Animal Logic is a photo series that explores the historical relationships between humans and animals and how they're expressed today.
Pigeons are a force of to be reckoned with on every continent except Antarctica. 
Cities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to reduce their numbers using things like bird birth control, spikes, and culls to keep their numbers down.
The pigeons we see around town are largely descendants of refugee birds from the human-kept pigeon coops of yesterday.  Actually, ‘pigeons’ and ‘doves’ are the same bird: if they’re a nice colour (especially if they’re selectively bred to be pure white), or live in a dovecote (pigeon coop), we call them doves.  If they’re picking food scraps and garbage off the street and defecating on public statues, we call them pigeons.
Nowadays Pigeons are considered to be a prolific pest, but for several thousand years they were bred and cared for in Eurasian societies as messengers and as food.  They even play a pivotal role in the biblical story of Noah’s Ark.  The Western world's beloved symbol of peace and stability, a white dove bearing an olive branch that symbolized the end of the flood for Noah and his animals, would actually have been a grey pigeon just like the ones pictured above.
Looking at the difference in our treatment of doves as a symbol of peace and pigeons as a reality of urban living, the irony is clear.  It also points to a greater cognitive dissonance between how we 'act' and what our stated 'values' are as a society.
If how we live says anything about who we are, then pigeons would be a part of our reflection, staring back at us through the mirror. 
The average American kid can identify 1000 corporate logos but can't identify 10 plants and animals native to their hometown.  It might not be necessary for Torontonians to know what a Black Eyed Susan looks like or what species of deer live in the region, but that doesn’t mean local environment has nothing to teach us.
Pictured above: a Toronto boat ramp where locals go to chuck food, like Timbits and breadcrumbs, at Trumpeter Swans who overwinter there every year. Not only are these the biggest swans in the world, they were also hunted to the brink of extinction in the 1940s - with 70 known Trumpeter Swans left in the wild.  How did they manage to survive?  There are no signs posted around their breeding site explaining the story and no one visiting on the day I was there seemed to even know what kind of swan they are.
Trumpeter Swans would probably have disappeared if it weren't for the passionate volunteers who continue to track, care for, and protect them and their habitat to this day.  Ontario's Trumpeter Swans were gone by the early 1900s.  Biologist Harry Lumsden led a small team of enthusiasts in a bid to reintroduce the birds to the province - using eggs from Alberta and Alaska, a fledgling population was established. The program worked.  Today you can see and hear trumpeter swans across southern Ontario.
Yes: these birds almost went extinct because humans hunted them too much.  But we also got our act together enough to bring their population back to a point where they are no longer threatened. In fact Trumpeter swans are now a species of least concern.

When bad things happen people pay attention.
When things work, people don’t pay attention.
We need more of these stories: real, profound changes happening in our communities for the good of humans and the land.  Our innate propensity to pay attention to bad events more than good ones, our negativity bias, can spawn a sense of powerlessness if we don't consciously make an effort to keep it in check.  By celebrating the successes of local conservation projects, we are reminded that positive change is achievable.  We realize that trying harder to align our actions with our morals and values is worthwhile.

In many ways we engineer the natural world without even realizing it. In the 60s and 70s the Anna’s Hummingbird was able to expand its breeding grounds from Baja and Southern California to as far north as Canada thanks to gardeners and bird enthusiasts along the coast.  Without the widespread planting of exotic ornamental plants and the popularity of bird feeders, the Anna’s Hummingbird would probably not have been able to expand its traditional territory as far north as we see today.
Who is to say we can’t use collective action in a more purposeful, targeted way?
Conservation goes beyond protecting 'pristine untouched wilderness' or the 'virgin forests' of pre-colonial North America.  When we begin to move past the assumption that humanity and nature are separate, it becomes apparent that environmental issues like a warming climate and the waste crisis are actually human rights issues too.  It is worth acknowledging the argument that as individuals we can only do so much in the face of broad environmental destruction: one diligent recycler is not going to change the world’s plastic waste problem, for instance. Perhaps if we all had a better understanding of where our everyday purchases, such as food, clothes, and basic necessities come from, we would be in a better position to align our actions more with our values. 

Chassagne Farm.  A 40 minute drive from Toronto, this small organic farm was the first to import and breed shetland sheep in Canada.  Shetland Sheep produce a very soft, durable wool that is used for making high quality and long-lasting clothes and toys. 

We are increasingly disconnected from the people who make our clothing as 97% of items are now made overseas. Historically, clothing has been something we have held onto for a long time, but with cheap clothing now abundantly available we are beginning to see the things we wear as disposable – and others who are out of our sights are bearing the burden of our purchasing habits. 

“In many industries we force others to pay for the cost of our cheap goods in ethical standards, quality of life, and environmental degradation.”  It's like we pull the puppet strings but can't actually see the puppet: our everyday consumer choices control, however invisibly, the fate of other people and places we’ve never seen or even heard of.
Maybe this reflects our inherent difficulty in reckoning with broad, incremental changes, like the impact of earthworms on the North American landscape.
Chances are, if you come across an earthworm in Canada or the US today, it is an imported species from Europe or Asia: before European settlers colonized North America, the soil here was almost entirely worm-free. Earthworms are beneficial for farms and gardens but they also have a profoundly disruptive effect on North American ecosystems, which had previously evolved without them for the past 10,000 years.
As these introduced worms disturb forest nutrient cycles, they cause significant ecological change and socio-economic impacts.
All of the earthworm species (and there are many) found in Ontario are, in fact, invasive species from other continents and regions.  Once an area is invaded by a species of earthworm, there is no known way to remove them.  The result is that ecosystems across the continent have been irreversibly changed without most of us even realizing it - the rate at which earthworms have and continue to expand is slow and incremental.  Most of us would not have noticed the difference between a pre-earthworm forest and one with earthworms in it because the changes would have happened over the course of several human lifetimes.
This points to the scale of problems we face today.  The changes are incremental and slow, but they are also huge.
How we treat cats further illustrates how biased and flawed our perception of 'invasiveness' really is.  Technically speaking, cats should be considered an invasive species: "they were introduced by us as pets and companions, but have also managed to establish themselves completely independent from humans in ecosystems where they are a serious source of mortality for birds and other native wildlife."  Cats and habitat loss are the two biggest killers of birds in Canada and the US: each year in just the two countries they kill between 1 billion and 4 billion birds, 6 billion to 22 billion small mammals, and they have also played a large role in the extinction of at least 33 bird species here. The number of birds killed by cats exceeds total deaths from pollution, pesticides, window strikes, vehicles, and all other man-made causes combined.
"Even when presented with raw kill data, many people, including the overwhelming majority of cat owners, still doubt that cats adversely affect wild bird populations."

A Grove Snail (Cepaea nemoralis) makes its way along Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway at rush hour. No one knows exactly when Grove Snails were first introduced to North America from Europe. All but one species of non-native terrestrial snail are considered invasive pests and are banned from Canada. In spite of being illegal to breed, sell, or import, these non-native terrestrial snails do not pose a major risk to food crops or gardens.

Thanks to the global trade in plants and horticulture materials, the Marsh Slug (Deroceras laeve) has evolved into two distinct organisms: the wild form and the greenhouse form. The species is native to Canada and most of the United States, but scientists believe that the greenhouse form now exists on every continent in the world except Antarctica. Pictured are the greenhouse variety emerging from a bed of cultivated moss.

Clearly, we choose to make exceptions when it comes to 'invasive species' that appeal to us on an emotional level (cats) or a practical level (earthworms).  This reflects our desire to have insiders and outsiders and to divide things into 'good' and bad' camps, based less on objective needs than subjective, unjustified, and potentially counterproductive preferences.  By labeling a species as "invasive" or "not invasive", we are giving one set of animals, like cats, a free pass and punishing another set who may not be as much of a problem to their environment.  The assumption that outsiders are pitted against native/endemic species can distract us from making meaningful changes: researchers who assume that a non-native species they are studying is going to have negative impact on the environment end up conducting inaccurate studies that skew toward their point of view.  ‘Invasive species’ becomes a label used to justify killing animals we don’t like.

The story of Vespula alacsensis points to what happens when we make assumptions about species without putting in the effort to study them well enough.
Vespula alascensis is a prolific wasp here in North America, but it was only ‘discovered’ as a species in 2010. Before then it was believed to be an invasive species of wasp native to Europe and China when it is, in fact, a unique species that is endemic to Canada and the US. Vespula alascensis is an important pollinator and predator in ecosystems in Canada and the west coast of the US. It eats a diet of nectar from flowers, insects like flies, spiders, and caterpillars.
If you've ever encountered Vespula alascensis, it was probably harassing you while you were eating or trying to bite you when you walked by its nest – wasps in general are widely despised and considered a common pest.
Huge sums of money are spent each on pest control, it is a multibillion-dollar industry, and yet there wasn’t even a basic understanding or recognition of one of North America’s most common pests until very recently.  By dismissing these wasps as an invasive species, we allowed ourselves to believe that they had no rightful place on our continent.

Is willful ignorance just an excuse to justify eradicating something we don’t like? 
The bias toward certain species exists in conservation science too.  Scientists counted the number of papers done on threatened and endangered species (IUCN).  “What really leapt out at us was the magnitude of the bias towards vertebrate species,” says the head researcher, Donaldson.  
This article tells it better than I can: “There are roughly 60,000 known vertebrate species on the planet, but there are more than 1.2 million known invertebrates, with many more still left to discover and formally describe. “So the bias,” Donaldson emphasizes, “is not for a lack of availability, but for a lack of interest.”  “Those trends really persist among funding agencies as well,” says Donaldson, adding that conservation policies also have a tendency to focus on large-bodied animals, especially vertebrates.”

Pictured: a species of ladybug native to North America (Convergent Ladybug).  Today endemic species of ladybugs are in decline with some thought to be endangered.  Asian Lady Beetles beetles were introduced in the 1970s by farmers who wanted an effective natural alternative to pesticides and the species quickly outcompeted endemic ladybug species, leading to massive declines in all populations of endemic ladybugs. The majority of ladybugs in North America today are Asian Lady Beetles. 
As a society we are continuously having to decide which populations of flora and fauna need to be controlled, and which need to be protected and propagated.  While, as a species, we have been consciously and unconsciously engineering our environment in this way since the beginning of agriculture, a new set of ethical questions emerge when dealing with genetically modified organisms.

gloFish® are aquarium fish that have been genetically modified to fluoresce (glow).  A gene extracted from jellyfish is used to make the fish glow bright green. GloFish® also come in other colours depending on what genes have been added: a red glow comes from a gene found in sea coral, an orange glow is derived from a different variant of the jellyfish gene.  gloFish were originally meant to glow in the presence of certain toxins in the water- but the patent for these glowing fish was eventually sold to a pet supplier. They have become the first GMO to be sold as pets. The introduction of GloFish® into the US market in 2003 was met with protests and some controversy. Activists believe they set a dangerous precedent for a needless exploitation of GMOs for profit.
They are not the first organism to be modified in an effort to improve quality of life: golden rice, which is genetically modified to produce vitamin A, is supposed to help impoverished populations of people who suffer from fatalities and blindness due to a vitamin A deficiency. Unlike the gloFish patent which is aggressively protected by its proprietor, breeding institutions can sublicense the Golden Rice 'recipe' (a combination of patented intellectual property they need access to in order to create the rice) free of charge.
Ideas of “the Canadian wilderness” or “the American wilderness” are fundamentally at odds with the real balance of species on our continent.  If we do want to maintain stable ecosystems that nurture us, we have to work harder to actually understand all of what’s going on in these ecosystems right now.  As we see it, labels like 'invasive species', 'threatened species', and 'GMO' are not always serving as accurate categorizations of species, they are often just used to categorize how we feel about those species.
We can best understand ourselves by looking at how we treat and understand our environment. We need to involve and educate ourselves more about the world around us in order to live in a way that better aligns with our values.  We should always be looking for success stories in our communities because they provide blueprints for change. 

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