FULL LENGTH: AN UNPUBLISHED STORY ON AN EPIDEMIC KILLING NORTH AMERICA’S BATS BY THE THOUSANDS

Written in the spring of 2018

They trudged along the top of a steep hill thick with leafless maples and dark spruce. The sky was clear and the air was warm that day in March, 2007, and the few inches of snow on the ground was melting. On one side of the trail they were hiking on was a cliff, and in the cliff was a cave. On the other side, some 800 feet below, the Hudson River Valley — scruffy, brown, wet — rolled east to the skyscrapers of Albany. In January, people in the valley below had begun reporting to the health department bats flying above their homes and falling from the sky. They were finding them on roofs, in window sills, in a wood pile, in buried lawns, all dead, all stiff from the cold. They would shovel their driveways and dig up dead bats. Their dogs would dig in snow banks and bring back dead bats. Bats do not fly in the winter; except this winter they were.

Now outside the cave a few bats flit overhead as the biologists and seasonal techs pulled on helmets and headlamps and knee pads. They had hiked in to Hailes Cave for the last scheduled survey until the winter of 2008-09. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation did theM every other winter to count bat colonies. Often the department counted all species it found, but mainly it worried about the Indianas. This winter, like every other since the ‘80s, its numbers were up throughout New England, a healthy trend for an endangered bat.

The passage inside the cave was narrow and low and through it ran a creek. As the team crawled into the water they noticed, down among the rocks aglow in fading sunlight, bits of bat carcases. Inside on the sandbank there were more. Hundreds. A graveyard. Some were intact and cocooned in mold. Others were dismembered. Scat littered the floor. Minks, Joshua Casper thought, or maybe racoons. Corpses were common on past surveys; this winter, in fact, a caver had found them west of Hailes in Schoharie Cavern. But this many dead in Hailes Cave bats was uncommon. What had happened here? A flood? A freeze?

They didn’t know and didn’t pause long to wonder. They were there for a survey of the living, not the dead, so they split up and waded deeper into the cave. Casper entered a slot with Dave Newman where a thousand or more little browns slumbered. There were no bodies at their feet because they stood in a creek. The current must have carried them away, Newman thought. On the wall, he noticed, a few sleeping bats had swollen feet. Another question in a cave full of them.

Elsewhere in the darkness, Nancy Heaslip and Dennis Wischman searched for Indianas. Two winters earlier a team had counted 685, and every trip before that, since the ‘30s, biologists always found some in Hailes Cave. Heaslip and Wischman found none. Instead on the muzzles of the sleeping little browns, hundreds of them, they found a white fuzz. Wischman saw it on the dead bats, too, but figured it was decomposition. Heaslip pulled out her point-and-shoot and snapped some photos.

The survey took them about three hours. On their way out, almost in the sunlight, Casper spotted three bats floating down the creek. They were alive and he scooped them out and set them on the cave floor. Maybe someone had bumped them, he thought, or maybe the rising water grabbed them. He noted in a report later that the creek had risen by about three inches. As he entered the sunlight, he glanced down and watched a half dozen bats float by. They were all dead.

Usually, though not today, Al Hicks went with his team underground. He was the mammals specialist for the department’s endangered species unit and had been studying bats — an animal order that represents one-fifth of all mammals — since 1979. He had grown up in the woods far north of New York City and knew wildlife in the intuitive kind of way lab researchers often do not. He believed seeing them in their world gave him a perspective he couldn’t get from the comfort of his. And that was essential — understanding their world, as best he could — because he needed to explain its value. Nature dies quickest when people forget that, and each day, he knew, people were growing more apart from the natural world. Today he was an example, sitting before a computer at a cluttered desk, in a cubicle in a towering building called headquarters, summoning science to document nature. Feeling sorry for his supervisor he’d finally committed to writing his annual “Bat Management and Protection in New York State” report. It would be 37 pages long with maps and charts. He didn’t hate writing it. He believed in management and protection. Protection, particularly. It was often on his mind. At the end of most presentations at headquarters, for instance, no matter the topic he’d usually flip to a slide on global warming, an ode to protecting the earth for future generations. Or it’d be a picture of the future generation: his kids, 7-year-old Connor and baby Cavan, not yet 1. He worried about the world they were inheriting. The one he worked to protect was in conflict with the one society was building. The signs were every—his cell phone rang. It was Newman calling from outside Hailes Cave.

“Something very weird is going on here.”

“What kind of weird?”

“There’s dead bats around here.”

“How many?”

“Lots.”

“How many is lots? Dozens? Hundreds?”

“No, thousands.”

Later, in a revision to his report, Hicks would write, “Mortality events occurred in four New York hibernacula during the winter of 2007 for which we do not yet have an explanation. This is the first event of this nature that has come to our attention in the nearly 30 years that DEC has been monitoring bats in New York.” And later, much later, biologists globally would realize that those events during that winter were the early signs of an epidemic that today has spread to 32 US states and five Canadian provinces. The US Fish and Wildlife Service would estimate in 2012 that 7 million bats had died  —  a conservative number  — and that summer people from Nova Scotia to Indiana would look up in the evening sky and see fewer darting shapes. A bat can eat 5,000 insects an hour, and researchers would predict more mosquito-borne illnesses with fewer bats and $22.9 billion in annual losses to the agriculture industry.

But that afternoon, hanging up his phone, all Hicks knew was that a lot of bats had died in Hailes Cave, and a number of things — maybe a flood, maybe a freeze — could have killed them. He hadn’t even finished his report. He didn’t give much more thought to the phone call until a few days later when Newman mentioned the white stuff on the bats’ noses. Had Hicks seen that before?

“What white stuff?”

“On the pictures we sent you. Open your email.”

Hicks opened his email, he saw the photos and the strange events that winter clicked. Dead bats in the valley, dead bats in Schoharie Cavern, dead bats in Hailes Cave and photos, now, of what appeared to be a fungus growing on the snouts of live bats. “Holy shit,” he said, and that day and the days to follow he contacted bat researchers across North America to ask them a question he already knew the answer to: Had they ever seen anything like this 96? No, and sure they’d pass the photos along but couldn’t there be a simple explanation, like a virus, or a toxin? Not likely, Hicks knew. This was different. In his nearly three decades studying bats he had observed probably more than a million, and since the early ‘80s he had been photographing hibernating Indianas, marking their noses and tallying the dots to gauge clusters without double counting. So Hicks knew bats, and he knew their noses, and this white stuff was something he did not know. He called Scott Darling, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department’s bat biologist. What did Darling think?

“Oh jeez,” Darling thought. “White powder all around their noses. Figures they’d be from New York.”

***

It was now April. Hicks had gone back with his team to Hailes Cave, saw for himself the white fuzz and counted 6,735 remaining bats, down by about half from the winter of 2004-05. “Something odd is going on,” he told a local reporter, and they were trying to piece it together but were running out of time. Soon the bats would erupt from the earth into the forests and fields to mate and chase down insects. It was an annual cycle along this latitude that all life in the natural world followed. Winter to summer. Frozen to flowing. Survival to revival. Rhythms set by the sun.

Hicks talked his colleagues in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Pennsylvania into going back underground while they still could. They found no white fuzz, no accumulation of dead bats, no sign, really, of anything that had knocked them out of sync. But by the end of April, New York, Hicks learned, had a problem. In Knox, Schoharie and Gage caves, which trail west of Hailes, he found more dead bats. In total: 1,280. And on some survivors: the white fungus. He didn’t know it then, but in February the winter before, a local caver and hydrogeologist, Paul Rubin, had photographed bats in Howes Cave west of Gage, Schoharie, Knox and Hailes. Rubin didn’t think at the time of telling Hicks about the strange white bats he had seen.

The fungus, researchers would learn later, came some 3,500 or more miles from Europe. (A scientist, in 2009, found it on the nose of a bat under a field next to a funeral home in France. It is also prevalent in Asia.) In the natural world, the Atlantic is a galaxy that swallows land-dwellers adrift between the continents. But above the natural world humanity has built another, unnatural one. Its rhythms — commerce, mainly, the movement of goods — bridge the gaps in the world below it. Sailors, for instance, have found bats in a load of timber traveling from Canada to the Netherlands, in a shipment of lettuce bound from California to British Columbia and in a shipping container going from Japan to New Zealand. In 1997, a stevedore found a bat from Korea while unloading cargo in Long Beach. The bat bit him on his neck and he killed it. In 2011, warehouse workers found a bat in rabies-free Hawaii under a refrigerated pallet of Korean radishes and turnips. Worried, officials killed it too but it tested negative for rabies. Bats are found more frequently on ships, but they also hitch rides in cars and trucks and trains and planes. In 1997, a women opened a bag while flying from Costa Rica to California and discovered a bat. The bat bit her. Two years earlier, a man landed in Los Angeles after flying from South Africa. He had packed his suitcase three days earlier in the darkness of a hut. When he opened it, a bat flew out. It was a wrinkle-lipped bat, common throughout sub-Sarah Africa and shown, in experiments, to carry Ebola.

One theory on how the fungus traveled to North America is that it came over on a bat trapped aboard a cargo ship. When the ship docked in the Port of Albany, the bat, likely in hibernation, woke, escaped, found a cave when winter came, rousted with local bats and spread the fungus bat by bat by bat. “Bats are highly social,” even among different species, said Carl Herzog, a wildlife biologist who worked alongside Hicks as the outbreak spread through New England. “If there was a European bat flying around in the Upstate New York area, it’s highly likely that it would seek out other bats.” Herzog subscribes to the boat theory and doesn’t buy the one most of his colleagues believe. According to their theory — the boot theory, say — the fungus traveled in the lugs of a boot from Eurasia to the floor Howes Cave in Albany. Then from there, it climbed to the bats, and that was that. Debating either is merely academic, though. By boot or boat, by travel or by trade, humans upset the balance. “The real question,” Herzog said, “is why did it take so long for white-nose to spread to North America?”

***

By the second winter, in 2007-08, scientists from institutions like Cornell University, Boston University, the New York State Health Department, Disney’s Animal World, the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were studying the outbreak. They needed to grow the fungus in labs to study it, but it crumbled from cadavers and live bats groom it off. Hicks told the labs to try culturing at cave temperatures, but they didn’t listen. Fungi grow at room temperatures, they’d say, and besides, fungi — and caves are rich in fungi — do not kill bats. This white fungus was probably a secondary symptom of the real killer.

It was a no brainer to Hicks what was killing the bats. If someone walks into the emergency room with a spear sticking through her chest, a doctor doesn’t need to check the patient for leukemia to determine what will soon be the cause of death. The labs had their spear. Thanks to Nancy Heaslip, they now even had a name for the condition it was associated with: white-nose syndrome. But the labs kept looking for leukemia. Science, for them, was done at a distance from the natural world, where they interrogated questions with chemicals and equations. Science, for Hicks, was a process of immersion in the natural world where he probed questions with his senses and experience. Both were telling him this fungus was it, but researchers, in their labs, did not listen.

West of headquarters, Joe Okoniewski was becoming frustrated. He worked in the Delmar office doing autopsies of dead animals, and that winter he had begun going underground with Hicks and his team to bag dead bats and measure in the lab their basic dimensions: weight, fat level, skin condition: more data documenting death. He understood the environment in which the fungus grew. He wasn’t certain it was killing the bats, but it seemed obvious to try growing it in the cold.

He began swiping the tails and wings of dead bats against petri dishes and stuffing the dishes into a four-door, head-tall, stainless steel cooler packed with animal parts. It was his side project, his tiny rebellion. If the labs wouldn’t listen to Hicks, Okoniewski would. He had never cultured anything before, and a dozen or so days later  when he swung open the cooler door, he figured he had made an amateur’s mistake. His cultures were billowing grew messes. Other fungi must have outcompeted the one he was after. It wasn’t white but at least it was something.

“I got something growing,” he told his supervisor.

Intrigued, his supervisor sent the cultures to the health department one day when Okoniewski was out without telling him. The department set his cultures at room temperature, and they stopped growing.

But back in the stainless steel cooler, his supervisor had left behind some cultures. Slowly, they began to whiten. This fungus, Okoniewski realized, was creating spores. He shook them onto a slide and slid them under a microscope. The spores looked like little lopsided bananas floating in a thick fluid. He was no mycologist, but after some research, he figured they were fairly unique.

He emailed photos to researchers at the health department and didn’t follow up when they did not reply.

***

In May, for the first time, nearly everyone who had been conference calling each other about the outbreak packed into a room at Cornell’s veterinary school to talk about it in person. Beth Buckles organized the meeting. She had been coordinating the university’s research into the outbreak. Some 20 people came, including Al Hicks, who brought Carl Herzog and Melissa Behr, a senior health department pathologist. Theories on the source of the outbreak ranged from global warming to new toxins to fewer insects, which, maybe, was why the dead bats were emaciated? Also, the fungus — could it be the fungus?

In the dozen years she’d been studying wildlife diseases, Buckles had never seen anything like this, but she had to think comprehensively. There was a strange fungus, yes. Bat were dying, yes. But correlation is not causation. To prove the fungus was the killer, they needed to achieve the four steps of Koch’s Postulates, the scientific standard for confirming any pathogen. One: find the fungus in every sick bat examined. Two: grow the fungus in the lab. Three: infect a healthy bat with the lab-grown fungus. Four: take the fungus from the infected bat and grow a culture that’s identical to the fungus found on the sick bats. Labs were still on step two.

With no agent in hand, Buckles said, we still don’t know what’s killing the bats.

But Behr had a pretty good idea. None of the researchers she knew studying the outbreak had cultured the fungus or gone underground with Hicks to bring it back, so that winter, Behr thought, “What if I collected my own?” In the middle of the winter she traveled to the Williams Hotel Mine, in Ulster County, and killed four or five sick bats, cut off their white muzzles and stabilized them in formaldehyde. She collected some fungus, too, and packed out the bat carcases. Back in the lab, with the bat muzzles under a microscope, she discovered the fungus had invaded the hair follicles and oil and sweat glands, causing immense tissue damage. “Why?” she wondered. “Are they defenseless?” The idea that the fungus was harmless and infested bats after death was now dead itself. This was no secondary symptom. She slid a fungal slide under the microscope and made another surprising discovery: the spores looked like little lopsided bananas. She’d never seen these before. A few weeks later, she traveled to Graphite Mine, in Warren County, and because she felt bad about killing the bats in the other mine decided to collect samples of the fungus instead. Back in the lab, under the microscope: the same strange spores. She had believed Hicks and Herzog when they swore to her the winter before that the fungus was something new, but now she had proof from two counties some 150 miles apart. No one had listened to Okoniewski, but they would listen to her. She stood up and shared what she found.

“We do have an agent in hand,” she said. “It’s a fungus.”

***

By the third winter, in 2008-09, New Englanders were watching bats dash through the sky and accumulate in the snow, in barns, on porches, against screen windows, in homes, depleted and dead. It was happening in New Jersey too. And Pennsylvania. Even in Virginia and West Virginia. White-nose syndrome, in fact, had spread all the way down the spine of the Appalachian Mountains and to the corner of Tennessee and North Carolina. Most labs pretty much knew by now what Hicks and his team had suspected all along, though David Blehert, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin, wouldn’t prove that the fungus was the killer until 2011. (Years later he described the research as “confirmatory.”)

By now, labs agreed the fungus grew best in 41 to 50 degree environments, temperature ranges underground regardless of the season. That meant, they realized, the fungus was here to stay. There had been some talk about using harsh chemicals to purge it from under the ground, but caves and mines are complicated ecosystems and biologists, worried about tipping the balance further, shot the ideas down. Few supported such radical steps. (In 2011, for instance, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources was widely criticized when it killed 60 little brown and tri-colored bats. Its commissioner, Jonathan Gassett, said, “It would be professionally irresponsible to take no action to stop or slow this disease.”) Action or inaction, they would not stop it. Even if they had accepted the killer from the beginning — even if Paul Rubin had alerted Hicks in the winter of 2005-06 when he found it in Howes Cave, giving them an extra winter — how do you stop an epidemic that spreads on the wings of bats?

You stop it from reaching the continent.

But the unnatural world turns in spite of the one below it. Boats dock. Planes land. Trains and trucks unload. This world revolves not around the sun. Commerce is its axis. And so inevitably, really, like almost every cave and mine white-nose syndrome reached, soon New England’s largest hibernaculum in Dorset, Vermont, became a catacomb. Bats had been flying there to hibernate from hundreds of miles away for thousands of years, an annual cycle along this latitude. Scott Darling had tried surveying the damage to Aeolus Cave the winter before, in 2007-08, but the stench of dead bats had stopped him. He returned in February 2009 with Al Hicks, two reporters, a representative of the nonprofit that owned the cave and some others. They hiked up the mountain in snowshoes and outside the cave slipped on white Tyvek suits and readied respirators incase the rot inside overwhelmed them. The snow was deep and hundreds of thin dark leafless maples and birch and beech reached for the grey sky. At their feet, bats were fluttering in the snow. They were freezing in place. They were flying out of the cave. They were falling from the sky. They would crawl through the snow up the cave embankment and hit the freezing wind and roll back down into a pile of dead bats a foot deep. The team slid under a gate blocking the entrance and over the dead bats to get inside. Inside the cave bats carpeted the floor. Ten-thousand dead, maybe twenty-thousand. Darling didn’t know. He tried to ignore the fact that he had been studying these animals for years, but he could hear them screaming. Hicks watched a wing lift up from the floor. He watched it fall back down. He would later say, “I’ve seen a lot of stuff, and that was tough.” Darling would say, “Nobody had seen anything like this ever. I don’t care what species you’re talking about.” They had thrown themselves at the epidemic. Too much overtime was no excuse not to try a little harder to fight it, to beat it. But there, in that cave, Darling realized, “We’re the ones being beaten.”

***

Today white-nose syndrome is burning into the Great Plains, into the Southwest. In 2016 it lept to Washington, shocking researchers who predicted its arrival years later. When biologists confirm its presence in a new state, often the ominous sign — white noses — doesn’t come that winter. It comes in the second winter, and in the third come the deaths. (Oddly, sometimes, in the third winter their numbers rocket instead, climbing in certain instances by 1,000 percent, before they plummet.) The greatest losses have been documented in Missouri. White-nose syndrome was confirmed here in March 2012, and by the winter of 2015-16 it had overrun half the state. Sixteen percent of the big brown bats here are unaccounted for, and that’s the lower end of the toll. More than half the tri-colored bats are missing, nearly 90 percent of the little browns have disappeared and rounding up one-tenth of a decimal point exterminates the northern-long eared on paper. In the beginning, scientists were searching for what was killing the bats. Now they’re searching for what will save them.

In February, two biologists were searching for survivors in a limestone cave on a frozen elbow of Cedar Creek in Boone County, Missouri. The first one they found was just beyond the mouth of the cave squeezed into a crack in the pockmarked walls. It had brown fur and dark skin and looked a little like a dog with its hooped ears and polished snout. It was a big brown, no bigger than a child’s fist. As it slept, a red dot swept over it and hovered, shaking, for a few seconds, and then Kirsten Alvey-Mudd read the numbers from her infrared thermometer.

“Twenty-one-point-two degrees,” she said, converting from celsius. “He is effectively hibernating.”

Savanna Shafer pulled out her phone and made the first entry: one big brown bat.

They crowded around the bat looking for signs of white-nose syndrome. Its nose and ears and wings were free of the white fuzz, and it was thin but not emaciated. It slept undisturbed, its temperature down by more than half, its breaths coming every 40 or more minutes, all in an effort to slow its metabolism to ration fat and live to spring. The epidemic has sparked a wave of research into bats, but still researchers have a lot to learn. Why, for instance, are big browns resistant to the fungus when little browns are among the hardest hit? Why do Indianas surge before they crash? And why, from here to New England, are some bats living winter to winter with the fungus but without the symptoms? Do they have a gene the dead bats lack?

“We don’t know,” said Jeremy Coleman, who since 2009 lead the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts on white-nose syndrome. “We would love to be able to find some genetic component of resistance, or resilience, just to have some piece of mind. It looks like that might be the case, based on the counts, or at least the persistence of the populations.” There are reports of little browns, he said, that were around before the epidemic returning to Pennsylvania and New York and Vermont to hibernate each fall a little fatter. Elsewhere, too, are similar report, like in Missouri and northern Ontario. Is there a gene, then, allowing these bats to gain weight while others starve? “People are very hopeful,” Coleman said, “myself included. But the question is still, ‘What is driving that?’”

Further in the cave, the glow of daylight disappeared and Alvey-Mudd and Shafer scanned their headlamps up and down the limestone walls searching for bats. They dragged themselves on padded knees through a passage that flashed with thousands of green and gold lights — dew-clad cave fungus, the native kind, and also some fools gold refracting the headlamps — but no bats. They crawled above a stream where salamander larvae, miniature white shrimp and leopard-printed pickerel frogs swam in cold, clear water, and they ducked their heads to avoid a bat hanging from the ceiling. Shafer added it to her tally.

As they pushed deeper, Alvey-Mudd thought out loud.

She saw several bats stuffed in a crack.

“They’re like playdoh.”

She saw another bat hanging from the ceiling.

“Nope. His nose looks good.”

But now, in a crater above her head, she spotted three bats: tri colored. Their fur shined silver like tinsel: condensation. Alvey-Mudd didn’t need her thermometer to know these bats were warmer than they should be. Something had disturbed their sleep.

On the snout of one of the bats was a white fuzz.

“Oh,” she said. “This guy has white nose.”

Shafer came over and looked up, the sterile light of their headlamps spotlighting the bats like they were specimens quarantined in a lab. The one with the powdered nose also had white splotches along the edges of its folded wings.

“It’s highly likely the ones next to him have white-nose as well,” Alvey-Mudd said.

Further down the passage, the fungus was blooming on the tail and belly of another tri colored.

If evolution is rescuing North America’s bats from this epidemic, their future will be under greater threat from another. Bottleneck events like these pulverize a species’ gene pool. Largely only the animals with the genes to survive do, and when they reproduce, slowly building back the population with resistant offspring, they’re more likely to be missing genes key for adapting to climate change, say, or diseases from across the ocean. “Things that aren’t even on the horizon,” Coleman said.

Eurasia may be an example of what North America can expect. The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, diverged from its last known ancestor 23.5 million years ago and probably began evolving alongside Eurasian bats. Researchers don’t know, but many believe it decimated colonies and through natural selection they slowly rebounded. Before the epidemic, the average size of a bat colony in North America was orders of magnitude larger than ones in Europe, but the average size of blighted colonies in North America are now nearly the same size as colonies in Europe.

“They may not ever recover to the numbers pre white nose,” Coleman said, if they recover at all. If there is no genetic resistance in the surviving bats, and if we assume the fungus will spread across the entire continent, as it appears to be doing, he said, “I think those species are likely to go extinct.”

Back near the mouth of the cave, Alvey-Mudd and Shafer reviewed their survey results. Zero little browns. Six big browns. Forty-three tricolored, four of which had white nose.

“In years gone by,” Alvey-Mudd said, “this cave has had between three- and four-hundred tricolored bats. So that — that would be a 90 percent loss.”

But if this cave was a crypt, its corpses were gone. Maybe the bats flew out, fleeing whatever was killing them and froze in the woods. Maybe they fell from the ceiling and dissolved in the streams. Maybe raccoons dragged them away. The two biologists could only guess, but they knew what it would have looked like. Alvey-Mudd pulled out her phone and in the darkness flipped through photos from other caves.

A dead bat hung from a ceiling like a leaf yet to fall.

A dead bat’s eye sockets and nostrils billowed white fuzz.

A dead bat crumbled on a cave floor: yellow bones, leather flesh.

Her photos were from caves in Missouri, but she could have taken them anywhere white-nose syndrome has reached. The scenes are all the same. Where there were once hundreds or thousands of bats there are few, or there are none.

“Can you imagine when Al Hicks walked into Aeolus Cave?” Alvey-Mudd said.

She put away her phone and they walked out of the cave.

***

Eleven years after the outbreak, if you ask Hicks how he makes sense of everything that has happened, he might turn off the radio in the room he is in and think for a while in silence.

“It is just one more example,” he will say, “of how we are sending this planet to hell in a handbasket. You look at the history of the spread of disease among wild things, and those wild things are animals and plants. It’s always been a result of the Columbian Exchange, that concept of people moving things from one place to another and bringing with them creatures that do harm to native species. It’s that process, just accelerating at a phenomenal rate.”

In this world we are creating, he will say, there will be no unique places. “Unique and vulnerable species are just crashing all around us. You talk about the forests. I do not believe there is a single tree species that is not under threat from some organism that is on the ground in the United States today. It is just so sad. We’re creating this world for our children,” he will say and pause.

“The less we are concerned about the natural world, because people are having less and less exposure to it, the faster it goes.”

When he is done, he will suggest you read the scientist and philosopher Aldo Leopold, who, in his famed 1949 essay “Land Ethic,” wrote, “In human history, we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is eventually self-defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror knows, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick, and just what and who is valuable, and what and who is worthless, in community life. It always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat themselves.”

The book is 295 pages long with pen-and-ink illustrations of wildlife. When you have finished it, Hicks will tell you, read it again.