Once upon a time — not all that long ago — most of North American was “open” space. There was room for predators. Room for herds of antelope, bison, deer and elk. Wild goats lived in the mountains with mountain lions and jaguars.
I remember England in 1979. I was shocked at how little wild spaces they had. The moors were full of sheep. The woods were full of houses. That was before the U.S. raped our open spaces. Those years, we had huge parks of old forest. We had recently re-introduced wolves. The American Eagles had gone off the “critical” list of endangered species. The buffalo (American Bison) were expanding their range. New England and Canada were full of moose and bears.
England seemed so TAME by comparison. I can’t begin to express my shock when I realized Sherwood Forest was a subdivision with a few well-maintained ponies so the tourists could see them. I don’t know what England looks like now, but here? Unless you travel far north and west into the Rockies, everything is “developed.” Humanized. Which mean if it is bigger than a cockroach or a pigeon, it’s kaput.
The Arizona desert is basically Phoenix. It was a small town in the 1970s. Now, it’s huge and sprawling and goes on forever. Los Angeles had borders and the Cascades didn’t have roads. You had to hike if you wanted to explore them. The only section of the U.S. more treed than built-up is New England — 70% trees (overall), with places like Maine and Vermont closer to 85-90%. Massachusetts is 70% and we live in the woodsy section. It would be worse, but there’s no employment here, so no one has bothered to develop it. The Berkshires were wild just a dozen years ago, but well-to-do retirees discovered it so it’s all full of fancy retirement villas. Ditto the Appalachians and Great Smokies down south.
In Massachusetts, we have mostly young forest. Oaks have grown back covering areas that were previously farmed. We have 2.43 acres, but behind us are another 70 or 80 acres that have reverted to unoccupied wooded land. For the most part, it isn’t selling to developers. Yet. The only reason it hasn’t been sold is we are too far from a city. Farmers have mostly retired or moved to places where the land is fertile and flat — and not so rocky. The last of the dairy cattle disappeared last summer. We do have quite a bit of horse breeding, goats, miniature horses and a few llamas — but “real” farms are disappearing very fast. Local corn? Nope. We still have orchards. The apples are great.
All of this human expansion has pushed predators further and further from their original locations. There are bears here. Bears had been gone for hundreds of years. We don’t have wolves, but we have coyotes and deer (who never left). The Fisher (a big, furry weasel) has come back. They had been hunted to near extinction and are predators in a permanently bad mood. We have beavers. Since Beaver hats are not in fashion, we can hope they hang around for a while. We have de-polluted most of the Blackstone, so we have a lot of water birds. Swans, ducks, geese, divers. They tend to look for areas where the river widens into ponds, usually before a dam.
There isn’t anywhere else for the predators to go. Canada has grown. Montreal and Ontario are 10 times bigger than they were when I was a kid, driving through in the back seat of my father’s 1957 Chrysler while getting carsick.
It’s people. ALWAYS people. We drain wetlands, cut down trees, build flat grassy lawns that we poison to keep the birds and woodchucks off. Golf courses, cemeteries, endless roads — ever wider roads — and bigger (but not better) houses. Developers and their subdivisions have ruled the world since the 1970s. Malls. Parking lots. Office parks. And “human” parks, all carefully refined to create easy-to-use paths, stairs, and picnic tables. Big grassy spaces so our dogs can run.
We live in an area that was farmland. It’s rough country. These woods are too rocky and hilly for housing and a lot of it is wetland (half our property is designated wetland). As a result, we collect animals who have been pushed out of other parts of the country.
We have to STOP BUILDING. We need to limit the size of cities so that we build up, not out. If we don’t, we will have nothing. There used to be millions of alligators along the Louisiana and Texas coastline. Now, they are down to a few hundred thousand. The levees built in the Mississippi delta destroyed the wetlands in Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. There are more plastic flamingos than live flamingos. We’ve lost 10 billion songbirds over the past decade and we continue to lose millions more every year.
We used to have nesting eagles in our back woods, but we’ve had 10 years of drought and they moved on. We have fewer hawks and now, bears have shown up, pushed out by housing and malls as well as a changing climate and less food. Locally, we see their tracks, but when they fully arrive — the moment they are here — down come the feeders. A bear can do a lot of damage fast and they like seeds. Our houses are not nearly tough enough, even for our small black bear.
This is why I get frantic about climate change and our endless push to expand and expand and expand. House cats that roam loose kill as many as 7-million songbirds annually. They kill baby birds sometimes whole nests. I had cats that did that and it took me years to realize that it was a serious problem and start keeping my cats IN the house.
Poisons used to kill crabgrass have also destroyed most of the robins until finally, last year, they banned the poison. Everyone knew how lethal it was, but grass is important and birds aren’t, Monsanto was uninterested. By the time they decided to take it off the market, the robins were fading fast. I saw one this year, the first robin I’ve seen in five years. The variety of birds is half what it was when we first moved here. Weather changes have driven away a lot of transients down from Canada. They wander here because we have feeders.
You can find more squirrels on Boston Common than you will find in our woods. There are no predators on Boston Common, except for an occasional falcon (they live on the ledges of tall buildings).
This is a “don’t get me started” subject for me. I get into a bit of a frenzy trying to imagine a world with the wild things gone. I worry when I am gone, who will feed them? Birds are so messy, most people just don’t want to turn their decks into what mine looks like. It’s disgusting, but that’s what happens when you have flocks of songbirds eating and flying. Our feathered friends aren’t neat.
I don’t understand how come I can see this but somehow, our legislators figure a little extra money now is worth destroying the environment permanently. Think about all those old malls. They are huge and more than half of them are empty. Even when they build them, everyone knows they have maybe 20 years in them. After that, they will be abandoned. Useless paved miles of previously open country. Wetlands and waterways, woods and meadows — all gone, What remains are dead buildings and crumbling parking lots. Nobody wants to plow them down either. That would cost money, so these places sit and rot, providing no benefit to humans OR animals.
I look at it and I despair. We need to do more than lower emission levels. We also need to cut our own growth, limit the spread of city and suburb. Give the earth some breathing space. It’s why I wonder if we’ll be able to do it. The push for expansion is part of human DNA and I wonder if we can ever control it or if we’ll even try.
Categories: #animals, #Birds, #BlackstoneRiver, #Photography, climate change, Ecology, Wildlife, woodland
I’m with you, Marilyn… Sharing and standing up for climate and social issues that improve the planet! Population control was an important issue in the 60s–now governments and businesses are crying for and encouraging more people so businesses can make more money and inflate the GDP. Hopefully the younger generation is catching on to the ruse…
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No need to despair Marilyn, nature has a way of evening things out. Perhaps Covid-19 is one of them?
Yes, that is true, but it doesn’t mean that all species survive the changes. I’m pretty sure an Ice Age would make some big changes to our lifestyles!
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An ice age would do it too….
The most recent ice age did make changes. Not so much for mankind, but surely for what animal species survived, and how. Of course if you didn’t have those bird feeders on your deck, the birds would be just as untidy, but the excrement would be absorbed by the soil to do nature’s recycling. Now if those birds were able to build toilets, and, “rest stops,” it would be a different story? They just weren’t expecting us, and maybe deciding that we didn’t really mind this result. Nature is so very complicated, and yet very well organized.., under what may be considered “Normal” circumstances.., and then along come humans…
It angers and saddens me too, to view the destruction of green space. Utah, which once was a ‘bread basket’ sort of area in the north, because of all the fruit orchards and farms, is now mostly subdivision after subdivision, and lots of “FOR SALE” signs because the farmers can get millions for their acreage. The orchards are mostly gone. I moved up north (into a subdivision) to get away from Salt Lake City which has morphed into a big city. I never wanted to live in a big city, and missed the days when I could drive a reasonable distance and find green space, unf*cked with by human hands. Salt Lake is becoming like L.A., with areas I grew up knowing as full of interesting back roads to explore and lots of small towns; now turned into one humongous blob. Only signs tell you where the boundaries of this conglomerate of small cities begins and ends. I don’t even recognize most of it. It makes me so soul sick, I wish I were at least a decade or more older so death would be closer than further off.
I know you didn’t mean to, but you put your finger squarely on one big reason that I have lost hope and faith so badly. Mankind is just too stupid to survive. Lucky me to be in my 60s, hmmm? (NOT)!
Boston has absorbed most of the small towns that were near it and is also a big blob. Much of that happened since the end of the 1980s and it happened very quickly. The only reason it hasn’t happened here is the distance from here to Boston is too long for most people to drive and we don’t have commuter trains. If they ever install trains, it’s all over for this area too.
If humans cannot find a way to contain their growth, we are doomed. People make a big deal out of Chinas “ONLY ONE CHILD” national policy, but they were so out of control, there was no way to grow enough food for the population. Really, there still isn’t and their ability to feed people means they buy OUR crops and of course sell their goods. If they couldn’t, people would starve. They are such an old society, they’ve had an extra thousand years to expand — and pollute.
That’s why I wonder if we really CAN fix it. We are so out of control and no one really wants to talk about it. Be fruitful and multiply didn’t necessarily mean the same as “take over every inch of land and drive away anything (or anyone”) who already lives there.
I try NOT to think about it all the time. It drives me crazy.
Marilyn, I’ve read this twice trying to absorb all the information you shared. It’s staggering news. And I’ve not put my head in the sand about it. When I pass the two huge malls vacated in the local largest city or the vacant outdoor mall that is just another eyesore in the beautiful landscape of our tourist town that is now filled with so much, I’m deeply saddened. Thank you for sharing. Your pictures are stunning.
The only places that are surviving are places where there aren’t large hub cities with a lot of work. I look down the road and I see tragedy. I feed the birds and my neighbor does too … but we are old. What happens after WE are gone? Who will protect them? It really is terrifying.
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I have this HUGE deck around my new small house (I just sold my RV at Christmas and got in this) and I’ll think of you when I feed my birds. I pray others will look around and help our world and it’s helpless creations.
England grows smaller by the day in many ways, with urban expansion seeping into every nook and cranny…and more and more wildlife habitat being lost.
It’s EVERYWHERE. I don’t think there’s a place on earth that isn’t being “peopled” beyond the ability of the earth to cope. We worry about emissions. I wish we’d worry a little bit about destroying ALL the wild spaces. We kill everything big enough to shoot and destroy the home environment of everything else. I love my birds and my little woodland creatures. When I am not here to protect them, will they exist? It’s not good to think on. I’m not seeing a route to a a better earth. I don’t think humans will make any sacrifices. They won’t live in an apartment if it means giving up their lawns. They won’t limit the number of children they produce. They don’t farm their land. We do not care about our world. If we were just our OWN worst enemies, I could live with that. But we are the enemies of all living creatures.
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Overpopulation is our achilles heel. Check out all of the “science speculation” (Sci Fi) writers where alien species come to earth to conquer it because they had destroyed all the resources of their home planet. This could be US in the not too distant future…?
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We have seen so much habitat loss here and so many species under threat… but nothing is said too loudly. I wonder how well it is realised just how interconnected and interdependent we are, with and upon other apparently unrelated species?
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I was just talking about you to Garry, about your last comment. We just watched 84 Charing Cross Road. Garry spent a fair bit of time in England in the 1960s and I was there in late 1979. I’m sure it’s very changed there because it is terribly changed — and not in any good way — here. T**** tried, in his four years, to destroy as much of America as he could, but I think he’s out of office before he put the final nails in the coffin, though I suppose that remains to be seen. I fear that as a species, we are simply too selfish and self-involved to make the sacrifices we need to “bring the world back.”
I remember when I was 11, my cousin was getting married in Buffalo which is right up on the Canadian border. We drove there taking a very long route through the lake country in upstate, driving up into the Adirondacks and back down again and finally, to Buffalo. It was so beautiful and so wild.
About 5 years later, Kennedy dubbed that section of mountain “forever wild” and it was supposed to protect it forever. It only protected it until Reagan came into office. He sold it to anyone with a few bucks in his jeans and now, that beautiful winding road is full of trash. Literal trash. Crushed and rusting cars, old tires, collapsing mini-malls. Garry and I were up in that area about 15 years ago and it was already a disaster. I shudder to think of what it must be like now.
It turns out that “forever” means “until the next president.” Meanwhile, it’s the middle of January which is supposed to be the coldest, snowiest time of the year. It’s 50 degrees and all you need is a light denim jacket. No wonder the birds are confused. For that matter, the trees are confused — and without the snow, I think we’re going to go into another drought.
We live on a well, so another drought is frightening. There are no city waterlines out here. If your well runs dry and you don’t have the money to drill — or the aquifer is going dry — you’re just out of luck. The whole world is drying up, except where it’s flooding.
Are we capable of making this world better? If we are, I’m sure I won’t be around to see it. I wonder if we will get out of this pandemic alive. It is — as it is there — very, very bad. The FIRST ROUND of vaccines began TODAY. We were supposed to be in the third round now. So in addition to worrying who will care for the wild creatures, I wonder if we will have any water. This isn’t the world we wanted to live in. It was certainly not the world in which I wanted to see the end of my life.
I feel like I’ve lived too long.
It is the same everywhere, I think, in as fara s every available corner is being filled with housing, even the villages are having more homes squeezed in….although here , they tend to be shoebox size flats rather than houses on the whole…you can get more on the land.
I approve where they are re-using city centre and old industrial sites for housing and wish they would do more of that. There is an office building, for example, where I am sure you could create a couple of hundred small homes…. but that stands empty while they build on the flood plains instead.
That’s one of the things we do right here. Old mills become Senior Housing or malls. And because this is the country, we all have a lot of land. We have learned to say “We only have 2.43 acres.” Most people have 20 or 30 acres and most of it is not built. So, cows graze in meadows and goats just wander. The chickens used to roam, but the foxes were getting them, so now they have huge caged areas. And the area is very organic, probably because of the high water level. They don’t dare use nitrogen fertilizer because it seeps into the aquifer.
We sem to be leaning to do better with industrial sites, although I have seen some very strange housing developments being put up within new industrial areas…
Most of us, though, have litle more than a small garden, if anything these days.
We’ve got 2 and a half acres, but we use — for the house and yards (they are SMALL yards) less half an acre. The rest is untamed woods. It’s very messy and seriously full of pollen, but I’m OK with that. We don’t HAVE any factories anymore!
I on’t think I would mind either the mess or the pollen. I would like the space though…
I tolerate the mess, but I don’t like it. On a positive note, it isn’t terribly hard to clean up. It’s just a ton a dry seeds, so unless there’s snow or ice, it’s not such a big deal to deal with. When the weather gets bad, though, it’s harder.
I would probably feel very much the same… though I do enjy the surprise flowers that germinate from the seeds sometimes.
We didn’t get any growth. I thought we would, but I think the birds ate everything before it had a chance to germinate. And then, there was the drought.
England is seldom as dry as we feel… so we got a nice patch of linseed flowers 🙂