On July 6, 2019, the Walden Woods Project, the National Park Service, the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Peter Alden hosted the 2019 Great Walden BioBlitz, where hundreds of taxonomic specialists, students, families, and other members of the community made more than 4,000 species observations of 1,100 different species.
As a guest of honor and in celebration of his 90th birthday, E.O. Wilson took part in the BioBlitz and other activities throughout the day, engaging with individuals, small groups, and with the gathering at large.
“The incorporation of your data into the encyclopedia of diversity of life and the actions then that can be taken piece by piece and the maps that can be drawn,” Wilson said to the gathering. “Piece by piece, sliver by sliver, section by section that will add up to what has come to be the generally regarded goal of one-half for nature and one-half for us so that both may survive in glory and peace indefinitely.”
Walden Woods was made famous by Henry David Thoreau, who spent much of his life walking through the woods and fields of Concord – especially Walden Woods – and the surrounding towns. His habits of observation and journaling led to some of the most profound revelations and ideas about conservation and preservation of our common inheritance – the land, its forests, plants and animals, and its very wildness. It was Thoreau’s essays inspired John Muir’s work to convince President Roosevelt to establish the National Park System.
Located about 20 miles from Boston, Walden Woods is a distinctive area of glacial origin. Walden Woods is a bit of an anomaly on the landscape – pitch pines dominate in pockets over exceptionally sandy soils left behind by the retreating ice at the end of the Wisconsin glaciation. Unusual environmental conditions can lead to unusual wildlife and plant species compositions, and there is perennial interest in understanding the dynamics of species in this area.
A theme of Wilson’s remarks, and of the Great Walden BioBlitz, was the leadership role the next generation will take in ensuring the health of our planet.
“And so I come to our young people who I have been talking to most of the day. A lot of you are considering careers in science and technology. You’ve been warned that you have to go through a kind of triathlon of math and physics and chemistry and quantitative biology in order to be sure of a career within biology. And I assure you that that is wrong,” Wilson said.
“The future scientists of the world who will help save biodiversity by creating the disciplines that compose it and making the rapid advances and often radical advances in thinking that will make this increasingly feasible, that this is going to be based on a wholly different way of recruiting and training biologist, and it will be essential, I’m certain, of encouraging them, not that they’re going to have to go through the STEM torcher chamber.”
“They should be empowered, now, they should be scientists right away. And how can that be done? That’s what you’re doing, right here, in bringing young people and engaging them. And so this is to me the great significance of what Peter started with one of his wild ideas back in the 1990s.”