You know what is great about visiting nature preserves? Knowing these places provide for wildlife to live and flourish, an ecological mecca on the planet that remains pristine. Visitors see wildlife rarely encountered and learn how much we depend upon nature. Mostly, we learn.
But is having people involved a problem itself? The two birds opening this post are injured and cannot be set free. They reside at Braddock Bay Bird Observatory. Each sustained injuries from interacting in a world of humans.
The owl below has only one eye, yet is living free in a State Park, raising its young. How its injury occurred is not known. Yes, people do cause wildlife harm and the protected spaces find them sanctuary.
What’s Around the World?
There are about 8,163 protected areas worldwide that cover about 1.5% of this planet. Protected areas run the gamut from strict nature protection with little human visitation to controlled harvesting of wildlife by hunters. The US has roughly 10% in protected spaces. The linked site has site classifications and distribution maps.
Most are park-like and allow recreation for human activities like hiking, birdwatching and camping.
What’s New in Preservation?
A new preserve is going to be the largest nature preserve on Earth, taking proactive measures by saving some of its most valuable ecological assets before it actually becomes a necessity. “New Caledonia, a small island chain in the South Pacific, just set aside the largest protected area on the planet.” (source)
Environmentalists and conservation organizations have been with us for generations, saving many places and creatures. States have set aside lands. Governments and countries get in the game. What if they didn’t?
Imagine the world? If we put a value on the natural world, encouraging governments and the private sector to protect natural resources like what New Caledonia, a French territory just did, the world’s habitats would improve.
Too Much to Save?
On the flip side as populations rise, there are targets on biodiversity, targets on halting climate change, targets to save wildlife species, targets for too much to fund. The sad reality is money makes the world go around, and the targets get tossed for more economically important issues.
Reserves are more than just a snapshot in time, they are always moving. They can host important habitats for endangered species, both resident and migratory. But…
Save a Place, Then Screw it Up
One has to question reserves because many of them are in wetland or beach locations. Allowing people with pets can and does disturb nesting bird life.
Birds see the pets as a predator, and a rambunctious dog will cause beach-nesting birds to abandon nesting sites. Some areas are fenced off to keep people from nesting sites, but that does not necessarily keep out off-leash pets.
Because wildlife is declining the world over, these places are becoming more and more important to wildlife and people alike. But can they coexist?
Size Matters – Location, Location, Location
For biodiversity to flourish, whole landscapes need to be protected intact for natural processes to occur. Reserves which are measured in square feet are akin to what we have in our own gardens, but they probably are not functioning “naturally” when not part of a larger, continuous chain of like-landscapes. They sometimes become money pits for local administrators like gardens do for homeowners.
Reserves also preserve soils with native seed species which are not found in fields that have been tilled and soaked with chemicals. Home gardens along with the homes that sit within, are on disturbed land. Buildings raise pH levels, shade surroundings, redirect water, and pavement absorbs heat, all things making the environment different from what is “natural or native”.
In lands preserved, we get a sense of how abundant and varied birds, wildflowers and insects can be when places are left as nature intended. Without such places, we grow complacent to what we should be experiencing or what we should protect.
With a changing climate, nature adapts where birds, insects, animals, and plants move. What reserves are finding is that some species are changing in both arrival/bloom times and whether they depart to migrate to more suitable conditions. It is actually comforting to know that extinction is not as likely where life adapts. And our own gardens? Well it is like spinning the roulette wheel from year to year with climate. We adapt less it seems. There really is a lesson in how reserves function in these changing times.
The irony is that to truly protect, that means limiting human access. I would find that a hard pill to swallow myself.
Why It Matters To Me
I enjoy hearing the birds singing at sunrise, watching the bats swoop at sunset, the chipmunks scurrying across the trail, hearing the rain fall and shuttering at thunderstorms – seeing the stars shine on a clear night. I love the kaleidoscope of wildflowers, oddity of insects and swaying trees dropping seed, and hearing the waves crash the shore of the lakes. It is hard to verbalize why these things are so important.
They just are.
It almost looks like the wildlife pleads with us to keep their homes safe.
And knows how often we turn our backs on them.