Saturday, November 01, 2014

Habitat Restoration--Pragmatic or Sentimental?

Sometimes it seems like all this talk of the Anthropocene is making people think that "old nature" is no longer relevant. Those of us who work to restore habitats are seen as sentimental diehards longing for a past that no longer exists. Similar dismissal of the past occurred in other theaters of endeavor in the 60s and 70s, as beautiful old buildings were boldly displaced by modernist structures that are now viewed with regret, and centrifugal forces pushed jazz into ever more discordant realms. In jazz, I remember the value of the past being rediscovered in the 1980s, led most notably by Wynton Marsalis and his work to reintegrate the styles of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and others into contemporary music. Architecture, too, rediscovered the beauty and wisdom of past eras.

There's an oped in the New York Times today that aims at a similar integration of old and new approaches to conservation. It makes some good points, but I'm still stung by past opeds with an anti-native bias. This one's called How to Mend the Conservation Divide, by Emma Marris and Greg Apletoct. I sent a comment in:

Though this oped is less scornful of the native plant movement than others I've seen in the NY Times, it still refers to "old conservationists" who wish to keep "ecosystems as they were hundreds of years ago". There's a great deal of wisdom in those ecosystems, in the way nature has functioned for millenia, and I find in my work in urban nature preserves that there is a robust growth force that is both old and forever young, and can be nurtured if the ecological imbalances we have imposed are minimized. The positive impact we as humans can have in preserves has much to do with compensating for the distortions we have often unintentionally introduced. A preserve seemingly left alone has in fact been radically altered by removal of predators, introduction of non-native species that wildlife refuse to eat, and even the suppression of natural fires that have historically played such a vital role in the landscape. To compensate, we need to fill the predator gap by culling deer, "browse" the non-native shrubs that the wildlife have not developed a taste for, and in some fire-dependent habitats do prescribed burns. Once these balancing mechanisms are restored, the result is not a museum piece from hundreds of years ago, but a functional, thriving habitat. To intervene in this way is not purist nor sentimental, but instead grows out of long study and observation of how nature works, which in turn prompts pragmatic steps to help it do what it has for so long done so well.  --SKH

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