The Case For Passive Restoration

Nature must  make the decisions for her own welfare.

 

In the course of doing research for my blog posts and book writing, I recently I came across a term that deeply resonated with me. “Passive Restoration”. It resonated so deeply that I wanted to share it with my readers and followers.

I often get frustrated with those who oversee our public lands. They DynamicTension-7are always trying to “manage” something in the ecosystems that they oversee. We read about things like controlling invasive species and establishing hunting quotas as if these people had done some precise calculation in order to take a certain action or to establish the limits they impose on the public.

It is all poppycock !!! These guys have no way of effectively determining limits because science has taught us that we cannot predict what Nature will do. Our public servants are living in a world of fantasy.

Connections-002It is more accurate, perhaps, to describe the role of regulators in the US Park Service, the Forestry Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management as responding to those who scream the loudest. Usually, those big noisemakers are the farmers and ranchers who are skilled at packing public hearings and raising all sorts of flack to distract our stewards of Nature from their purpose of protecting the ecosystems that they hold in public trust. Lets face it, farmers and ranchers want to use our public lands for grazing and many don’t want to lift a finger to provide non-lethal predator control to protect their livestock. 

Passive restoration is an idea that would certainly trigger a huge Connections-009outcry from our farmers and ranchers. But, it is a great idea for preserving our ecosystems where Nature is allowed to make the decisions for her own welfare. Our public servants won’t have to guess about the right decisions anymore.

In basic terms, passive restoration means “Let Nature take her own course“. A more formal description is: “Passive restoration means simply allowing natural succession to occur in an ecosystem.” The recovery of the deciduous forests in the eastern United States after the abandonment of agriculture is a classic example of passive restoration.  So is the wolf story at Yellowstone National Park.

eBook-1-8Recently, I wrote a blog post entitled “Wolves, Cougars, and Rivers which featured a great video entitled “Lords of Nature. The blog post and the video emphasize the great predators and how things changed after the Gray Wolf was reintroduced and allowed to multiply and roam on its own, without human interference, in Yellowstone National Park.

High Country News has offered an article that interviewed Oregon State University ecologist Bill Ripple who collected data on the wolf reintroduction project. It was this interview where I resonated with the idea of passive restoration.

As wolves reduced the size of the elk herd in the Yellowstone ecosystem, chokecherry, serviceberry and huckleberry flora began to rebound and flourish in a long-term phase of “passive restoration,” Ripple said. In time, and as other food sources declined, berry production might become more and more important as a source of nutrition in the grizzly bears’ diet. It’s humbling, Ripple added, to realize that the cascading effects of wildlife management, or mismanagement, roll in both directions. If too many wolves are killed, the consequences could affect many other species.”

But if we let passive restoration run its course, we might just see some remarkable things happen,” said Ripple. The riparian environment could once again become vibrant nurseries for birds, beaver, and a number of smaller critters.  If you kill too many wolves in Yellowstone, however, their population could drop below the threshold essential to maintaining a vigorous and resilient ecosystem. If that happens, we might as well paint over the petroglyphs, cage the animals, pave the parks, dam the last free-flowing rivers, turn the last old-growth forests into toothpicks and stop pretending that we cherish the wild.

There is a lot to be said for we humans just backing off and letting Nature do her thing. Instead of trying to control Nature, we need to focus on controlling ourselves. What do you think?

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

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Celebrating The Return Of The Birds

Today I want to spread some joy. I am on a big high !!! I’m jumping with excitement.

I live close to an important estuary in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. This mangrove EsteroSoldado-9580lagoon is called El Estero del Soldado (The Soldier’s Estuary). It connects with the Sea of Cortez. Like other lagoons along the northwestern coastline of Mexico, this estuary is a “nursery of the sea”. It is the birthplace for many creatures that live in the Sea of Cortez.  It is also part of an important flyway for birds that migrate from the United States each winter.

Today I spent some real quality time at this beautiful lagoon as I greeted the seasonal arrival of many migrating birds. I said “welcome” to a group of White Pelicans who came down from the USA for an extended visit. Likewise, my enthusiastic “hellos” rang out to the egrets, terns, ibis, and spoonbills who had just arrived. What a joyous celebration as these creatures came down to spend the winter months with us. Their arrival celebrates the wonder of connections in Nature. In visiting us, they are a testament to how everything in Nature is connected to everything else.

EsteroSoldado-4454My heart is also joyous because the arrival of these birds celebrates humanity’s conservation of this lagoon. We did not always have cause to celebrate. And there are still forces of ignorance plaguing the scene. Years ago, our government wanted to destroy the lagoon and turn it into a marina. Responsible people in the community and from the local university ultimately joined with World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International to create a wildlife preserve. More recent efforts have been forthcoming to turn the lagoon into a national park. There are still dark forces present in the State of Sonora government who want to see this treasure become an income producing recreational park. But, thanks to strong local community support, there is great resistance. Part of my joy comes from seeing the local community join together to stop the state government from proceeding with their uninformed folly. And with this, a group of local scientists are now part of an expert team who is forming a management plan that will result in conservation regulations that will have the force of law behind them.

We read a lot about the great struggles in the USA to preserve the protected status of the wolf – a critically EsteroSoldado-8181important top predator. Poorly informed government officials, emotional and greedy opposition from ranchers, and lots of dirty politics have produced a real ecological mess. It is very refreshing for me to see the community and the academics from a small Mexican city step forth to preserve an ecologically important lagoon that is vital to the health of the Sea of Cortez. I am very proud to know these people and to be part of their effort.

Worth Your Extra Attention :

The following is a section in the free guidebook which the State of Sonora offers to all visitors to El Estero del Soldado

What Is An Estuary?

EcologiocalGuideCoverEl Estero del Soldado (The Soldier’s Estuary) is a very important body of water.  The Sea of Cortez depends upon this estuary, and others, to maintain a resilient body of life.  For this reason, there has been a strong effort by ecologists and the Mexican Government to protect this estuary as a nature preserve. Here, we describe why El Estero del Soldado is such an important place and why we ask you to help us protect this ecological treasure.

Estuaries are distinct and irreplaceable coastal bodies of water where nutrients from sediments, saltwater from the ocean, and sometimes freshwater from rivers are mixed by daily tides to create dynamic, diverse, and highly productive ecosystems . This regular tidal flushing within the estuary also moves nutrients and organic materials out to sea, thereby increasing the productivity of the Sea of Cortez.

These unique conditions of mixing nutrients create and attract an enormous amount of plant and animal life. Estuarine environments are among the most productive on earth, creating more organic matter each year than comparably sized areas of forest, grassland, or agricultural land. Estuaries are the most productive water bodies in the world.

Many of the fish, shrimp, and lobsters that we find in the Sea of Cortez were born and reared in estuaries such as El Estero del Soldado.  Estuaries are places where fish, birds and animals of all sorts congregate to feed, find refuge, grow to adulthood, and stage migrations.  Bird life, both local and migratory, depend completely upon estuaries for both their food and their habitat.

Estuaries have been called the “nurseries of the sea” because they provide sheltered habitat and food for larval and juvenile forms of marine fish and shellfish. In these protected environments, young fish can quickly grow and gradually become accustomed to salt water.  These creatures, in turn, provide food for other levels of the food chain including shore birds, waterfowl, larger fish and migrating birds. Many seafood species such as lobster, crab, oyster, and clam rely on the rich food supply of estuaries during some part of their life cycle

The most commonly seen wildlife in an estuary setting are birds. An estuary is an essential life support system for migratory birds, allowing them to rest with ample shelter and protection from predators. An estuary is also an optimal place for birds to find fish. For that reason, many birds like to build their nests in an estuary.

El Estero del Soldado is a special kind of estuary because it contains mangroves. A mangrove is a specialized marine ecosystem consisting of a group of mangrove plants growing in muddy, loose and wet soils. Mangroves are highly productive but extremely sensitive and fragile.

Mangroves provide shelter to many kinds of birds and marine life. The roots of the mangrove trees grow in and out of the water, making a forest of roots where the marine animals can hide. The leaves and stems from the mangrove trees fall into the water, becoming detritus for small marine creatures to eat, forming the base of the food web. The insects, small fish, shellfish, and especially juvenile fish that feed on detritus from the mangrove plants become the food for the animals higher up in the food chain, like larger fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds.

Mangroves are the nesting grounds for countless creatures including juvenile fish, invertebrates, and many water birds such as the great white heron, reddish egrets, and roseate spoonbills. Mangroves are also recharge underground water supplies by collecting rainwater and slowly releasing it.

The most obvious creatures you will see when you visit El Estero del Soldado are the birds. Birds are a prominent part of most mangrove forests and they are often present in large numbers. One of our most easily recognized estuary residents at El Estero del Soldado is the Great Blue Heron. This long legged slender necked bird is a year round resident.  Herons require the expansive foraging habitat found in El Estero del Soldado. Fish, amphibians, insects, bird, and small mammals all form part of their diet. They also need large undisturbed mature treed areas, such as the mangrove tree, within easy flying distance of feeding areas for nesting. Threats to these birds are eagle predation, human disturbance, and loss of foraging sites.

Estuaries are among some of the Mexico’s important national natural treasures. The important  role they play in the ecological health of the Sea of Cortez needs to be protected.  The most prominent hazard to this health is mankind. Population overload, pollution, deforestation, construction, over-farming, and over-fishing are just some of the types of damage that is sustained in estuaries around the world. The estuaries south of El Estero del Soldado suffer from chemical pollution due to agricultural runoff.

The health of El Estero del Soldado has been threatened by a proposed marina, other commercial development, and destructive human activities. Fortunately, pressure from various groups has resulted in this estuary becoming a protected reserve. Development is now less of a threat. The task at hand is to prevent ecological damage due to human activities such as the collection of fish and invertebrates, the use of motorized vehicles such as ATVs, and the introduction of dogs. The taking of fish and invertebrates upsets the estuary’s delicate food chain. The many birds in El Estero del Soldado see domestic pets and ATVs as natural predators.

As you enjoy the ecological treasures within El Estero Soldado, please help enhance its health by respecting the creatures who call this body of water their home.

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The Wolf and The Elk

I rarely cry at movies. But, when the callous Army troops shot “Two Socks”, the wolf who befriended Lt. Dunbar in Kevin Costner’s Academy Award film “Dances With Wolves”, my throat choked up and I cried. Likewise, when a native Alaskan told me how renegade hunters trespassed on her property and killed an aged wolf who had befriended her dog pups, I really got emotional.

MexWolfOrg_3So, I confess to a strong emotional attachment to the wolf and its plight. For me, the wolf symbolizes mankind’s destructive ways as we humans attempt to control Nature. The wolf represents man’s ignorance and lack of consciousness about important connections in Nature.

Recently, I posted a blog  concerning the killing of Elk by the USFWS at the Bosque del Apache migrating bird sanctuary near Socorro, New Mexico.  Shortly after I published this blog, I was able to visit the sanctuary where I had a wonderful talk with some of the staff.

An important point made by a staff member in a subsequent email is that, had the wolf population not been decimated by man, elk would probably not have stayed in the Rio Grande River floodplain year-around due to wolf predation. This person went on to suggest that the elk population in Yellowstone National Park is in balance because of predation by the protected local wolf population.  In short, it seems that the shooting of elk at Bosque del Apache would not be necessary had mankind not tampered with the wolf population in the first place.

This means that by destroying the wolf population, we humans permit the elk population to grow unchecked. This is apparently the case at Bosque del Apache. Everything is connected. Like the coyote, the wolf is an important keystone predator who serves to keep animal populations, like elk and deer, in check. When, through hunting and so-called “wildlife management” by government agencies, the deer and elk populations were reduced, the wolf turned to domestic animals to survive. In turn, mankind has brought the wolf population close to extinction.

The wolf/elk connection is a powerful example of the importance of Nature’s interconnections. In the case of Bosque del Apache,  mankind kills the elk with bullets instead of restoring the wolf population.

WolfElk-8690At the suggestion of the Bosque del Apache staff, I took the time to further explore the relationship between the wolf and the elk. One study reveals that about 75% of the wolf’s diet is elk, 11% of its diet is small mammals, 10% is deer, and only 4% is livestock. With only 4% of the wolf’s predatory diet being domestic livestock, one must wonder why the US government has been so strongly responsive to the arguments of the farmers and ranchers ( who wish to see the extinction of the wolf ) and so reluctant to proceed with strong protection of the wolf in a wider geographic area.

The relationship between Nature and mankind is often defined by the agricultural industry and their powerful influence on government agencies like BLM, the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. A cursory search of the Internet reveals the very loud voice of agriculture calling for the destruction of the wolf. The current fury concerns the protection of the Gray Wolf and the Mexican Gray Wolf. These populations have been decimated by the agriculture industry with full support from our government agencies who are supposed to be stewards of Nature. The rise in the elk population is a strong testament to the fact that our stewards of Nature are either ignorant of or choose to ignore Nature’s connections.

The sad part about all of this is that there are non-lethal ways for the agricultural industry to minimize or prevent predation of their livestock.  Big dogs, llamas and predator fences are viable ways to cut livestock losses and negate the practice of killing wolves and their cubs. Take a look at this web site  which explains why one local government body has now stopped working with the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services (USDAWS) predator control program. This web page portrays a collaborative effort involving local wildlife protection organizations,  ranchers, scientists, and local government officials.

There has been lots of public controversy over the practices of the USDAWS.  According to this source, “USDA Wildlife Services is the only federal program that kills native predators at the request of ranchers and state wildlife management agencies. Changing the barbaric, indiscriminate and wasteful predator control methods used by Wildlife Services is a primary focus of our legislative work.” Much of this outcry has come from the efforts of Pulitzer Prize Journalist Tom Knudson’s expose in the Sacramento Bee .

Humanity’s destructive response to our wolf population and the subsequent increase in the elk population is a story WolfElk-8705of insensitivity and a lack of consciousness regarding connections in Nature. In this case, man destroyed a vital natural connection, the wolf, by using a short term, and short sighted solution – killing the predator. A keystone species was brought to near extinction by mankind without any regard for how the  balance within an ecosystem might be affected. The USFWS at Bosque del Apache is now in the position of a one-armed paper hanger trying to juggle the consequences of past actions. But, instead of the USFWS killing the elk, there are good ecological choices that can be made. Some of these choices involve going back to what caused the problem in the first place – mankind’s killing of a keystone species, the wolf.

It is my view that a solution lies through a cooperative effort between three groups:

The tools for creating a non-lethal solution and the ultimate recovery of the wolf population are:

  • The installation of non-lethal predator control technology such as fladry (flagged) fences, large dogs, and llama. 
  • Conservation through education of the ranchers and farmers. Provide information on the benefits of a healthy ecosystem and the use of non-lethal predator control methods.
  • Financial compensation of the farmers and ranchers for livestock losses while the wolf reintroduction program is being put in place.

fladryfencingMuch of the work can be accomplished with the guidance of the USFWS with the actual work performed by the volunteer groups. This video portrays such a program taking place in the White Mountains of Arizona where there are:

” … volunteer efforts to manage the reintroduction of the Mexican Gray Wolf. The video summarizes the recent history of the wolf, its relationship to the human population, the wolf’s effect on the Rocky Mountain Elk and sheep and the practice of fladry fencing. Included are interviews with volunteers stating their purpose and perspectives as well as an interview with a representative from the Arizona Game and Fish.

Read more:

Here are some web sites that offer more information non-lethal predator control:

Ways to Prevent Wolves From Killing Livestock  .
This web site makes an interesting point. “The use of lethal force to control wolf populations should be a last resort. If an alpha pair learns to avoid fences and steer clear of the sheep population, they will pass this lesson down for generations. However, if you kill them, new wolves will have to learn themselves, which can cause unnecessary wolf and livestock death.”

Fladry at the Wood River Wolf Project – July 2012
Controlling Predation on Goats – Some Ideas

Alternative Methods Of Predator Control 

Here is some more information on the Mexican gray wolf provided by the USFWS

“The Mexican wolf is the smallest, southern-most occurring, rarest, and most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America. Once common throughout portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, Mexican wolf populations were all but eliminated from the United States and Mexico by the 1970s as a result of increasing conflicts with livestock operations and other human activities. The Mexican wolf, a subspecies of gray wolf, was listed as endangered in 1976, and the following year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated efforts to conserve the Mexican wolf. A captive breeding program was established to save the species from absolute extinction and to provide animals for future reintroduction to the wild. The Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan was approved by the Service 1982, and in March 1998, Mexican wolves were released to the wild for the first time in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. Missing from the landscape for more than 30 years, the howl of the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), can once again be heard in the mountains of the southwestern United States. The Southwest Region of the Service invites you to join us on the historic journey of Mexican wolf recovery. Our Mexican Wolf Recovery Program website provides detailed information on all aspects of the program. Please contact us with any questions, ideas, or concerns you have about Mexican wolf recovery. The Service would like to recognize and thank our Federal, State, and Tribal partners, as well as every member of the public who contributes time, energy, and information to the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. “

Please note that the images of wolves and fences were produced by authors of the web sites noted above. The elk pictures are mine.

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Thanks for reading this blog post. The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers. You are encouraged to offer your comments in the space provided below.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive twice-monthly announcements of new blogs that I post. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

The Government Is Killing The Elk At Bosque del Apache

One of my favorite places to visit is the marvelous migratory bird sanctuary and Nature preserve at BookGallery-187Bosque del Apache near San Antonio, New Mexico.  A two hour drive south of Albuquerque on route 25, Bosque del Apache is operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). I’ve written a previous blog about this wonderful place which emphasizes connections in Nature .

Every autumn, huge flocks of migrating birds (including Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, and various duck species) visit the area to fatten up during their migratory journeys. It is an awesome sight to see thousands of birds move to and from their nocturnal roosting areas to fields where they feed on corn and other grains purposely grown for their benefit.

Every November, the sanctuary sponsors a week-long festival that includes many expert presentations about bird biology and the ecology of the area. There is also a wonderful photography workshop that goes on most of the week. I have been impressed by the quality of the USFWS and volunteer staff both during the festival and throughout the year. These folks are true stewards of Nature.

Dynamic_Tension-020Nonetheless, when one looks closely at the history of mankind’s influence on the Rio Grande River, the layout of the preserve, and the farm operations that grow feed for the birds, one realizes that the entire operation is not something that happened naturally. Indeed, the entire layout is engineered by the USFWS. This government agency is quick to let everyone know that all of this is for the benefit of the birds. I’ve been told that the preserve is a reconstruction of an ancient flyway because mankind did much ecological damage in the diversion and damming of the Rio Grande River.

The extent of the “engineering” includes the cutting of ponds, the clearing of ponds, and the filling of ponds with water pumped from the nearby Rio Grande River. There is also a complete farming operation to grow food for the birds. The farming includes the regular knocking down of corn crop rows to provide access of the corn to the birds. The entire operation is not Nature’s creation at all. It is the creation of the USFWS. The Albuquerque Journal says “Treasure for sure, but natural?”. The newspaper also also comments “… the ‘natural’ effects visitors see are the result of intense human management”. Aldo Leopold described this as “recreational engineering”.

When all of this hit me, it was like someone telling me, as a kid, that Santa Claus is a human invention BosqueDelApache-20and never really existed. Nevertheless, I reluctantly accepted all of this because the USFWS told us that it was for the benefit of the birds. I bought the idea because I implicitly assumed that the birds would not survive without Bosque del Apache. Besides, I absolutely love the place !!! However, I am a skeptic because I know that no one can predict Nature.

The rest of the story came clear to me recently when I read about the USFWS shooting some of the elk who managed to wander onto the preserve and proceeded to eat part of the crop grown for the birds. Using a typical government agency’s posterior protection mode, the USFWS issued a public notice. Public comment was solicited with a very short deadline of only three weeks after the publication date of the public notice . And then, of course, the killing proceeded  with all sorts of commentary by USFWS personnel about careful calculations about which elk the USFWS would kill.. The public notice says ” The United States Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed new measures to reduce a population of elk at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The elk population on the Refuge is currently compromising the Refuge’s ability to produce the grain crops used to support wintering sandhill crane and emergency short-term strategies are needed to reduce the population.”

DynamicTension-3846I read about all of this too late for any comment. But the whole idea of some group trying to “manage” Nature was/is totally foreign to my way of thinking because it has been shown over the past 30+ years that the outcome of any process within a complex system (an ecosystem is a complex system) cannot be predicted. It was clear to me that the USFWS employees, despite good intentions, had not gotten the word. They had not been trained in the field of system science even though ecosystems can be best understood using the well published tenets of system science. I tend to be quite forgiving on this point, however, because system scientists speak a language that is totally foreign to a naturalist. It is very sad that Western science is so compartmentalized there is no sharing of useful knowledge. In this case, the USFWS knowing something about complex systems would have provided the important perspective of how and why everything in Nature is connected. At least, I thought so.

I was intrigued by a dialog between the preserve manager and an Albuquerque news reporter. The subject was some of the preserve’s dried up ponds caused by the current drought. The reporter, concerned about the dry ponds, wrote that the manager “responded with a wildlife manager’s equanimity: ‘Healthy wetlands are fluctuating wetlands. Drought is a natural occurrence. Our landscape evolved with drought’ “. I was struck by the fact that the preserve manager’s “equanimity” or logic was not applied to the elk who are more of a  “natural occurrence” than the man made ponds.  But yet they are being killed.  And with the elk incident, it is clear that the USFWS manager does not understand that humanity cannot control Nature even though they’ve done a fine job “engineering” the preserve ponds and farms to date.

With all of this, two questions came to mind. The first question is: “Instead of killing elk, why not just BosqueDelApache-3881plant more corn or call upon the local farmers to supply more corn?”. After all, it is the local farmers who are also benefiting with the preserve’s presence (see below)  I find it an important question because I personally abhor the killing of wildlife as a government “management practice”. I’ve written about this previously when the USFWS proposed killing cormorants who were eating wild salmon and causing problems with the wild salmon fishery.

To add to the issue of killing elk, the good folks at Bosque del Apache admit to facing another similar ecological issue in the future. The so called excessive population of Snow Geese at the preserve. What will their solution be with respect to the Snow Geese ?

My second question is much deeper. “What would happen to the birds if the preserve simply closed its doors and ceased to operate?” Do the birds really need the preserve? Up until recently, I was under the impression that the birds really needed this sanctuary to survive because of the damming and diversion that mankind had done to the Rio Grande River years ago.

But, I then read the recent public notice carefully: “depredation to the refuges croplands causes cranes to forage outside refuge lands, causing depredation to neighboring landowners crops resulting in economic harm to the Middle Rio Grande Valley”. With this and similar comments in the public notice, the USFWS provides the true reason for the existence of Bosque del Apache and some other preserves around the country. The beneficiary from all of this is the farmer. By diverting the Sandhill Cranes and other birds to preserves, the birds won’t eat the farmer’s crops. Within the preserve, the birds are spared death by way of a farmer’s shotgun. The public notice goes on to comment about elk eating agricultural crops as well. The USFWS talks about killing elk because they are “nuisance animals”.

eBook-61The USFWS describes all of this as “Providing food, water, shelter, and space for wildlife is accomplished by combining management techniques”. Aside from my strong objection to killing wildlife as a “management technique”, I’m OK with the USFWS providing preserves if there were some real truth to the idea that they can manage Nature. The fact is, they can’t. For about 50 years, the scientific discipline called “complexity science” has shown that the behavior of complex systems is not predictable by mankind. The weather is considered a complex system. We all know that local weather cannot be predicted much farther in advance than about a week. We also know intuitively that the stock market and the economy, both complex systems, are not predictable despite what stock brokers and economists might tell you. Ecosystems are also complex systems. Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, and Elk all live within ecosystems. Indeed, the life history of each species is an ecosystem within a larger ecosystem.

Despite what the good people at the USFWS might hope, they cannot predict what will happen to the Bosque del Apache ecosystem that they created. The very problem they are now having with Elk proves the point. So does the pending problem with Snow Geese. The USFWS are smart people and they are good, well intentioned people. But, they lack the training in complex systems to understand the problem. They have no way of predicting what will happen when they kill some elk – even though they think they do.

But, we can’t really blame the USFWS staff. The problem is that the field of complexity science speaks a language that is foreign to biologists and ecologists. This large knowledge base can be of great benefit to those naturalists who labor to preserve ecosystems throughout the world. The important principles of complex systems have not been communicated to the USFWS and to many other stewards of Nature. Consequently, the important and useful principles of complex systems science have not been communicated and applied to the field of ecology. There are eight characteristics of complex systems (ecosystems) that I have summarized with the hope that stewards of Nature and naturalists in all fields will begin to give these ideas some thought.

  1. Everything in Nature is connected and interrelated.
  2. Nature is a series of interconnected, hierarchal complex systems. We call them ecosystems.
  3. Energy flows within Nature’s systems through a series of special networks.
  4. Nature’s systems are both chaotic and ordered.
  5. Much of Nature’s systems are self organizing where there are no leaders.
  6. The activities of Nature’s systems are emergent where the whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
  7. Much of Nature’s forms and processes are self similar – appearing similar at different levels of magnification.
  8. Small changes within Nature’s systems can produce huge and widespread unpredictable effects.

The corollaries to these eight traits are:

  1. Nature’s systems cannot be reproduced by man.
  2. Nature’s systems lack predictability by mankind.

I note that the eighth trait and the second corollary states that the manager at Bosque del Apache has no way of predicting the effect, good or bad, of killing Elk or Snow Geese.

The Elk story at Bosque del Apache is a repeat of many stories like this on a worldwide basis. The important and useful principles of complex systems science have not been communicated and applied to the field of ecology. Given the limited knowledge that Nature’s stewards possess and given the limited college and university complexity science training provided in natural science curricula, it is no wonder that there is a lack of understanding about how life is interconnected within ecosystems. Their solution is to kill (they call it “manage”) wildlife without being able to define the outcome. The more difficult, but perhaps lasting, solution is for humanity to understand and work with Nature rather than trying to “manage” Nature..

What do you think ?

Worth Your Extra Attention : A New Book On Complexity And Ecosystems

I am in the process of writing a book that describes, in the language of the naturalist, the characteristics of ecosystems using principles set forth by the field of complexity science. These characteristics can be used by the naturalist as guiding principles when pondering an ecological issue and making important ecological decisions. The core of the book describes in detail each of the eight traits of Nature’s systems and their corollaries that I’ve listed in this post.

I hope to publish the book by the end of 2013. As I write this book, I’m hoping to build a dialog with people from both the fields of complex system science and ecology. The purpose for this dialog is to gather responses to my ideas and to improve upon how I describe things. Given the current trends by many “natural resource managers” (a misnomer because one cannot “manage” Nature), I expect the topic to be controversial. But, at the same time, I see great opportunity to educate those naturalists who are working hard to preserve Nature. With a strong working group, it is possible to formulate an ongoing series of person-to-person dialogs with government and non-government groups as well as interested individuals. It is also possible to incorporate some of these ideas into ecology courses at high schools and universities.

Your view on all of this would be greatly appreciated.

Please Comment And Subscribe

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The Wandering Albatross

I am the albatross that awaits you

At the end of the world.

I am the forgotten souls of dead mariners

Who passed Cape Horn

From all the oceans of the world.

But they did not die

In the furious waves.

Today they sail on my wings

Toward eternity,

In the last crack

Of the Antarctic winds.

— Sara Vial

CapeHornThis beautiful poem accompanies the albatross monument that sits atop the headland at Cape Horn which reaches into the Southern Ocean at the tip of South America.  I took this picture of the Horn as I returned from the Antarctic in 2007 on a relatively calm day. The poem conjures a spiritual image for the Wandering Albatross whose  name describes its connection with Nature.

With the greatest wingspan ( 8 to 11 feet) of any bird that lives today, it is a long distance glider and is capable of being airborne for several hours without beating its wings. The in-flight image shown here was captured East of the Tasman Peninsula by J.J. Harris. 

WanderingAlbatross

A Vulnerable Species

Living in the Southern Ocean, it’s range of travel is described as circumpolar as it traverses the skies of the oceanic flow that surrounds Antarctica. One banded bird was recorded traveling 6000 km (over 3600 miles)  in twelve days. The Wandering Albatross spends most of its life in flight, landing only to breed and to feed its young. It is connected to the Southern Ocean’s food chain in that it feeds on fish, squid, and the by-catch and garbage from fishing vessels. It’s connection to land is necessary to mate, breed, and raise its young on places such as South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. The Wandering Albatross is monogamous – breeding with the same partner for life. Both parents help in raising the chick. Breeding takes place every other year. Most eggs hatch in March, and the chicks fledge in December. While one parent guards the nest site, the other makes the long journey to collect food. The  image of a juvenile Wandering Albatross was captured by me at South Georgia Island

It is in the process of foraging for food that the Wandering Albatross is connected to the waysWanderingAlbatrossChick_2 of man. Long-line fishing vessels roam the Southern Ocean with mile-long lines of baited hooks. While searching for food, the Wandering Albatross may happen upon the boat’s hooked bait as the fishing vessel pays out its line or pulls in its catch. The bird, in trying to eat, gets hooked and drowns. In killing the adult bird, the long-liner kills the chick as well because the collected food never gets into the chick’s mouth. Scientists have shown a decline in the population of the Wandering Albatross. This decline is attributed to incidental catch in fisheries, which has reduced adult and juvenile survival. In some studies, it was shown that fisheries were responsible for a 54% decline in the bird population on one island. The threats by mankind on this bird are ongoing. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species categorizes the conservation status of the Wandering Albatross as “Vulnerable”.

Worth Your Extra Attention : Mass killings of Wildlife By The US Government

In my recent forays into “Twitterland”, I came across the excellent reporting of a journalist who has focused on the uninformed (some say irresponsible) mass killings of wildlife by a US federal agency, the USDA Wildlife Services. All of this in the name of good “management”. Tom Knudson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner whose writings are worth your time. Read his 2012 series about the USDA Wildlife Services  . You can also peruse a list of Tom’s writings

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

 

You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving daily Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

 

The Salmon Wars

I am racing an epidemic and government gave the viruses the head start. “

— Alexandra Morton

If you have been following my blogs on a regular basis, you know me as a person who loves to write about the history of man’s Cormorant-1106insensitivity to the needs of Nature. Specifically, I love to provide examples of how human institutions on a grand scale fail to comprehend the importance of vital connections within Nature. I’ve written about Rachel Carson’s legacy and  how she brought a new consciousness to the idea that man needs to understand and respect the deep interconnectivity of everything within Nature, including we humans. I wrote a blog post about how a US government agency proposed to shoot cormorants  because the birds, in their need to eat, were interfering with man’s commercial “rights” to fish Salmon. A total disregard, by a government agency, for normal connections within Nature. Then, I’ve brought up cattle grazing in the US  and how the heavy political influence of the cattle industry has pressured government agencies such as the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to provide “grazing rights” that utilize and damage a large percentage of public lands in order to produce a product that is not good for us.

Another tale that portrays we humans breaking links in Nature recently came to my attention. It is the Salmon story in British Columbia. With wild Salmon being over fished, the Canadian Government has provided rights to use certain rivers where farm Salmon can be raised in pens. These farm salmon are brought in (translocated) from other parts of the world, typically Norway. The man-made physical boundaries of these pens are basic fish net material which permit river water to freely circulate in the Salmon farm while retaining the Salmon. These same rivers are also occupied by wild Salmon as they migrate between their places of birth and the open ocean.

Up to this point, the story sounds like an ideal way to meet a strong world-wide human demand for Salmon while saving the depleted wild stock that has been severely over-fished. It seems like a great way for humanity to restore a connection in Nature that was being destroyed through over consumption. But, that’s not the way it has tuned out. Indeed, biologists who are familiar with human enabled translocations of species will tell you that such an act must be performed with great care after fully understanding the potential risks. The reason is that in a translocation, man is taking over for Nature. Controlling Nature in this way rarely works as expected because man is unable to predict the future of any ecosystem much like we cannot predict the weather very far into the future. Some years ago, modern complexity science proved this phenomenon of unpredictability in ecosystems but the message has not yet reached the biologists. 

SalmonThe stock for the farm Salmon comes from Norway. It seems that much of this stock contains a virus that is lethal to Salmon. These viruses roam freely in the water. In British Columbia, the viruses move from the Salmon farm into the open river stream where they infect the wild Salmon. The results have been massive deaths in the wild Salmon population as they swim to their spawning areas. They die before they ever release and fertilize their eggs. The result has been a population crash of the wild Salmon.

The story is beautifully told in a one hour video that portrays the scientists at work discovering and defining the problem. The video also portrays the highly offensive sidestepping of government bureaucrats and government scientists who see the potential destruction of an important Canadian industry and their careers if the truth is brought to light.

This is another Rachel Carson, David and Goliath, “Silent Spring” story. I strongly urge you to view this very well done video. Here is a description of the video by its producers:

“Salmon Confidential is a new film on the government cover up of what is killing BC’s wild salmon. When biologist Alexandra Morton discovers BC’s wild salmon are testing positive for dangerous European salmon viruses associated with salmon farming worldwide, a chain of events is set off by government to suppress the findings. Tracking viruses, Morton moves from courtrooms, into British Columbia’s most remote rivers, Vancouver grocery stores and sushi restaurants. The film documents Morton’s journey as she attempts to overcome government and industry roadblocks thrown in her path and works to bring critical information to the public in time to save BC’s wild salmon.”

I guarantee that you will be impressed with the scientists and angered by the self-serving attitudes of the bureaucrats .  But,  if you cannot spare the time, a very condensed version is available as a trailer. .

Any reasonable man would conclude that the solution to this environmental dilemma is to get rid of the Salmon farms — or at least find a way to stop the river water from flowing between the areas of wild populations and farm populations. But, this has not happened. The longer video portrays the blatant cover-ups by Canadian government bureaucrats and scientists as they bow to political and economic pressures. In the course of this insensitivity, a consciousness of Nature is forgotten by these people despite the passionate pleas of the scientific community and the strong evidence of the test results from reputable world-wide laboratories.

The British Columbia Salmon story portrays a lack of sensitivity and knowledge about the importance of interconnections in Nature. It portrays the inability of those humans who were in charge to ask a vitally important fundamental question before the farm Salmon species from Norway were introduced into Canadian waters. The basic question is: How will the introduction of a species from a different geographic location effect the species that live and thrive at this location?  It is the same kind of question that was never asked when DDT was introduced, when cattle were allowed to graze in public owned lands, and when the idea of shooting cormorants was proposed.

It is unfortunate that mankind has failed to ask this basic question, but it is not surprising. We humans believe that we have dominionEgoNature_1 over Nature rather than being equal partners with all of Nature. The title of this blog – “The Salmon Wars” portrays the David and Goliath battle between humans on two sides. The battle rages  on. Our “David” in this story is Alexandra Morton , a scientist who I would characterize as the wild Salmon’s Rachel Carson .

But, this well known cartoon portrays a more profound battle that seems to rage every time something like the wild Salmon story comes up. In this battle, it is man’s attitude of supremacy versus Nature. Man will always lose. As long as man’s arrogance tries to prevail over a Nature that is deeply interconnected and unpredictable, there will always be Salmon wars. 


Cow Pies

The picture you see at the top of this blog is not some forest lichen. Indeed, it it is a cow pie. Yes, cow “do-do”. There is lots of it where I was camping this past summer at Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota. Cow pies and grazing cows are ubiquitous in almost all public lands that are “managed” for  us by the US Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The image to the right and the image below portray two areas of USFS land that are within 5 miles of each other. The image on the right shows an area that is both grazed and logged through government “managed” programs. The image below portrays forest land that has been left untouched by government management programs. No cows and no logging. I leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions.  


Some 70% of the western United States is grazed by cows and sheep. This includes wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, national forests, and some national parks. It seems that these caretaker government agencies  lease grazing rights to cattle and sheep ranchers – ostensibly for our benefit. The cattle people pay the government.  Since the cattle industry is a powerful political force, the questions of how the presence of cattle and sheep on public lands affects connections in Nature is probably never really addressed except in self serving biological studies directly or indirectly paid for by the cattle and sheep ranchers. The driving forces behind cattle and sheep grazing issues are usually the economic benefit of the rancher and rarely about the ecological well being of the land and the environment that we citizens own and entrust to the BLM and USFS.

I’m quick to add that I’m talking about grazing by cattle and sheep ranching and not about natural grazers like Bison and Pronghorn Antelope. Bison and antelope have foraging habits that enhance the natural production of grasses. The grazing habits of cattle and sheep tend to inhibit or destroy nature’s cycle of growing new grass.  

At best, the subject of cattle and sheep grazing is a controversial ecological subject and an endless argument between the special interests of the meat industry and those who value the environment. I did find three well written articles on the adverse ecological effects of grazing that might interest you.

What’s Wrong With Livestock Grazing on Public Lands?

Ecological Costs Of Livestock Grazing In Western North America

Cattle And Sheep Grazing

I condensed some of the key points in these articles for those of you who don’t care to pour through the material:

  • To control cows and sheep, fences are used. Fences prohibit or inhibit the free passage of wild animals, reducing their access to food and water as well as isolating subpopulations.
  • Grazing has completely changed the soil structure and  primary plant species in most Southwest riparian zones. In turn, this has adversely affected populations of local and migrating birds, animals that live near a river, and fish who live in the rivers. 
  • Grazing has resulted in some 464 million acres of land becoming arid desert. 
  • Grazing has reduced the density and biomass of many plant and animal species.
  • Grazing has reduced biodiversity.
  • Grazing has aided in the spread of exotic species.
  • Grazing impedes the cycling of soil nitrogen.
  • Grazing changes habitat structure and disturbs community organization.
  • Cattle and sheep ranching has resulted in a huge draw on water reserves. Urban use, flood control, and recreation are commonly cited as major uses of a region’s water supply, But, these uses are negligible (only 10%) compared to the 90% of water used by agricultural interests associated with the livestock industry.
  • One can also argue that eating meat is unhealthy and that cattle grazing ultimately puts humans at a greater health risk. To this, we must include the social health cost of eating meat.

The whole process of issuing grazing rights to ranchers is questionable because it requires the USFS to “scientifically” assess the capacity of grazing areas owned by the government. It has been repeatedly shown that, much like the weather, it is impossible for mankind to predict and control Nature. Yet, government employees truly believe that they have some innate ability to do so.

The good news is that the studies cited above have shown that the reduction or elimination of grazing can result in ecological restoration in riparian areas where there is water. But, the 464 million acres of land that has become desert is not restorative. How sad.

As  my dear readers know, my passion in life is sustainability education through our youth. I hope that the subject of grazing, and the material I have provided, might be used by those of you who share my passion for ecological education and restoring a consciousness for Nature within the human race.

Thanks for reading this blog post. The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers. You are encouraged to offer your comments in the space provided below.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive twice-monthly announcements of new blogs that I post. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

Fences and Corridors

I spend each summer engaging Nature as I live in my camper. I’m passionate about my solitude, avoiding humanity as I visit  forests, grasslands, and mountains. One day, I asked myself the question: “What do you see the most of?”. The answer that easily came to me was “fences”.

The feeling associated with this revelation was not comfortable. In fact, fences reminded me of humanity and its biblical mandate of having “dominion” over Nature. It reminded me of the modern mindset that mankind can and should control Nature. This world view of controlling everything is reflected both in the average human as well as with government agencies who oversee public lands and who try to make us think they are “managing” Nature.

The average fence is a statement of human “ownership”. This is mine!!! A sign of dominance and control even though ownership is a human fabricated myth. Fences are prevalent in agricultural areas to keep livestock (meat that is not good for us) from wandering too far. The US government’s massive grazing programs on public lands have installed fences in forests and meadows to define grazing leases.

Some ecologists believe that the protection of biodiversity from overuse can be accomplished by fencing off a land area from the surrounding landscape. One organization that is well known for this approach is the Nature Conservancy. But, even within this well meaning organization, evidence is growing that fencing tactics do not preserve biodiversity simply because the influences outside of the fenced area do encroach the protected area. Nature prevails.

The biggest problem with fences is that they destroy animal migration corridors such as the annual elk migration. Some fences, for example, cannot be negotiated by the Pronghorn Antelope. Fences also prevent the Buffalo from ranging freely. Unlike cattle, the grazing habits of Bison are considered to be of great benefit to grasslands.

Fencing is also a conservation tactic of national parks and other nature preserves. But yet, some animals such as deer, seem to know when an area is protected from hunters even when there are no fences. Animals seem to congregate in these protected areas. This makes a good argument for no fences and strong preservation programs. Fences, after all, might keep animals seeking protection from getting into the area.

There is one paradox within our system of public lands. On one side, public funds are used to protect and conserve. But, in addition to the inhibiting physical fences within these lands (particularly by BLM and the US Forest Service), there are no natural corridors between one major protected area and another. In the course of acquiring these lands, the government failed to acquire important animal migration corridors between public lands. That said, it is heartening to see many US Forest Service and BLM properties surrounding National Parks. In this sense, continuity is preserved.

When we use the word “fences” in the context of animal migration, we must note that urban sprawl is also a “fence”. As the human population continues to explode, more and more wildlife corridors are fragmented and destroyed by new housing projects. Indeed, human fences of all kinds promote many different types of broken links in Nature. 

Recently, a ray of hope and realization came to my attention. The Nature Conservancy now believes that the effect of fences in controlling biodiversity is questionable. They have written a wonderful article about migration corridor preservation. Here they describe an ongoing project that is serving to protect migration corridors.    Good for you, guys !!!

Thanks for reading this blog post. The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers. You are encouraged to offer your comments in the space provided below.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive twice-monthly announcements of new blogs that I post. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

The San Pedro River – A River Of Life

“The riparian ecosystem along the unregulated San Pedro River is one of the most valuable in the Southwest, particularly for birds.” – Robert Webb, et.al 2007 — The Ribbon of Green


Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time along the San Pedro River in Southeastern Arizona.  As a nature photographer and biologist, the river has taught me the value of its presence as a key connection in Nature. It has also given me many beautiful photographic images along its banks. I’m fascinated as to why the river is here, what sustains it, and why it is so important. The answers to these queries are revealed as one begins to understand the dynamic connections that this river has with other patterns in Nature. Indeed, by looking at Nature’s connections, one begins to understand Nature’s patterns. In a recent post, From Raindrops To Rivers , I characterized a river as a natural connecting mechanism “that transports water to all forms of life and directly affects the shape and composition of inanimate forms of Nature”.

The San Pedro River offers a living demonstration of the importance of connections within Nature. To give you a little background, the San Pedro River is a south to north flowing river that begins within the mountains near Cananea, Sonora, Mexico and flows 140 miles into the Gila River near Winkleman, Arizona. It is the last large undammed river in the Southwest. The river’s source of water is mountain springs and rain runoff from mountain ranges that lie on either side of its course.

According to Wikipedia, the river “is of major ecological importance as it hosts two-thirds of the avian diversity in the United States, including 100 species of breeding birds and 300 species of migrating birds”.

The Center for Biological Diversity  says: “For tens of thousands of years, they have traveled along the few north-south river corridors for shelter, food and water during their transit. In the past, the Rio Grande, San Pedro, Santa Cruz and Colorado formed these migratory corridors. Today only the San Pedro survives….Nearly 45 percent of the 900 total species of birds in North America use the San Pedro River at some point in their lives”

A major website devoted to the river,  states that “the entire valley’s exceptional species richness has complex causes, but for birds it provides a well-watered, verdant corridor running from southern tropics toward northern tundra and back, with stacks of diverse and accessible vegetation resources … all the way to its confluence with the Gila River.”

In addition to the birds, more than 200 species of butterflies and 20 species of bats use this corridor as they migrate between, South, Central, and North America. The Nature Conservancy  states that the river “is home to 84 species of mammals, 14 species of fish, and 41 species of reptiles and amphibians. Species such as the jaguar and black bear stalk the region’s forested mountains while the Mexican gray wolf and black-tailed prairie dog reside in the expansive grasslands.”

The San Pedro River valley basin is bordered by mountain ranges to both the west and the east. It is filled with sediment layers and erosion (alluvial fans) from the nearby mountains. Water from rains, mountain runoff, and springs collects in the basin creating a perennial water table just below the sediment surface. Heavy rains have created gullies that reach below the water table and form the actual river. Depending on the time of the year and the geology of a particular section, the river may be flowing above ground or may be flowing below the sediment surface.

The lesson from studying ecology is that all of Nature’s systems and her parts are connected. The enormous “draw” that this riparian area has on species from other geographic areas is a significant connection in Nature beyond the immediate region. The water on and below the sediment surface is the keystone connecting pattern in Nature that drives the rest of the ecology that I’ve mentioned. It is the lifeblood supporting the waterside plants. The cottonwood trees and other plants need stream water to move seeds into the sediment and germinate these seeds. The trees and other plants are the habitat for the birds and other creatures. Without the habitat supported by the water, wildlife could not survive here. If the water were to disappear, the abundance of life would disappear. 

Unfortunately, the San Pedro River basin is a threatened hydrological system. The availability of the key connection in Nature, water, is in doubt. The culprit is we human beings. Excessive pumping of groundwater from the valley for agricultural, municipal, and industrial uses has lowered water tables and diminished the water supply necessary to maintain the critical river habitats. According to the Center for Biological Diversity :

“…the San Pedro River is drying up. Unsustainable pumping of the groundwater that supports it has caused base flows to decline by 67 percent since the 1940s. The current population of more than 50,000 people in the upper basin is pumping more out of the aquifer each year than are recharged by rainwater. The burgeoning water deficit is caused by unsustainable population growth and a lack of effective water-conservation planning.”

The population of the town of Sierra Vista has exploded in recent years, driven largely by nearby Fort Huachuca, the U.S. Army post that is the largest single water user in the valley. Fort Huachuca is driving human population growth and excessive, uncontrolled pumping of groundwater both on the military facility and in the surrounding community. Unless things change soon, the San Pedro will resemble the lower reaches of the Santa Cruz, Gila, Salt and other Arizona rivers: dry, treeless and devoid of the diversity of life that once graced its waters and shores.

If humans refrain from removing water, the San Pedro River will continue its role as a dynamic sustainer of life.  Fortunately, a number of organizations have recognized that the water in the San Pedro River is a keystone connection in Nature. Through legal action and habitat restoration activities, there seems to be a gradual improvement in the hydrological condition of the river.

I encourage you to visit this ecological treasure and engage with this living demonstration of a dynamic connection in Nature.

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From Raindrops To Rivers

 A raindrop is a connecting force in Nature

 

” … in this beauty is the power of rain. It is a life force required by all living things. It is a shaping force that defines both our earth’s surface and how we live. And, it is a connecting force because water is central to everything.” — In Praise Of Rain                                                                                                                                                                        

The beautiful raindrop is a connecting force in Nature. Water is the ultimate chemical solvent and transporter in the functioning of life on earth. That raindrop it is also the beginning of a river. It can be transformed from a beautiful reflecting globe to a forceful, high energy fractal shaped river that transports water to all forms of life and directly affects the shape and composition of inanimate forms of Nature.

It all starts when that rain drop falls on a patch of soil. At first, the raindrop is absorbed into the soil – perhaps percolating by way of gravitational force to a sub-surface water table sometimes called an aquifer.   As more rain drops make contact with the soil, the soil becomes saturated and a thin sheet of water, called surface run-off,  rests on the soil surface. The impact of raindrops on bare ground dislodges soil particles and causes rain splash erosion on a very small scale. The sheet of runoff water travels a short distance, but an interplay between gravity, the slope of the soil surface, the composition of the soil surface, and the water now begins to take place.

The water becomes turbulent and forms into rivulets. If the soil surface is sloped, gravity causes the rivulets to move downward in a path that is defined by the nature of the soil surface. Small soil grains are moved by the water. But, large grains and rocks cause the water to move around them. Small channels in the soil are created. With sufficient rainfall, the rivulets join together to form streams and gouge gullies in the land. From this interaction between soil and water, streams of water become guided by gravity and soil to become joined with other streams to become larger streams. These dynamics result in the self-similar fractal structure which we know as a river system. This river system has the same shape and structure as does our lungs, trees, and our cardiovascular system.  

From the mountains to its delta, a river does not just flow. It also changes the surface of the earth. It cuts rocks, moves boulders, and deposits sediments, constantly attempting to carve away all of the mountains in its path, Ultimately a river can create a wide, flat valley where it can flow smoothly towards an ocean.

And, it all started with that beautiful raindrop.        

Rivers in Nature are classic examples of how energy flows in and between patterns in Nature. How everything is connected. Like soil erosion,  this energy flow can define the design of a pattern in Nature. This phenomena is the basis for Adrian Bejan’s Constructal Theory which proposes that the shape and structure of patterns in Nature arise to facilitate energy flow. 

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

  

Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

 

You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving daily Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.