservation actions and contributions, then maybe the reward is only personal and not a contribution to conservation. Is it true that if they dive into the water like a pelican instead of a skimmer they will benefit more? The skimmer seems to get what it needs by skimming the surface of the water. The birds are different in how they gather their rewards – some pros and cons to both ways to reap the rewards.
So, while people have different levels of engagement in nature and different levels of contributions to conservation, we must figure out how we get them engaged in taking their engagement to a higher level of support for the conservation work we do. It doesn’t all have to be the same level of engagement or the same type of support. People are different and together we can reap the rewards of our collective work. Alicia F King

Christine said...

Bob's work is always thought-provoking. I read the paragraph about the loss of neighborhood species several times--"Simply put, the loss of neighborhood species endangers our experience of nature." Tied to that is the loss of our experience with neighborhood species. How can we form relationships with what we do not know?

For most of human experience, children learned about nature through direct observation or interaction with the species around them. Now, through media, our children are likely to be introduced to distant species and global environmental threats before they can even recognize the most common plants and animals in their own neighborhoods. When we ask them to "dive in" as advocates of nature, it must feel like we want them love a new friend that has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. What if we allowed our children first to connect with nearby nature, playing and learning its rhythms, before asking them to participate in the solutions to global crisis? I suspect that biophilia is better fostered than forced.

Gloria said...

People experience nature where ever they are and what ever they are doing. Here in Chicago the lakefront is right there. The sky and changing seasons make you notice even if you tend to be inside more than out in the elements. Everyone loves a beautiful sunset or sunrise and the moon can bequile. Do you imagine Central Park exists in the Heart of New York without notice. Even when afraid to venture there it was known. Live in San Franciso the hills, the bay, the weather all are part of the city experience. Las Vegas is in the middle of a desert. What city anywhere is really devoid of the constant reminders of the earth even if it seems distant and somewhat menacing. Experience of nature will never become extinct it only changes and becomes more or less demanding of our time and resources as our personality and understanding of the urgency dictate. Some will always hear the calling of the wild.

Susan said...

I appreciate the analogy and way Robert broke down the two major types of conservationists he believes exist. However, I disagree with the opinion that if someone is a skimmer that they are not contributing in a quality way or are "reaping a shallow reward." Who is anyone to judge the reward someone gets from a specific experience with and in nature? It's not a one size fits all and each way people engage with the outer world should be respected even if it's not the way someone else would want to experience it. With all of the competition for peoples time, sometimes we only have time to "skim" if we are lucky, even those of us who work for a conservation agency can regularly fall into this category. With all of the challenges we face and the growing gap between our population and the advocacy for conservation, I think we need to embrace and capture any elements of conservation we can with our audiences, no matter how little they have invested.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the author has run through his repertoire of experiences, for here I think we get factual dregs and ill-fitting conjecture. We love lepidopterists, they are the new birders, and we are pleased when each and every one commits to collecting. However, an initial chance sighting on the way home from school was not, to me, a convincing turning point. I am impressed that he could remember it, but “richly brown like last year’s pennies, with a purple sheen when the sun caught it just right” is, I would suggest, the author overlaying his current expertise on an earlier experience. Paving and High Line Canal and Aurora having a greater rate of extinction than his examples were floating facts.
People who walk trails, read signs and presumably use field guides are not my enemies, they are my cliental. I vigorously defend our visitors who are embracing the resource. We designed the trails they are walking and wrote the signs they are (thankfully) reading.
Extinction of experience invokes out of sight out of mind comparisons. I immediately thought of the Brooks Range. I am unlikely to ever see the Brooks Range but most readers have already completed this thought – yes, I would be poorer if the Range didn’t exist or was polluted.
I did applaud his distinction that the radius of reach for the older, younger, challenged and poor is reduced by circumstances, not interest or capacity to appreciate. I loved placing a butterfly on a child’s nose. Those were probably the highlights of the article for me.

Jim Siegel said...

An important point is that we must come to value the nature found in our towns and cities as much as that found "out there" in more wild places. All that exists in North America are landscapes shaped by thousands of years of interaction between human beings and wildlife that either we found native here or brought to this continent through our actions - we have come to co-inhabit this place together. We must make our peace with that fact.

Gloria said...




I think I understand that the author of "The Extinction Of Experience" means a love and respect for the earth and its creatures beyond what benefits mankind. A real need to interact with life in all its variety and beauty and mystery. To feel comfortable and engaged with the nature outside the protective barriers of the urban/suburban lifestyle that has seemed to disconnect many people, even to the point of fearing all actual contact with the wild.

The experiences with nature and wildlife that should be the norm over the course of a lifetime would give one the skills to deal with and come to respect a wildness close at hand or the grand distant places.
So, in my opinion, interesting creations of art be it written,shaped or enacted that speaks to our natural life,along with meaningful work and play engaging us with nature in our daily lives, is the way to deepen a bond called biophilia.
If that connection starts in childhood all the better but I think it often is reached for by adults beginning to feel the loss or wanting to engage the natural world for the sake their children.

toko sepatu grosir said...

Extinction of experience invokes out of sight out of mind comparisons. I immediately thought of the Brooks Range. I am unlikely to ever see the Brooks Range but most readers have already completed this thought – yes, I would be poorer if the Range didn’t exist or was polluted.

Sachinder Kumar said...

Great Informative blog.. thanks for share with us.
Now a days cutting the trees and deforestation is very big problem for Nature... So we need conservation services and environmental services for good environment and better future.

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American Classifieds said...

This is a good read.