March Notes 2019

Just read a post  from my favorite prairie blog, The Prairie Ecologist. It was about how letting nature take its course will not help ecosystems. This is something I struggle with in my garden as so many of the plants in my garden are native volunteers. But, so many are also not native and extremely aggressive or invasive and if I didn’t step in to control them they would most likely completely take over and suppress anything else.

Yes, it would be nice to think that if we just left nature alone it would just return to the way it was before we messed it all up. Well it turns out we’ve been messing it up for some thousands of years so getting it back to the way it was just isn’t going to happen. Actually, I’m not too sure we’d want or even need that but it doesn’t matter anyway. What does seem to matter are the ecosystems that support us because apparently if we mess with them too much they could collapse and like the great white whale from Moby Dick, we’d go right down with them.

And actually I don’t think we’ve always been “messing them up” so to speak. I think we’ve played a role in changing them but it hasn’t always been at the cost of damaging them irreparably and many times it has even seemed to strengthen them. An example of that would be what Chris Helzer, the writer of the blog, Prairie Ecologist, is doing to restore prairies in Nebraska. In the process he works with cattle ranchers. As it turns out cattle fill an ecological role similar to that of the historical enormous herds of buffalo. You can read about that here

Indigenous cultures also seem to play a positive role and have a far superior understanding of the systems that surround them mostly because they seem to rely directly on them for their survival. 

I could go on with other examples but the point I’m making here is not everything people do is bad for ecology. Unfortunately, for now, just most of it. Most of us don’t realize we are dependent on ecosystems because we don’t have a direct relationship with them. We live in climate controlled environments, drink water that has been mechanically filtered, eat food we have no part in growing, live in shelters we didn’t build with materials we didn’t harvest. And that kind of thing. Everything is an assembly line. We do a job and send it on its way with no idea or care about what happens next in the process which makes it extremely hard to make connections in nature.

On the other hand, there is evidence that letting things go isn’t always bad for ecology. Studies have been done in vacant urban lots that have found them to have a greater biodiversity than a well maintained residential lot and this happens even when the plant population is mostly non native. This does not surprise me considering the sparseness of the many highly maintained lots near my garden. 

So, it seems we need to re-learn the connections in order to play a positive role in supporting the ecosystems that support us. And as long as we’re around there’s no way we’re going to “let nature take its course” anyway. My dad says he lives by the principle of doctors, “do no harm”. But just existing is doing harm to something so I don’t believe that is a good principle. I believe we need to learn how to be a keystone species like the wolf or the beaver or the Prairie Ecologist or Indigenous cultures. Anyway, just my thoughts for March as we head into spring. Now I have a headache.

Happy Spring!

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