Nicodemus Wilderness Project
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Nicodemus Wilderness Project


NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Yuma, Arizona, USA

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Yuma, Arizona, USA
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Registered: December 2020
City/Town/Province: Yuma
Posts: 1
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Last of the Saurians
Ever hold a bird in your hand? Whether it be a chicken, a finch, or a powerful bird of prey, it is an unforgettable experience. The bird is on your hand and yet its weight is hardly noticeable. Even a foot and a half tall red-tailed hawk weighs less than the lightest chihuahua. If the bird is bumped or jostled its intense gaze never strays, its head moves completely independent of its body, keeping its eyes locked on whatever it is looking at. The creature’s breath doesn’t move in and then out like ours. The bird’s breath instead comes in quick bursts, breathing in and out simultaneously in one quick motion, letting more oxygen into its blood stream every second than any mammal could. Then there’s the scale covered feet, seemingly delicate and yet still strong. The list can go on like this forever, from the perfectly crafted feathers to the strong beak. Then, the thought finally comes, this creature is not of our new world, but a relic of a past world that lived on. It is a privilege unfit for a human, even a king, to have. To hold a bird is to hold 250 million years of evolution in hand. They survived one extinction, but, when faced with a biodiversity crisis, we let them fall towards extinction.
With threats of climate crisis we look to solar and wind power. But wind turbines kill birds and reflective mirrors used to gather solar energy can cook thousands of birds mid flight (Hrala). Unintended consequences of our modern lifestyles, lifestyles that don’t leave much room for wildlife such as birds. The statistics reflect our treatment of birds. An analysis of bird counts reveals bird populations may have dropped by well over a third since the 1960s (Stanton 144-154). Pesticides in fields weaken birds and the expansion of agriculture takes the habitat these birds call home. If the populations drop too low, then they will be unable to recover. We are losing those jewels of the sky. But if we stop toxic pesticide use and loss of habitat that threaten those birds, we can return those evolutionary treasures to the skies.
Some might argue that the bird loss could be a natural cycle of the population, but that doesn’t change the fact that birds are suffering from pesticides and habitat loss. Scientific studies by American Ornithologists Union have been done on the bird populations, and state that agriculture is pushing further into the natural habitats of birds like sparrows and larks. But birds are highly adaptable, some species have learned to live on the farms (Askins 1-4). The analysis shows that birds eat pests on the farm and even fertilize the fields (Stanton 151). Why don’t the farms become viable habitat for all the birds?
Farms are as different as the birds that live on them. Some grow citrus or melons and others raise grains or vegetables like wheat and carrots, and still others raise cattle and other livestock. No one bird can adapt to live on barren farms like those. However, depending on what birds are native to the area, a cattle farm could leave native trees out in the fields for birds to live in. The livestock farms aren’t the problem. Crop farms that don’t have birds to eat insects, use pesticides to prevent insects from ruining the produce. Pesticides kill massive amounts of insects which our avian friends eat to survive, pesticides can even directly kill the birds themselves. Pierre Mineau and Mélanie Whiteside in a Canadian study proved that exposure to pesticides causes birds like sparrows to lose weight and delay their trip back up north, harming their chances of breeding and can even cause their death (Mineau and Whiteside 1). In other words not only do pesticides remove the birds’ food sources but also cripple them. Yet, if there were more birds, there wouldn’t be a need for bird killing pesticides. If we are to halt bird deaths, then pesticides are where to start. So what are the alternatives to pesticides?
Martha’s Garden is a date plantation right here in Yuma County. They pride themselves on making high quality dates that are raised organically, which means no pesticides. Local birds love to feast on these quality dates. Left unchecked, they would eat most of the harvest. But the workers at Martha’s Garden have the solution. Date palms have long stalks that grow out from the top of the tree, each stalk holds hundreds of dates. Every tree has multiple stalks, carrying thousands of dates, and every stalk is covered with a large bag made of muslin (a fabric similar to denim). These bags both protect the dates from birds and collect dates that have matured and fallen off the stalks. No pesticide needed, no dead birds.
That is just one of many ways to prevent birds and other animals from damaging crops, each specific to the farm. Often times, the birds don’t even need to touch the crops to ruin them. Last year, lettuce contaminated with E. Coli was recalled and a local farm was blamed for the outbreak. A woman named Naomi Tomky wrote an article about how an alternative to pesticides could have halted the outbreak before it began. Tomky does a great job of proving that birds themselves are the solution. She talks about a project in Yuma that studied whether birds of prey such as falcons and hawks could keep birds far away from produce. The idea being that hawks would fly in and flush out rodents and birds, scaring them into leaving the field. The birds are left unharmed most of the time and so are the crops (Tomky). This actually makes a lot of sense because of predator prey dynamics.
It was discovered in the 70s that predators are needed to keep an environment stable and natural. In the absence of a top predator such as a hawk, prey populations run wild. Without the constant threat of being caught, the grazers would keep on grazing, completely ruining an area before moving on. Yet, even the mere presence of a predator will cause the prey animals to be more aware and skittish. The grazers, instead of destroying an area, will leave an area before they have irreparably damaged the flora, thus allowing it to grow back. The same is true in a field, any damage done is easily repaired and the birds will find food somewhere else. No pesticides needed.
Not one of these solutions is a universal one that will work everywhere. The solution isn’t for all farms to be organic, because some form of pest control is always needed, but pesticides severely impact the natural environment. The solution may not be to stop all pesticide use, but instead, to make pesticides less impactful to the ecosystem. That’s why people in conservation work need to think, they need to learn, and they need to act. People who save species don’t expect, just because an animal gets put on the endangered species list, that it will get better. People who save species look at a problem and solve it; they do something. This is the opinion of Carl Jones, a biologist that has saved innumerable species and habitats. In an article from The Guardian by Patrick Barkham, Jones asserts; “There’s a great reticence to do hands-on conservation in Britain,” only it’s not just in Britain; it’s everywhere (Barkham). To save birds, finding alternative pesticides may be where to start, but without people, that’s an impossible task.
The ability to do hands on conservation work is where the power of the everyday person becomes priceless. A new survey tells us that many people think that everyday people should do more for the environment in which we live. But the same source tells us that most people think the government can contribute too. It’s true that state and federal governments contribute greatly to conservation causes, in the form of government studies and protection for wildlife. In truth, a government commissioned study was what revealed an alarming decline in bird populations. However, that is the extent of the government’s help in conservation work. The government can only do so much, and yet we keep asking for more. People are the ones doing the government’s conservation work. So why ask people who work for the government to do more, when we are the ones who can do more?
When it comes to saving species, people are nature’s best hope. However, to save a species, one needs to be invested in the preservation. If you don’t care about something, how will you save it? When Dr. David Sussman, an avid bird watcher and photographer, was asked why someone should care about birds, he replied, “I think you need to come up with your own answers for this one.” And it’s true, everyone has their own reasons for loving and caring about everything. A person might love listening to goldfinches sing on their back porch and others might sit and admire a vermilion flycatcher’s stunning, colorful feathers. If one is to save birds, one needs to care for birds. Johnathan Franzen says in his National Geographic article that birds “are our last, best connection to a natural world that is otherwise receding” (30-57). To do more, we need to care more. We need to care about that last connection to the natural world.
When the birds that link us to nature are in trouble, the ecosystem is in trouble. With new phones constantly being released and the rise of virtual reality devices, it becomes easy to neglect the natural world and take it for granted. It’s not intentional, it’s human nature. Humans have a desire to make breakthroughs in science and technology, but we don’t think about the unintended consequences of our ideas. Without thinking, we are severing our link to the natural world. The danger is that we expect someone else to make the breakthroughs or changes to their lifestyle that affect nature. To do more, we need to make the breakthroughs and lifestyle changes ourselves.
A big change can mean many things. It can mean breakthroughs, such as new pest control options. A big change might also be a policy change, such as farms that allow coexistence with grassland birds. But it can also mean a person, and their friends, and their friends’ friends, making one small lifestyle change, a small change such as planting a native tree in their yard. When that tree grows up and the friends’ trees grow up and the friends’ friends’ trees grow up, thousands of birds will have all the nesting sites they could ever need. That’s what saved the Kirtland's warbler from extinction, according to Micheal Doyle who covered the bird’s downgrade from endangered to near threatened (Doyle). Foreign flora aren’t always habitable for native birds, and by some people simply planting native trees in their yards, they can drastically increase the amount of habitat available to those native birds. That’s how everyday people can help save their connection to the natural world.
Right here in Yuma there are many beautiful native plants that local birds build nests in. Cacti native to the Sonora Desert not only have gorgeous blossoms but also make great homes for native bird species such as elf owls or cactus wrens. In spite of that, many people still have non-native highly water consuming plants, such as ficuses, in their yards. Native birds cannot build nests in ficuses or in non-native sissoos, some just don’t know how. Locally, a creosote bush or mesquite tree would be a far better choice for both the environment and specifically native bird species. Even local farms can participate by allowing raptors to keep pests off their crops, like in Tomky’s article. Overall,‘Yumans’ have a great opportunity to be conservationists and have a direct effect on wild bird populations, whether it be through planting trees or helping farms come up with better pest control measures.
Now hold a bird in your hand. It’s weight is hardly noticeable, and yet, that animal in your hand has a stronger connection to the Earth than you do. It’s even connecting you to the Earth. But that link is slipping out of your hand. A conservationist doesn’t have to be someone with an advanced degree. A conservationist is someone who holds onto that connection tighter when it starts to slip. All that is required is that you know the significance of that connection. Wildlife conservation isn’t about acknowledging that these animals exist, it’s about caring that they exist. There is nothing stopping regular, everyday people from caring.
Date: December 5, 2020 Views: 2618 File size: 23.7kb, 4468.7kb : 3648 x 2736
Hours Volunteered: 20
Volunteers: 1
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 16
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