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When Nature Gets Nasty

Last time I wrote about some positive effects of forest fires. Today, I want to expand on why nature sometimes gets nasty.

While natural cycles have been ongoing since Earth was created, the addition of hominids to the mix was at first a balanced impact when we were only hunters and gatherers, prey and predators.

But our insatiable appetite emerged during the Industrial Revolution, and it was never the same thereafter! At first, humans had no idea their actions could cause harm or long-lasting impacts. How could killing a few egrets, for their feathers, so European females could show off their pretty hats, cause an impact? How could the sport shooting of Passenger Pigeons, by the billions, be impactful, after all, their numbers were limitless?

Eventually, we came to understand our actions had consequences, but instead of accepting that, we fought nature and carelessly allowed our beliefs, rather than facts, to lead us.

Early settlers imported animals and plants to North America to amuse themselves and remind them of their homelands. For example, the Starling and House Sparrow arrived on our shores and almost eliminated the Eastern Bluebird, as they competed for nest sites!

We raised cattle and sheep and then killed the wolves and coyotes, because they ate our livestock. In the process, other pests ran rampant, rats overran our granaries and deer over-populated and destroyed their habitats, got sick and died anyways. The survivors were less healthy than the ones who the wolves had hunted. Survival of the unfittest!?

Our need to own and use more led to catastrophic global declines in Amazonian rainforests and other primary forests. Today Palm Oil is a major contributor to many social and environmental disasters! Yet, we ‘need’ it for perfume, toothpaste, make-up, food and almost everything else we deem important in our lives. We import at will from across the globe, and, as a result, allow pests to reach our shores, fish in the ballast of large ships, Zebra mussels, wood-boring insects in pallets, and spiders and snakes in foodstuffs. Of course, we also feel the urge to own animals as pets which are not part of the landscape, and as we tire of them, we ‘set them free’. Sadly the environment is not ready for them. Snakes, turtles, birds, goldfish, etc., are released by the millions into the environment with devastating consequences.

Returning briefly to our forest fires; if we had better managed our forests in the past, we might avoid some of the fires we see today. As we exterminated fires in the 70s and 80s, we created the very tinder augmenting the fires which burn today. As these dead trees just stood there waiting for a spark to ignite them. Our mono-cultural landscapes, be they pine plantations or soybean fields, lead to pest infestation at magnitudes which cannot be managed.

In the past, we had a patchwork of fields, where crops were isolated from each other and buffers were created so pests couldn’t travel freely between fields. Now, we do the opposite – field after field of the same crop. We even took out the hedgerows to increase our yields, and now animals can’t even use them! But in so doing, a pest, once present, can move easily between fields.

Our cities are ravaged by development, and the scattered trees we have left are reversed. So when a pest, such as the soon to be formerly called Gypsy Moth, enters our landscape, the impacts are devastating, as there aren’t enough trees left to withstand their attacks. And more importantly, our forests are made up of only a few trees species, many of which aren’t even native to North America. Such as the Norway Maple.

So, in essence, although we seem surprised when nature appears to be out to get us, we really are the creators of our own fate. Eurasian Watermilfoil, Killer Bees, Purple Loosestrife, Starry Stonewort, Phragmites, Emerald Ash Borer, and so many more cause us concern. Until we change our ways, this is the wave of the future, sadly!

Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line at LinkedIn and Facebook.

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