I recently read an advanced copy of a history of the conservation movement. We are all aware that we are losing species at a terrible rate and sometimes I, like many others, feel almost powerless to interrupt the decline.  With that in mind, one passage of the book prompted me to pause.  It stated that those who made a great impact in conservation did so even though they knew that the likelihood of success was minuscule.   They did it for love or from outrage or even for the data.  They did the work because it was necessary.

The review of this book is below.  Following that is a brief overview of a successful restoration project managed by a very small group in Australia.

Beloved Beasts

by Michelle Nijhuis

Published by W. W. Norton & Company on March 9, 2021

Let’s just get to the punchline:  This will likely be on my shortlist of top books for 2021.  I suspect you will feel the same after reading it.  

Michelle Nijhuis crafts a tightly woven narrative depicting influential events in the lives of individual contributors to the modern conservation movement. This, however, is no sugar-coated idolization.  Nijhuis doesn’t shy away from the significant character flaws of her subjects.  She lays it out there making the accounts all the more believable. It is a wonder that any progress was made in spite of the blights of racism, colonialism, and greed.   

Beginning with Carl Linnaeus and his classification system, the book paces through key political decisions and the establishment of high-profile enviro-focused organizations, wrapping up at today’s concentration on sustainability and community-based projects. 

Each chapter offers a glimpse at the conservationists’ influences and thought processes.  Aldo Leopold, for example, “…was curious about other species, but was fascinated by the relationships among them.”  This became the basis for his body of work. 

Elinor Ostrom, typically recognized for her work in economics, learned much by observing how community-led environmental resource management systems functioned, and the complex structures that guided their successful operation. Some of these systems were centuries old, yet fair and well-functioning. 

In her closing thoughts, Nijhuis reminds us that the issues we face are indeed complex. We need to get comfortable with the complexity of the necessary responses to the ongoing loss of biodiversity.  She rightly states that we can imagine the futures we don’t want.  Let’s avoid them and let’s do better. 

Nijhuis is a science journalist, trained in biology, whose work has appeared in National Geographic, the New Yorker, and she is currently a project editor at the Atlantic. She specializes in stories about conservation and global change.

The book includes some photos and illustrations that help the reader visualize the context of the accompanying text.

Why you should not miss this one:

  • even if you know something about the subject matter, there are many new substantive details 
  • the message is important, but the delivery is not heavy-handed
  • the movement’s history and the relationships between the conservationists are interesting in their own right

Thanks to NetGalley, W. W. Norton & Company, and the author, Michelle Nijhuis, for the opportunity to read a digital copy in exchange for this review.   

#NetGalley  #BelovedBeasts   #Conservation #Nature


Walker Swamp in Victoria, Australia doesn’t sound like a defining destination, but to the Nature Glenelg Trust ecologists, it’s a symbol of what a small group can achieve with perseverance, a bit of luck, and the willingness of nature to help the process along. 

When the team began their project, the land had been seriously damaged for almost two centuries.   Water had been diverted and the land had been converted to a blue gum plantation.  

Starting in 2014, the team has worked to return the land to its original state, starting with reflooding it.   Soon, birds, frogs, and some plant life returned.   This was only the beginning.   Over a few more years, additional species re-established.  One day, a platypus, a threatened species and a national icon in Australia was spotted in the swamp.

This was momentous. New funding support became available and by 2018, 1,000-acres were under management as a newly restored wetland.  

The story continues to evolve.  This lesson demonstrates that sizable results can occur with persistence.

To read more, check out https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-07/walker-swamp-blue-gum-plantation-transformed-back-to-wetlands/13110128


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