Friday, February 3, 2012

Listening for the first red-wings, Looking for the first buttercups

It's early February already, although you wouldn't know it from the lack of snow.

Up on Cricket Flats, it's time to start listening for the return of the first red-wing blackbirds on the ponds. This week-end I'll start checking the rocky southwest-facing corner where the first buttercups appear. Soon the spring calendar of flowers and migratory birds will unroll. It's my favorite time of year, welcoming back these old friends who come to visit the breaks.

In town, I'll be more prosaically watching for the first dandelion to bloom in the orchard.
In the years to come I will be doing my best to encourage wilder flowers to bloom.

In both places I watch finches return to the bird feeders and listen to the bright songs of chickadees. In both places, I worry about the lack of snow and wonder how best to foster and encourage nativ
e plants and wildlife. In both places, I look to science to help me understand more about how everything is connected, how changes ripple through the ecosystem.

I've been reading about some of the research that's being done on the impacts of climate disruption - several studies now show that elk and deer are browsing at higher elevations with the reduction in snow pack, especially browsing down vegetation long streams and creeks. In the spring, this means there is less cover along the streams for migrating songbirds, to hide, feed and nest, so songbird numbers are plummeting in these areas. Oh for a wolf pack to keep the elk and deer moving! More and more studies by a range of researchers show the long term beneficial effects of the presence of top carnivores, especially wolves and cougar, on keeping the herbivores from grazing down the streamside plants. Songbirds need wolves...

Writers such as Henry David Thoreau and John Muir have spoken eloquently of how everything in nature is truly connected to everything else - a web of relationships. Break a strand, and the web is more vulnerable, shredding and unraveling along that break. Poets tell us of the heart of that, but scientific research can tell us how the strands are connected, and which strands we are missing. We are just beginning to understand how complex and interconnected nature is, and how inextricably our welfare is wrapped up in the integrity of this web. Whether it is understanding more about how mycorrhizal soil life affects fruit tree production or how climate disruption and lack of top predators affects songbird populations, the information we gather can help direct our choices for the integrity of the web, and, consequently, our own well-being.

Part of what I respect so much about the work HCPC does is that it is directed by what science can now tell us. Whether it is protecting key fishbearing streams from damage or protecting key elk calving grounds from disruption; speaking out for the return of native species including wolves and wolverines, bighorn and bull trout; challenging the lack of analysis in categorical exclusions and travel planning; HCPC works with the best scientific research available.

HCPC's mission is simple at it's heart - protect, preserve, and restore - but the issues we tackle are complex. HCPC brings scientific knowledge and understanding to these issues, promoting more informed choices.

So here's to the turning of the year, the very beginning of spring, and another year protecting, preserving and restoring this place I call home.

- Danae Yurgel







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