And now, for another installment in our series: How The Loon Terns, an exercise in skeptical thinking using Loons as a waterbird touchstone. (In case you missed it, the previous installment was here.)
Common Knowledge: Loons are driven off lakes by boaters. The literature from the 1970s and 1980s makes it clear that there was a reduction in loon populations on lakes that were previously more isolated, and have become more accessible, and suffered greater amounts of boat traffic. Boats cause several problems for loons, including a damaging wake, and presumably it is bad if a loon is run over by a boat. Generally speaking, though, this early literature seems mainly to say that loons like the quiet and isolation and are driven away by human business. One piece of literature I read from the mid 1980s states, and I paraphrase: “increasingly, loons have gown accustom to the intrusion of boats, but shouldn’t we ask ourselves, isn’t it better to have loons that live in their natural habitat of peace and quiet?”
Challenge: There is evidence that indicates a change in the need for loons to have an out of the way and quiet habitat, and certainly this is what I see in our local loons, who are happily raising offspring among a modest number of fishing boats, the occasional skier-dragging boat, and jet ski thingies. I’m sure that these boats distract and bother the loons to some extent, but my memory of the adirondacks in the 1970s is that lakes with boats tended to not have loons. That is clearly not the case with this lake.
What I do want to point out in particular is the assertion I refer to above: That even if the loons grow accustom to boats, don’t we still prefer the old kind of loon that didn’t like boats? I understand the sentiment that author is expressing . I would love to see far more lakes in Minnesota be inaccessible by car and to have no motorized boats. At the moment there are very few, and the average Minnesotan, when you suggest this to them, stares at you blankly like they have no idea what you just said. What is the point of a lake without a road? Minnesotans are only just now beginning to realize that if you divide up every bit of land into 120 foot frontage lots on lakes, eventually there will be nothing but houses (not even small cabins) on every single lake. It is almost too late to reverse this thinking here in Minnesota.
The problem with the statement, though, is that the original plan seemed to be to link loons, as a kind of large aquatic canary, to habitat preservation. But then the loons evolved (or changed in some other way) so the disappearance of the loons from a lake was no longer the indicator of habitat destruction and human encroachment on the natural world.
In general we have to be careful what “what if” models we use, because sometimes the reality underlying the model changes (or perhaps was never what we thought it was to begin with) and we are then left not only short one rhetorical tool, but perhaps with a tool that will work against us. “Never mind what those conservationists said! They told us the loons would all die if we built too many cabins and used too many boats! But look, the loons adapted to us! So, everything will adapt to us!!”
In the next installment: Miscellaneous other stuff. Don’t miss it!