Life on the Edge

edge deer in yard 1 (2)No matter how refined we may think ourselves, at some level we are all still wild creatures, made up of the same materials as the mountains, the deserts, the oceans, the distant stars.

~ Gary Kamiya

There’s a war going on in my yard. Clover, dandelions and violets run rampant in the lawn, overgrowing the grass and invading the garden and flower beds. Birds and squirrels ravage the bird feeder and compost pile, and woodpeckers and flickers probe the trees for insects.

My downwind neighbors are unhappy with my mid-summer bloom of dandelion ‘poofs’, so I try to mow frequently to intercept the migrating seeds. The squirrels transplant the flower bulbs into the lawn where I try to mow around the blooms. Garter snakes prowl the garden and are occasionally found in the lawn. Mice live in the stone walls and shrubbery, becoming playthings for the cats. Several kinds of hawks try to take advantage of the birds at the feeder and a couple of owls hung out in the surrounding trees at night. We’ve had bunnies, raccoons, wood rats, foxes, skunks, deer and moose wander through, but the elk have thus far stayed across the street. If coyotes venture in from the nearby hills, they’ve been too silent and stealthy to be noticed.

In my yard, the forces of man are arrayed against the forces of nature, and I’m pleased to admit that we’re losing.

And it’s not just in my garden that this struggle between man and nature occurs.

Scientists have been studying the nature of the edges between where man and nature coexist. According to Diane Toomey, evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen notes, “through fast-paced natural selection, creatures in cities and suburbs are genetically evolving to deal with the omnipresence of humans … To begin with, urban environments are melting pots anyway.” In other words, animals are getting used to us and adapting to our strange ways.

Concern about humanity’s negative effect on nature has driven the movement to protect ‘unspoiled’ nature and also to integrate nature back into our urban and suburban areas. As reported by Richard Conniff, “The idea of making human-dominated landscapes more wildlife-friendly dates back at least to the 1970s, when the anti-lawn movement proselytized for turning backyards into habitat.”

For wild areas, significant publicized effort has gone into establishing protection through access restrictions, use exclusion and restoration of all aspects of natural communities. Reintroducing endangered species and ‘apex’ predators is one attempt to re-balance natural conditions. For example, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and helped to balance the elk herds and other species, resulting in improved timber, grasslands, water quality and species diversity.

In Japan, according to Winifred Bird, the government is trying to restore timber plantations to natural meadows and diverse mixed forests in order to ‘rewild’ the nearly extinct Golden eagles. She notes, “The motivation is partly environmental — to preserve biodiversity, protect water resources, and provide recreation — and partly practical.” “In remote areas it takes a lot of labor to harvest timber, and it’s hard to make a profit,” says Toshio Uno, a principal planning officer in the Forestry Agency’s private forest department. “Our general policy is to restore those areas to natural forest.”

Restoration of natural conditions has become more commonplace, and continues. We have finally figured out that in order to preserve natural species, we need to preserve the habitat that supports them. Popular restoration targets are both abandoned and active railroad rights-of-way, gas and electric transmission line rights-of-way, roadside margins, watersheds, and corridors connecting national parks, wildlife refuges and other protected areas. (Until recently, mining and oil & gas operations were required to restore their sites to pre-use conditions. The current administration seems less supportive of these requirements.)

So it’s happening pretty much everywhere, and it really is good for us. We each rely on clean air and water and the biodiversity that ameliorates the impacts of natural climate cycles of temperatures, drought, floods and storms. Emma Marris sees humanity as a part of nature, writing,

Everybody lives near nature. Every kid lives near nature. We’ve just somehow forgotten how to see it. We’ve spent too much time watching David Attenborough documentaries where the nature is really sexy —”

Re-wild yourself. Get out there in your yard or nearby green area and soak it up. Revel in the wild, even if it’s only ‘poofing’ a dandelion. After all, it’s in your nature.

Additional Information:

Winifred Bird, For Japan’s Eagles, Hope Lies in ‘Rewilding’ Long-Tamed Forests, June 12, 2017, YaleEnvironment360

Richard Conniff , Habitat on the Edges: Making Room for Wildlife in an Urbanized World, January 3, 2018, YaleEnvironment360

Gary Kamiya, Wilderness Is Closer Than You Think, April 14 2017, Sierra Magazine

Emma Marris: Nature is Everywhere, Ted Talks, 07/13/16

Diane Toomey • Urban Darwinism: How Species Are Evolving to Survive in Cities, April 5, 2018, YaleEnvironment360

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