The Urbanization of the Eastern Gray Squirrel in the United States

L.F. Peck, “Hi, Mister! Scramble a Nut?” Harvard Lampoon, Vol. 46, No. 6 (Dec. 17, 1903), 121.

L.F. Peck, “Hi, Mister! Scramble a Nut?” Harvard Lampoon, Vol. 46, No. 6 (Dec. 17, 1903), p. 121

An article on gray squirrels that I have been working on for a very long time is now available online. It will appear in print in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of American History as “The Urbanization of the Eastern Gray Squirrel in the United States.”

One of my goals in the article was to show that the presence of these ubiquitous and highly visible mammals in North American cities was the result of a very intentional, sustained, and widespread project of late-nineteenth-century urban reformers and nature enthusiasts. It was not an accidental or “natural” process in any conventional sense of the term, although it was also not purely a human project. Squirrels too were crucial participants.

Many of the urban residents who released, fed, sheltered, and protected gray squirrels thought that by doing so they were beautifying the city and elevating the moral character of the community (as well as entertaining themselves). Even though the ideas about charity and community that they held have since largely been discarded in favor of an ecological perspective, the squirrels remain, in part due to their remarkable capacity to adapt to a changing urban environment.

“The Urbanization of the Eastern Gray Squirrel in the United States,” Journal of American History 100, no. 3 (2013): 691-710.

new media, new publics, and polar bears

Further thoughts on using new media to make regulatory matters visible, accessible, and “public” in new ways: my “New Media and New Publics: An Example with Polar Bears” has just been posted to Ant Spider Bee, a blog about the digital environmental humanities co-edited by Kim Coulter (Rachel Carson Center, Munich), Wilko von Hardenburg (UW Madison), and Finn Arne Jørgensen (Umeå).

SIMPLOT: an antique animal movement simulator

sample output from Donald Siniff's 1967 program SIMPLOT

sample output from Donald Siniff’s 1967 program SIMPLOT

The application below is a re-implementation — a sort of digital re-enactment — of an animal movement simulator originally developed by biologist and statistician Donald Siniff in the mid-1960s. This may have been the first computer-generated simulation of the movements of an individual animal ever created; it was certainly one of the earliest.

SIMPLOT — a portmanteau of “simulation” and “plot” — was meant to produce patterns matching those observed by Siniff and his colleagues in animals radiotracked at the Cedar Creek Natural History Area in central Minnesota. The path drawn on the map represents the movement of a single animal over time. At each step of the simulation, a turning angle and distance of movement are randomly selected from pre-specified probability distributions.

The distributions were intended to reflect the behavioral characteristics and ecological conditions of different animals — so that, for instance, the movement patterns of a fox could be rigorously compared to those of a rabbit, or those of an adult fox could be compared to those of a juvenile fox, or those of a fox in winter could be compared to those of a fox in summer.

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science under scrutiny

Reposting below an overview of some of my work on endangered species, regulation, and ethics, which I wrote in December 2012 for the web site of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Original version is here.

Science under Scrutiny: How Endangered Species Protection Reshaped Twentieth-Century Field Biology

Since the 1970s, studies that involve attaching radio-tags to whales and other wild animals have been subject to rigorous ethical and environmental regulations. Photograph by Brandon Southall. Courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Since the 1970s, studies that involve attaching radio-tags to whales and other wild animals have been subject to rigorous ethical and environmental regulations. Photograph by Brandon Southall. Courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Scientists played a central role in the emergence of a movement to protect endangered species from extinction in the twentieth century. This movement, in turn, reshaped scientific practices, communities, and personas and reoriented research toward new goals. Among other things, vast databases of species were constructed that both reflected the state of the art in biological knowledge and helped to determine the future paths of, and legal constraints on, biological research. Endangered species became objects simultaneously of intense epistemological interest and of special ethical care. This entanglement of ethics and epistemology, social movements and scientific knowledge, is the subject of ongoing research affiliated with the Sciences of the Archive project in Department II of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.
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roundtable on wired wilderness

Thanks to the efforts of Jake Hamblin and three very generous and perceptive reviewers, a series of reviews of Wired Wilderness, with my response, is now available via H-Environment Roundtable Reviews. (Or go straight to the PDF.) Very grateful to all for the chance to think again and to clarify some of the goals of the book!

Demarcating Wilderness and Disciplining Wildlife: Radiotracking Large Carnivores in Yellowstone and Chitwan National Parks

Demarcating Wilderness and Disciplining Wildlife: Radiotracking Large Carnivores in Yellowstone and Chitwan National Parks, in Civilizing Nature: National Parks in Global Historical Perspective, ed. Bernhard Gißibl, Sabine Höhler, and Patrick Kupper (New York: Berghahn, 2012), pp. 173-188.