Preservation of Habitat

Photo of large pin oak

For scale, this is a shot of one venerable pin oak in my back yard. (There are two.) This tree is probably not a hundred years old. The house was built in 1962; the oak has lived on for fifty-eight years, and might have been twenty or thirty years old when it and its friend were saved as a feature of the property. It could not have been very old, or the construction would have damaged its root system.

Going on from there, I want you to think how rarely, when you walk through a woodland, or state park forest, you see trees of this girth. Only areas preserved to protect significant trees are likely to have many several feet in circumference. “Old-growth” forest, of course, has trees of all ages, part of any habitat’s continual recreation of itself. But a hundred-year-old tree today still was born in the twentieth century. The woods and all they support: birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, fungi, mosses, shrubs, wildflowers, ferns, etc., have to have been sustained in close to their condition when the most endangered species thrived there, for those species to thrive today.

Logged land that has grown back since the 1920s may look old, but represents a minor span in the history of—let’s say for the sake of argument—the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. If we want to believe some undiscovered population is still alive, we have to believe there are woods left alone from the time the last one was seen (1944, in the Singer Tract, which was destroyed). If, in the United States, no habitat for the Ivory-billed has been sustained since the 1940s, having the same mix of trees, allowed to live and die as nature dictates, then the survival of the species is unlikely.

All of which warns us that we can’t fall for restoration as the reassuring answer to environmental depredation. It’s easy to say that forests cut down can be replanted. Restoration projects are important and need to continue. But plans for the future, or the fact that it’s possible to make them, should not become an acceptable compromise against preservation.

Only commitment to both preserve and limit wild areas to human access will slow the rate of extinction, erosion, watershed alterations that lead to drought, and other effects we are running out of time to forestall.

 

Photo of bright orange daylily

I don’t take the trouble to label my daylilies, so I don’t know what their names are, but this is one of my favorite oranges.

 

Photo of deep ink daylily

And here’s a deep pink.

 

Photo of driveway border bed

And here is the front border by the driveway, already looking good with a lot of pinks and whites, but several more blooms to come.

 

 

What Is a Habitat?

Some observations on householder-sized efforts against the climate crisis.

 

Photo of yard with various plants sprouting

Above, a natural patch of lawn, lightly raked, at the base of one of my ninety-or-so-year-old oak trees. Everything not lawn grass that grows here is by definition a habitat plant, as they were all delivered by birds and other animals. Under the deer droppings near the center can be seen a small juniper bush; the bright red leaves are callery pear and barberry. My yard also gets mulberry, privet, American Holly, English Ivy, Amur Honeysuckle, Japanese Honeysuckle, millet grass, and quite a bit more. Some of these are listed as invasive plants, but obviously wherever they came from they were playing a role to support wildlife.

This is a current question in the natural sciences, whether the decline of species, birds notably, will allow us to fuss like we once did, over the strict “nativeness” of a plant, when clearly the plant is an important food source for birds.

 

  Landscape disturbance and transformation, extinction, globalization, and climate change are proceeding at unprecedented rates and scales and have yet to climax. We argue that the Anthropocene will call for a conceptual overhaul of what it means for a species to “belong” to a given environment.

Frontiers in Earth Science “Rethinking ‘Native’ in the Anthropocene”, Avery P. Hill, Elizabeth A. Hadly

 

The article quoted above makes the point that wildlife and plantlife stresses are so accelerated these days, the questions of preservation may be basic. To identify a plant as non-native, and remove it from a wild site, in the assumption this makes room for “good” plants to take over, is to assume that food sources remain abundant and time itself remains abundant. It may be a more practical standard to say, if birds can survive eating the fruits of barberry and autumn olive, let them have barberry and autumn olive.

Fires have become severe, in the U.S. this year, in Australia, Russia, Greece, Brazil, France, Spain, and other nations; and while plants can recultivate burned lands quickly, animals can’t. We may have no choice but to appreciate nature’s strong competitors, even if humans consider these species the lowly and commonplace.

 

Troubled Azalea

This is the azalea bush in front of my house. It suffered a leaf-killing attack of thrips last summer, and as you can see, all its “evergreen” is brown and tissue-papery. At the base of each leaf cluster, new green ones are starting. The azalea will probably survive, but if it doesn’t, I’ll either let the weeping arborvitae take over the spot, or buy a new shrub that isn’t bothered by thrips. What I won’t do is put anything in the environment, even allegedly safe sprays, to kill the infestation. We can’t worry about perfect appearance in our gardens; we have so many plants to choose from, we can find the pretty thing that will thrive without chemical treatments at all.

(Marigolds, incidentally, will draw thrips…and look terrible themselves…but possibly save other of your garden specimens, if you’d like a wholly organic answer.)

 

 

 

Homes for Creatures

Photo of woodpecker hole in dead ash tree

This is a dead ash tree, that gets a lot of woodpecker traffic. My yard has nesting sites used by Hairy, Downy, and Red-bellied woodpeckers; also Northern Flickers. Just this past summer, I’ve been seeing Pileateds visit the tree, so with luck they’ll be the ones excavating this out next spring.

 

Photo of animal burrow

This is a burrow in the ground under my Callery pear tree. I’ve never seen what lives there, but I see a long passage of sunken ground coming off this hole, so the complex must be spacious. It may be only rabbits, but it would be nice to have a badger or a weasel.