Balance of Nature

“They say that if a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian rain forest, it can change the weather half a world away.”

                ~ Catherine McKenzie 

The natural world maintains its balance through diversity and interconnectedness. There are upsets and cataclysmic changes from time to time, but usually life just goes on. That is until we humans came along. We seem to have a knack for the disruption of nature.

We have wiped out different species of animals, moved rivers, chopped down and burned forests, dug up and burned coal and oil, polluted the air and water, and destroyed natural habitat to build industries and subdivisions.

We try sometimes, but we just never seem to quite get it. We’re fouling our own nests. As the Chiffon Margarine lady used to tell us, “It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature!”.

One of the most important impacts we have had on the environment is the disruption of natural habitats. We sometimes try to repair the damage we do — we plant trees and pick up litter — but much of the damage is irreversible.

Through conscious and unconscious actions, we have upset the natural order. We humans are now the greatest predator on Earth, and we have done our best to eliminate our rivals. Along the way, we have changed the natural dynamics.

Botanist Janet Marinelli observes, “In the absence of predators, for example, populations of herbivores often explode. In the eastern U.S., deer were once kept in check by wolves and mountain lions. Today, booming deer populations are preventing keystone species such as oaks from reproducing and have literally devoured the understory habitat of hooded warblers and other birds.”

Can you feel the breeze from the butterfly wings?

Writer Mary Jo DiLonardo reports on a study proposing the reintroduction of “… just 20 large mammals — 13 herbivore and seven predator species — (that) can help biodiversity bounce back around the world and tackle climate change in the process. Among these candidates for rewilding are brown bears, bison, wild horses, jaguars, reindeer, Eurasian beavers, elk, moose, wolverines, tigers, and hippopotamuses.”

She quotes researcher Christopher Wolf, “We were very concerned about the converging crises in the American West, including extreme droughts and heatwaves, loss of biodiversity, massive wildfires, and water scarcity … We felt these crises could be partially addressed through broad-scale rewilding of wolves and beaver, which can have many important co-benefits.”

Wolf continues, “In the process of building dams, beavers have many important ecological effects such as improving water quality, enhancing riparian (river bank) habitat for plant and animal species and increasing carbon sequestration, which can help mitigate climate change … Likewise, gray wolves have many key ecological benefits. By controlling overabundant native ungulates (mammals with hooves), wolves support a variety of species, including aspen, which is a keystone species that in turn provides critical habitat for many plants and animals.”

Marinelli reports that scientists, “… calculate that rewilding, restoring, and conserving endangered and threatened animals could increase carbon uptake by 1.5 to 3 times or more around the world.”

DiLonardo cautions, “Restoring intact communities of large mammals such as these won’t be easy. Throughout history people have feared large animals, particularly predators, justifying politically expedient measures to minimize their numbers — or even eliminate them altogether.”

We have tried to get rid of buffalo, wolves, beavers and most large cats through harvesting, hunting or habitat destruction. (We hardly ever see wild hippopotamuses in Colorado these days.)

Talk about your butterfly wings!

Maybe now we can start the process of restoring some balance to the natural world. After all, it’s where we live.

Additional information:

Mary Jo DiLonardo, More Wolves, Beavers Could Help Western Lands, August 19, 2022, TreeHugger

Janet Marinelli, Bringing Back the Beasts: Global Rewilding Plans Take Shape, July 5, 2022, Yale Environment360

Steve Tarlton, Rewilding, April 21, 2022, Writes of Nature 

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