The primary goal of Ecosystem Gardening is to learn to give a little back to wildlife in our gardens. We have taken away so much habitat for wildlife in our quest for endless development.
We can give a little back to wildlife by creating welcoming habitat in our gardens. We can learn to share our space with our local birds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators, frogs and toads, bats, and other wildlife species.
While I was researching my thesis, which led to the development of the principles of Ecosystem Gardening, I came across a book by Dave Foreman. Rewilding North America: A Vision for Conservation in the 21st Century eloquently describes six “wounds” that the human population is inflicting on ecosystems which are contributing to the decline of species:
- The wound of direct killing
- The wound of habitat loss
- The wound of fragmentation
- The wound of loss of ecological processes
- The wound of exotic species
- The wound of pollution and climate change
In the coming weeks we’re going to discuss each of these wounds and how we can begin to heal them.
The Wound of Direct Killing
It was this wound that initially grabbed my attention and set me on the path of teaching people to learn to give something back to wildlife with the death of Martha the Passenger Pigeon.
The Passenger Pigeon is now extinct because we shot them for years until there were none left. The Carolina Parakeet met the same fate.
Herons Slaughtered for Ladies Hats
During the end of the 19th century fashionable ladies wanted hats. The most sought after ladies hats used plumes from Herons and Egrets, who developed beautiful long plumes during the breeding season.
Hunters would locate breeding heron colonies and shoot every bird they could find. The feathers were then removed and shipped to New York to be made into these hats. The birds bodies were left to rot where they lay.
The first Audubon Societies were created to stop the slaughter of these beautiful birds.
Persecution of Hawks
In 1929 the state of Pennsylvania offered a $5 reward for each Goshawk shot. Hunters would gather along mountain ridges and shoot every migrating raptor that passed overhead, piling up thousands of bodies each day.
A young Ornithologist named Richard Pough attempted to stop this slaughter, but he was unsuccessful until a wealthy conservationist named Rosalie Edge saw his photos and went to Pennsylvania and leased 1400 acres along this Pennsylvania mountain ridge and hired a warden to prevent more killing of raptors.
Hawk Mountain is now a premier hawk watching destination.
Demise of the Buffalo
The American Buffalo used to range widely across most of North America. To supply an ever-burgeoning European population, many buffalo were slaughtered simply for their hides and the carcasses were left to rot on the plains.
As the railroads spread ever westward, the buffalo’s habitat was chopped into increasingly smaller ranges. Inevitably, conflict arose between the native people whose lives depended upon these great herds and the Europeans whose lives depended on taking more land by force.
To solve this problem, the US Army slaughtered herd after herd of buffalo in order to starve the recalcitrant native peoples and to destroy their spiritual connection to their land.
Learning Lessons from History
These examples represent the ugly side of human nature, and one would hope that we might have learned important lessons from these examples. But sadly that is not the case.
Today every species of whale is threatened or endangered by overhunting and outright slaughter.
Sharks are caught, their fins removed, and the shark left to die to satisfy a craving for the delicacy of shark fin soup.
And while we are busy pointing fingers of blame at Japan for these activities, our own hands are not clean.
An image of the former governor of Alaska slaughtering wolves from a helicopter comes to mind.
We continue to persecute bats and snakes just because we fear them.
We hunt wolves and coyotes, not for food, but because we are afraid of predators. Ironically, we then complain when the deer munch down our foundation plantings.
Healing the Wound of Direct Killing
Every species of wildlife has a role in the healthy functioning of our ecosystems. Removing just one species can upset the balance of the whole system. Our own health is completely dependent on the ecosystem services provided by healthy ecosystems.
We need to learn to respect the different life forms with whom we share our planet. Our actions have consequences far beyond the borders of our own gardens.
The choices we make in our gardens when we choose to create welcoming habitat for wildlife and learn to give a little back to wildlife can make a difference for many species.
What are you doing to give a little back to wildlife?
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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