The petitioning ecologist

  • Mark Fishbein

    Shelley McMahon

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Making a mountain into a starbase.

"My objection to the project is based on ... the lack of vision about what's important to preserve in the Southwest."

Mark Fishbein is a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Arizona's department of ecology and evolutionary biology; his dissertation concerns a milkweed that evolved on the sky islands. In 1990, he and two other graduate students circulated a petition against the Mount Graham telescope project - at the same time department head Conrad Istock actively supported the scopes.

"We were able to get a lot of people to sign it; about one-third of the faculty and half the grad students. I say it's a lot (because) theoretical scientists aren't the most rabble-rousing group. And it's politically dangerous for non-tenured faculty.

"My objection to the project is based on the development pressures happening in the Southwest, and the lack of vision about what's important to preserve in the Southwest ... In the grand scheme of things, given climate change, the sky islands are doomed. (But) there's a line between slow, geological-pace change, and things happening at a frighteningly rapid pace due to human changes in the environment. That's what's happening.

"In places like the sky islands ... from the standpoint of protecting our native biodiversity, development is particularly dangerous because these habitats and populations are already small ... If you just looked at one telescope in isolation, you might not be that concerned, but the sum effect of grazing and logging and increasing recreation and telescopes on several mountains already - these things add up. Nobody has evaluated the sum effects ... It's a short-sighted view of 'What is my action going to do?' "

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