Sunday, June 29, 2014

Positive Community Choices: Local Ecology


Humanity and its cultivated nature also known as culture, will determine the fate of millions of species of plants, animals, insects and other organisms including its own. Throughout the history of the Earth there has been 5 previous "Mass Extinctions" in which 3 quarters of the planet's species became extinct. The cause of these past 5 have been connected to extraterrestrial events such as astroids striking the Earth's surface drastically changing the  environment quicker than most species could adapt to. The natural extinction rate is less than 2 species per 1 million years. Due to human behavior, our current extinction rate of species is conservatively 3-80 times higher than the natural rate, not counting the large quantity of threatened species according to a recent study lead by paleobiologist Anthony Barnosky of Berkeley California. Within 300 years, 3 quarters of the planets animals could be extinct, marking the 6th mass extinction, and the 1st caused by the cultures we've invested in.  Habitat destruction, competition from human introduced non-native species, anthropogenic climate change, amongst other threats are at the heart of this looming reality.

The great news is that culture is a choice. The choices we make as individuals reflect our personal culture, and the choices our micro and macro communities make, reflect our society's dominant cultures.  While it is unfortunate that our overall current trajectory is self-destructive socially, and ecologically as it is based on unsustainable ideals, we today, have a monumental opportunity for meaningful positive change in our local and global communities.

This blog series will focus on what you can do positively in a community pertaining to a specific topic of interest. First topic up is Local Ecology, focusing on rehabilitating our local ecosystem using native plants.

Communities of native plants have been fragmented and their structure mutated through the processes of terminating fire cycles, removing keystone species (Bison, Wolves), agricultural-residential-commerical development, amongst other human born detriments. To the right is a picture of a man-created and maintained native prairie community at Caesar Creek State Park. We've chosen to instead of managing these acres as ecologically unproductive and economically inefficient lawn, manage these acres as a native prairie community which is maintained by burning every 2-3 years. This community has evolutionary connections with the local insects and higher life forms that depend on the insects and native plants. If you were to walk this prairie in midsummer you can see these connections expressed in the busy buzzing of pollinators, hunting of airborne and grass hidden predators, and occasional grazing of white tail deer. Nature isn't the only winner in this choice, economically it is much more efficient to manage this land by annual mowing and burning ever 2-3 years than to have to mow a field of turf grass 20-25 times each year which saves the park labor and resource costs. Society also benefits from the aesthetic awe the prairie gives naturally inviting wildlife enthusiasts, botanists, biologists, ecologists, photographers, birders, and curious children to explore this community using the trails maintained by the State Park. This is a positive win-win choice for ecology, economics, and even social health in a way given its' inherit recreational properties.

At the top of the Gorge Trail at Caesar Creek State park sits what is known as a glacial till plain above a deep gorge. The well drained areas of this till plain features a nicely maturing second growth mixed mesophytic forest that has been managed for invasive plant removal. In the 1900's Lonicera maackii also known as Honeysuckle, was introduced for horticultural and functional purposes. Since our local ecosystem had no recent evolutionary  connection with this plant, and the nature of this plant just so happen to be able to dominate our fragmented ecosystems, honeysuckle has walled almost every wooded edge, open land, and unmaintained forest since then. The negative ecological effect may be immeasurable as all the plant offers to our unadapted local food web is a bloom period in the spring and sugary berries that are low in lipids to birds in the fall. Our native birds require berries that are high in lipids like that of our native Spicebush to build up fat reserves in the fall, to survive the winter. All while the bloom period is briefly utilized by a few species of native pollinators in the spring, the plants that bloom at other times of the year are non-existant where the honeysuckle dominates further degrading the food web.

Here at Caesar Creek State Park, volunteers and park workers are clearing more and more invasive honeysuckle from the forest each year and maintaining that of which they've already cleared. The result is the restoration and preservation of a lush herbaceous layer that wouldn't exist in the presence of honeysuckle, and a well stratified mid story of viburnums, eastern redbud, and flowering dogwood. This is one of the most popular trails in the park, in part due to the aesthetic of a healthy, open, forest complemented by interesting topography. Volunteers and park administration have made a cultural choice here to protect and restore nature for the better of ecology and it's admirers.

Pictured to the right, is myself, teaching children volunteering at a non-profit's community garden by the name of Happen Inc. Happen Inc has partnered with the Taking Root in my Community team, one team of the Taking Root Campaign. The Taking Root Campaign is a metropolitan wide campaign with 4 main goals; to plant 2 million trees by 2020, to promote the many benefits of healthy trees, to foster a sense of stewardship in individuals and communities, and to better manage our existing forests.

Taking Root in my Community is creating an empowering community based program that provides the educational and organizational support for any part of a community to grow trees, plant trees, and protect trees successfully where they chose to. Happen Inc has been selected as the pilot project for this year, and has produced over 100 tree saplings from the acorns planted and pots loaded by the children pictured above, and below after germinaton. Involving children, community members, local businesses, non-profits
churches and other groups in the seed collection, tree growing, and tree planting process offers opportunities to build connection between humanity and nature. If you've ever nurtured any kind of plant from seed, and planted it somewhere where you could watch it grow, you can start to understand the potential connections made between community members completely engaged in all facets of this growing program, and the trees that they nurture. The cultivation of the plant, in return, cultivates the person. Community members now have the opportunity to impact the natural environment of their community in a positive manner that is economically efficient creating a win-win for nature and humanity.

The choices we make as individuals, as cities, as states, and as countries express the current state of our culture. Culture is not out of any of our hands, or completely within the control of any one person. Through dedication, innovation, and collaboration we can work together to nurture our local cultures across the globe in a manner that nurtures ecological and social health. The interdependency of our ability to thrive as a species long-term is manifested in ecological and social health. Each of these cultural realities of course effect the current economic outlook. Starting as individuals and continuing into collaboration, if we could be deliberate in our nurturing of new standards of health, ecologically and socially, communities today can change cities tomorrow. A Thomas Edison quote may be fitting; "If we all did the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves". We're capable of putting the cultures of our communities on a positive trajectory. You're capable of helping to put your communities cultures on a positive trajectory. Let's make positive, deliberate choices that promote the health and sustainability of our communities ecologically and socially today.



External Related Links

Happen Inc.-   Website     Facebook

Caesar Creek State Park-   Website    Facebook

Taking Root Campaign-   Website     Facebook

Taking Root In My Community-    Facebook

Earth's 6th Mass Extinction Article