Conservation theorist Michael E. Soulé, 84; activist Linda Ann DeStefano, 76; Bill Jenkins, 53
Michael E. Soulé, 84, widely identified as the “father of conservation biology,” but an enthusiastic advocate of “compassionate conservation” by the end of his life and career, died on June 17, 2020.
“Conservation is engaged in the protection of the integrity and continuity of natural processes, not the welfare of individuals,” wrote Soulé in the 1985 essay “What is Conservation Biology?” that defined the academic field and became the foundation document of the Society for Conservation Biology, which Soulé formed later in the year.
“Soulé’s way of thinking, says environmental philosopher J. Baird Callicott, was not unusual,” explained nature writer Brandon Keim, in a June 4, 2018 discussion of the often conflicting approaches of “conservation biology” and “compassionate conservation.”
“Do no harm, & acknowledge the value of every life”
“It dovetailed,” Keim summarized, “with the hunting-focused wildlife management that formed conservation’s foundations in the early 20th century. So long as populations thrived, individuals merited little formal recognition.
“Individual animals have instead been the province of animal welfare and, more recently, the related academic field of human-animal studies. Conservation stayed, in Soulé’s words, ‘conceptually distinct,’ Keim continued. “But as Callicott notes, ‘Now these two mutually exclusive lines of thinking about ethics beyond humans are converging in compassionate conservation,’” with Soule among those who encouraged conservation biologists “to do no harm, and to acknowledge the value of every individual’s life.
“Central to the movement,” Keim finished, “is a deep dismay at the practice of killing some animals to help others,” the practice for which “conservation biology” may have become best known.
Soulé, Ehrlich, & E.O. Wilson
Soulé, born in San Diego, California, earned a Ph.D. in biology in 1964 at Stanford University, under Paul R. Ehrlich, best known as co-author (with wife Anne Ehrlich) of the 1968 best-seller The Population Bomb.
Ehrlich postulated a world devastated by famine and ecological destruction. His work contributed to the hypothesis later popularized by Harvard University entomologist E.O. Wilson that human activity is responsible for a “Sixth Extinction” comparable in effect to the Permean Extinction and the collision with a comet that abruptly killed the dinosaurs.
“Conservation biology” as espoused by Soulé in mid-career, and a more militant descendent of it, “invasion biology,” focused on purging “non-native” species, are philosophically related to the views of Ehrlich and Wilson, but “compassionate conservation” is now challenging practically everything that Ehrlich and Wilson believed.
Soulé, while the Ehrlichs were authoring The Population Bomb, for which only Paul Ehrlich was initially credited, was much less controversially researching his 167-page Ph.D. thesis, entitled Evolution and population phenetics of the side-blotched lizards (Uta stansburiana and its relatives) on the islands in the Gulf of California, Mexico.
Soulé, Crooks, & cats
Spending most of his career at Stanford, Soulé was later research professor (emeritus) in environmental studies at the nearby University of California in Santa Cruz.
Recalled Project Coyote founder and president Camilla Fox, “Before compassionate conservation became a movement and a field unto itself, Michael Soulé was advocating for the need to recognize and protect the interests and welfare of individual animals while also preserving biodiversity and species’ populations. He wrote and edited nine books and published more than 170 [scientific] articles.”
During the 1980s, Soulé and fellow biologist Kevin Crooks, then studying at the University of California at Santa Cruz, “surveyed enclaves of land around San Diego,” Fox remembered. “They found areas visited by coyotes had fewer small predators such as raccoons, skunks, and cats, but more native birds. Elsewhere, in areas devoid of coyotes, midsize predators like skunks and cats were common and birds were more rare.”
34 cats per 50 acres
Crooks and Soulé reported finding 34 free-roaming cats per 50 acres in newly developed suburbs (equivalent to 200 new homes), compared with one one or two pairs of wild predators in the same size range.
Coyotes, who also hunt birds as opportunity permits, had less harmful effect on bird populations, in part because they also hunt cats. Cat remains were found in 21% of the coyote scats analyzed as part of the study.
The Crooks and Soulé study is often cited by birders opposed to neuter/return feral cat control, but usually out of context: most of the cats in the San Diego suburbs were owned but free-roaming pets, the study was done at a time when about twice as many cat-keepers allowed their cats to roam as now, and neuter/return had not yet been introduced to the U.S. as a population control technique.
Integrating compassion into conservation
Wrote Fox, “I was very fortunate that Dr. Soulé served on my graduate school thesis committee. It was during this time that I came to better understand Michael’s thinking around the need for protecting wildlife corridors and rewilding the continent with large carnivores—and for integrating compassion and consideration of animal welfare into the field of conservation.
“After I completed my graduate studies in 2008,” Fox continued, “Michael became one of the founding Science Advisory Board members of Project Coyote.”
Added David Parsons, another Project Coyote science advisor and carnivore conservation biologist with the Rewilding Institute, “I feel quite blessed to have been one of Michael’s friends. I’m not quite sure exactly how and when our friendship began, but I suspect it came about through my hanging out with [Earth First founder] Dave Foreman over the past 20 years or so, and being invited on river trips. I know I was on the river trip where Michael met his wife June, then known as Joli, whom I already knew through contra dancing. Michael was once an avid contra dancer himself.
“Awareness of limited time can paradoxically expand time”
“Even in his final days on Earth,” Parsons said, “Michael was the first scientist to endorse comments submitted less than a week ago to guide the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s heretofore-misguided efforts to recover the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf. His name tops the list of over 100 scientists who endorsed those recommendations, which were submitted on behalf of Project Coyote and The Rewilding Institute.”
Remembered still another Project Coyote science advisor, Paul Paquet, senior scientist for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, “My last conversations with Michael were serenely revealing and left no doubt why Michaels ‘s legacy will be long-lasting and entirely admirable. He pondered on several occasions that among the few compensations of old age is the acuity of hindsight and how the awareness of limited time can paradoxically expand time.”
Linda Ann DeStefano: hit by car at cemetery
Linda Ann DeStefano, 76, cofounder in 1982 of People for Animal Rights of Central New York, and longtime president of the organization, died on June 10, 2020.
DeStefano and her husband of nearly 40 years, Richard Weiskopf, M.D., were in Adath Yeshurun Cemetery in Syracuse, reported Samantha House of Syracuse.com, “walking away from a friend’s burial when they were hit by a car.”
Weiskopf suffered minor injuries, but DeStefano was dead at the scene, the first of two prominent women leaders in animal and social justice causes to be killed in vehicular accidents in just nine days.
The second, Regan Russell, 65, of Hamilton, Ontario, was on June 19, 2020 crushed to death by an 18-wheel livestock transport truck delivering pigs to slaughter at Fearman’s Pork Inc., in Burlington, Ontario.
Accident preceded, paralleled death of Regan Russell
DeStefano and Russell were almost certainly acquainted, living just 209 miles apart via I-390 in upstate New York and Queen Elizabeth Way in southern Ontario. Both had participated in demonstrations against marine mammal captivity at Marineland in Niagara Falls, located approximately halfway between them.
Born in Schenectady, DeStefano earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Rosary Hill College in Amherst, New York, and then a master’s degree in social welfare from the State University of New York in Albany.
“Vegan and animal lover”
Relocating to Syracuse in 1976, DeStefano became the first director of the Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. She was honored in 1980 for her work on behalf of the Syracuse Peace Council, and in 2004 for longtime activism with the Syracuse and New York state chapters of the Sierra Club, but is best remembered for her efforts on behalf of animals.
“A vegan and animal lover, DeStefano wasn’t afraid to make bold statements,” recalled House of Syracuse.com. “She wore a 6 1/2-foot-tall costume made to look like a box of tampons in Armory Square in 2004 to protest medical researchers who surgically installed pins into monkeys’ skulls to study the impact pain has on fertility.”
People for Animal Rights of Central New York eventually spun off a sister group, the Syracuse Animal Rights Organization.
“Special friend, invaluable ally, & leader”
Posted SARO to Facebook, “We have lost a very special friend, invaluable ally, and leader. Linda has been with SARO since the beginning and was an extremely valued individual. There will be a deep hole in our community with her loss and while we will never fill it, we will work to uphold the values she treasured through her life’s work.”
SARO recalled DeStefano’s participation in demonstrations against circuses, the Central New York People’s Climate March of 2017, and in support of the Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE) speaking tours conducted by Anthony Marr, formerly of British Columbia, now campaigning with his wife Shannon Wright from Bellingham, Washington.
Charter boat captain died trying to save a sea turtle
Bill Jenkins, 53, a U.S. Air Force veteran and a police officer in Virginia Beach, Virginia from 2002 to 2011, came “from a long line of fisherman,” his Legacy Charters web page said. “A fourth generation captain, Captain Bill started out as bait boy at the age of five on his dad’s boat, the Miss Cathy. At the age of 23, he got his captain’s license and ran charter boats for several other captains until he got his first boat, the Southern Belle, in 1996.”
In the business of killing fish with recreation-seeking clients for most of his life, Jenkins might never have imagined that he had much in common with animal advocates.
On June 19, 2020, however, Jenkins jumped overboard, about two miles from shore, to try to save a sea turtle who had become entangled in a rope. The effort cost him his life.
“Jenkins began to struggle, and people on the boat dialed 911 and jumped into the water to help him,” Channel 13 News reported. “Officers with the Virginia Beach Police Department Marine Patrol pulled Jenkins from the water and began CPR. Bruce Nedelka, a spokesman for Virginia Beach EMS, said Jenkins had gone into cardiac arrest. He died at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital,” leaving his wife Helen, two sons, and three step-children.