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Posts Tagged ‘ecology’

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.
~ William Blake

It may be the way of  humans to want development to cease once their home is built on the edge of the wilderness  but I still shudder every time I see tracts of land cleared.  I realize that before my home was built on this spot, many wild creatures made this acreage their home. Trees once stood where my driveway now covers the ground with gravel.

Yesterday I went looking for amphibian eggs in a spot where I had seen them in a waterway near the bog years before. Chainsaws tore through trees in the vicinity throughout the afternoon.

I also looked for Boreal Felt Lichen, an endangered species that seems like it would thrive in this neck of the woods. Though none was found yesterday, I did find a cluster of foliate lichen that I had seen earlier this year. Unfortunately, this time, the tree was on the ground, freshly sawed into pieces, a casualty of the surveyor’s line.

These lands are likely slated to be developed soon.  yet, fresh evidence of porcupine, hare and deer activity was everywhere to be found.  It’s a shame that so many animals will be displaced and that all these lichen-covered trees will eventually be covered with weedless green lawns and paved driveways.

Bogs are often considered wastelands by developers who want to fill them up.  That saddens me just as much as the demise of the trees.  New trees can be planted on cleared land but a bog can’t resurface once it’s been filled with rubble.

Throughout  the walk, my friend Sybil who accompanied me kept repeating lines from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi…

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone.

Her singing was barely audible over the roar of the chainsaws.

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The ancient Celts believed that barren wastelands existed because their leader and people were cursed.  Surely whether or not a space is a wasteland has more to do with one’s point of view than a curse.  A few days ago I visited a bog that I hadn’t seen since Hurricane Juan hit in 2003, destroying the old logging trails I used to follow to reach it.  Due to the slow tree growth typical in bogs, it had changed very little. 

For over a decade I walked through this bog daily with my dog, careful to place my feet on higher ground so that I wouldn’t sink into the bottomless black mud.  Though the bog looked especially pretty in spring with its bright pink orchids and rhododendrons, in winter it could be equally wonderful.  One cold day I suddenly heard wings flying above me and was surprised to see two bald eagles hunting for hares or other bog-dwelling prey just a few feet overhead. 

Snowshoe hare tracks in the bog

Body preserved in bog for over 2,000 years

Bogs were once considered magical places, probably owing to their reputation as cursed wastelands.  Some Northern European cultures sometimes buried their dead in bogs and it’s suspected that human sacrifices were made there during the Iron Age.    

Bogs were also places where treasures were hidden from invaders.  In 2006 the Irish found a thousand year old illuminated psalter manuscript in one of their bogs.  Could treasures still be waiting to be discovered here in Nova Scotia?

Today bogs are just beginning to be valued for their role in absorbing extra precipitation and acting as filters for air and water borne pollutants.  Sphagnum moss which is abundant here is also being studied for its role in absorbing oil from disaster spills.

Many of the lichens that hang from the trees in bogs also absorb moisture from the atmosphere.  The most marvelous of these can convert nitrogen in the air to a form usable by plants and animals. 

Unfortunately, in Nova Scotia, bogs are still considered wastelands and cheap real estate.  Locally, they continue to be filled with rubble and developed into subdivisions.  If the original evergreens left standing at the edge of new streets appear stunted, chances are that the homes nearby were built in a bog.  Sadly, once bogs are filled, they cannot go back to their original form.  If urban planners refuse to consider the role bogs can play in alleviating flooding and cleaning the atmosphere, perhaps we really are a people cursed.

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A clever way for thieves to steal from a store is to switch price tags on items, putting low prices on items of higher value.  The thieves then purchase the  items.   This technique works best in stores where cashiers are oblivious to the true value of the merchandise and too busy to take notice of obvious discrepancies. 

Like the pre-occupied cashiers, we don’t know the value of our natural resources and are too busy to notice that they are grossly undervalued.  We might be tired and overworked, or so distracted that we don’t clue in.   Developers keen to turn a quick profit are the ones who stand to gain.

This happens in third-world countries where rainforests brimming with biodiversity are razed to make way for single crops that strip the soil of its nutrients and contribute to erosion.  It also happens in wealthier nations where scrub lands with shorter trees are filled with concrete by residential and business park developers focused on turning a quick profit. 

In resource-rich Canada, we take for granted the cleanliness of our seemingly endless supply of clean air and water, not fully realizing the role trees play in their presence.  In one year, a large tree can supply enough clean air for a family of four to breathe and a single medium-sized tree can filter over 2000 gallons of water.  We cut down old growth forests and pat ourselves on the back when we fill the bare spaces with tiny seedlings that will take several lifetimes to mature.  We fail to appreciate how much trees buffer noise, create windbreaks, intercept rainfall, hold and create soil, absorb carbon dioxide and provide a habitat for wildlife.  Even their beauty is uplifting.  But because we have so many trees here in Canada, we take them for granted. 

The law of supply and demand dictates that our trees will increase in value as they become less abundant.  But why do we have to wait until then to appreciate them?  The United Nations has declared 2011 to be the International Year of Forests in an effort to heighten awareness of their value to mankind.

If a 24K bar of gold weighing 28 lbs is worth approximately half a million dollars, what is the value of a single tree? 

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.

~  Martin Luther

Gold bar photo credit:  Sybil Nunn

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According to the Canadian Ice Service, an enormous chunk of ice, 260 sq.km. in size, separated from a glacier in Greenland last week, becoming the most spectacular event to take place in the Arctic in 50 years. The broken piece will eventually fragment and inevitably melt in warmer waters, contributing to rising sea levels worldwide.

The first 6 months of 2010 were the hottest globally on record.  [See Ice Island Breaks Off Glacier at the Weather Network].

It’s dawn and the sandpipers are gathering at low tide along the shoreline in the marsh.  They’re so intent on eating that they take no notice of humans next to them on the trail.  Their gentle piping calls to one another are a fitting accompaniment to the rising sun.

Sandpipers have always seemed to me to be among the most delicate of the shore birds.  Like the endangered plovers, their fleeting movements, whether in flight or along the edge of the water,  never give me a chance to appreciate them for long.  I wonder if they’ll be affected by the oil spill down south when they migrate this fall.  [See BP oil spill could affect Maritime plovers at CBC].

Further along the shore, growing near the strandlines, statice is beginning to bloom.  It seems odd that such a delicate flower chooses to grow here along such a rugged shoreline.   Yet it manages to survive, despite winter’s stormy waters and winds.

When I think of rising sea levels, I wonder how wildlife such as sandpipers and statice will be affected in the years to come.  Will they simply disappear?  Or will they find a way to cling to life beyond the present shoreline?

This is a beautiful planet and not at all fragile.  Earth can withstand significant volcanic eruptions, tectonic cataclysms, and ice ages.  But this canny, intelligent, prolific, and extremely self-centered human creature has proven himself capable of more destruction of life than Mother Nature herself…. We’ve got to be stopped.

~ Michael L. Fischer

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heron in marsh

Despite their beauty, salt marshes are often considered wastelands.  Like bogs, they’re usually filled in populated coastal areas in order to make space for urban development.  Surprisingly, although salinity and flooding are factors that cause special problems for wildlife, this type of environment is just as biologically productive as a rainforest. 

Salt marshes are common in Nova Scotia where they act as transitional zones between the sea and land.  They are not as frequently found on Canada’s Pacific coast, where rocky shores are more prevalent.

flooding marsh waters

Daily tidal flooding brings in nutrients to the marsh that feed a number of salt tolerant species of plants and animals.  Although the many types of cordgrass found in the marsh may not be eaten, they provide sustenance for microorganisms as they decompose.  Eventually these life forms at the bottom of the food chain are consumed by fish and others.  A thriving web of life supports such diverse creatures as crabs, coyotes, eagles and clams. 

marsh in september

Lying on the edge of the vast ocean, a salt marsh acts as a buffer, shielding the land from severe weather.  Plants in the marsh can survive longer periods underwater during occasions of extreme flooding and trees such as the white spruce are more tolerant of salt spray.  As hurricanes become increasingly common in north Atlantic waters, this function will become even more important. 

Clamdiggers heading into the marsh by boat

Clamdiggers heading into the marsh by boat

Salt marshes are also places where air and water are purified.  They detoxify wastes brought in by the tides on a daily basis.  Microorganisms work non-stop to neutralize pollutants found in water, a great benefit near populated urban areas.

Considering all these benefits to the surrounding environment, it’s no wonder that in some places around the world, salt marshes are now protected and attempts are being made to restore them to their original state.

marsh apples

Apple trees thrive along the edge of the salt marsh

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