“…in cities, the quality of nearby nature is linked to human well-being and biodiversity”

A very hopeful article landed in my email queue this morning, entitled Six Promising Trends for the New Nature Movement” – by Richard Louv, syndicated from blog.childrenandnature.org, Jan 07, 2015 –  http://www.dailygood.org/story/940/six-promising-trends-for-the-new-nature-movement-richard-louv/

Of course, this bit popped for me:

2. Greater understanding that, in cities, the quality of nearby nature is linked to human well-being and biodiversity.

 

There’s more than one reason to create a park or preserve open space. Urban parks with the greatest variety of species (emphasis is mine) are the ones with the best impact on human psychological health.

 

As the new Washburn Center suggests, biophilic design (the creation of living buildings through the addition of green roofs, hanging gardens, abundant natural light and many other features) is beginning to enter the vernacular of mainstream architects, urban planners, health officials, educators and business people. Biophilically-designed workplaces and schools are seeing an increase in productivity and decrease of sick days taken. Across the country, some libraries are assuming a new role as connectors of people to nearby nature and centers of bioregional knowledge.

 

In recent months, The National League of Cities – an organization that supports leaders in 19,000 municipalities across the U.S. – has taken a leadership position on this issue, and NLC and C&NN will soon announce a major initiative to connect children and families to nature.

Imagine that Springfield were one of those 19,000 municipalities. Someday, the children in Greenwood School could look out back and see flourishing of native plantings ensuring food, cover and homes for wild birds, mammals and reptiles and amphibians. Someday Springfield folks might walk through Van Horn and never be disturbed by earsplitting machinery noise, or choked by vehicle and heavy equipment fumes, because the city would respect such a precious resource for our generation and those to come. – Let’s hope.

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City of Springfield – destroying wooded park. Why?

It started last week, the slashing and clearing of all the underbrush that fed and gave cover to wildlife and pollinators behind Greenwood School. I thought they were done, but this morning’s walk revealed that the destruction continues. More precious area cut down – at the end of the growing season and at the beginning of the cold months when survival is most difficult.

Mudded tractor track ran through the entire park. Other vehicle tires churned up the grass and earth at various spots, – in the usual gentle handling and respect the park department shows for the little bit of nature that belongs to the people.

I understand this is the time of year extra budget money must be spent or lost, – why didn’t the city spend a dollar or two on removing the trash barrel, the child’s ride-on toy and the dozens of bottles and plastic objects floating in Van Horn Park’s small pond? It’s looked and smelled like a cesspool all summer.

Why didn’t the city put mesh around the aerator in the water? That small job would have prevented the deaths of one adult wood duck and at least six tiny young ones this year.

Why not get a small boat out and pick up the trash at the edges of the large pond? (Much of this got there because city workers routinely use noxious power equipment to blow it off the Armory Street sidewalk and into the water.)

Why not plant something in the circles at the two park gates? A couple of years ago, the city pulled out the barberry and covered the dirt with wood chips, I assumed, to make ready for some new and lovely planting. They remain bare and dead.

Why not hire an expert from one of the area colleges to teach park workers to identify invasive plants and how to encourage native plantings? Why not an effort to attract pollinators and endangered creatures for the delight of those children in Greenwood School, – and who live in the neighborhood?

Nature Wars

I write often about the things I see in this park that disturb me; but this time I’m writing about a book that disturbed me, – Jim Sterba’s Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds, – and getting jostled out of complacency is a good thing.

Book cover of  Nature Wars by Jim Sterba
Sterba is a noted journalist and Maine resident, who grew up on a farm and sees animals as food, animals as commercial goods, and animals (wild or domestic) that affect human health, or human enterprise as pests, –as such the intelligent thing to do is to kill them. While I certainly do not agree, with him there, Sterba has produced an engaging read that provides a basis for understanding the increase in conflicts between people and wild things. We need to be concerned about rising rates of Lyme Disease, animal- vehicle collisions, and panicked calls from homeowners about bears, raccoons, skunks and other critters in their yards, garages, cellars and attics.

Sterba provides an excellent history of the landscape in the Eastern United States, its many alterations by humans, before and after the arrival of Europeans, and subsequent changes in land use for economic and industrial purposes. He makes valid points about the current and younger generations’ general ignorance of, and isolation from the natural world, – and the impact that entertainment media, from the movie, Bambi, to award-winning nature documentaries have had in promoting unrealistic depictions of unspoiled beauty and harmony. He also opened my eyes to an ad campaign of half-truths run by animal protection organizations in the 1990s motivated well intentioned folks, like me, to outlaw “cruel” Conibear traps, that are less cruel than the live traps now used. It is horrifying realize I may have unknowingly added to the suffering of the trappers’ victims.

I rankle and take strong exception to Sterba’s dismissive attitude toward “kinder and gentler” folks, toward religions and philosophies that hold all life sacred, and with his blanket criticism of people who feed birds to experience a connection to nature. Also, science is well on the way toward proving Sterba wrong for castigating those who imbue animals with human attributes of thought and feeling.

A growing body of research has demonstrated many animals think to solve problems, that animals form deep emotional relationships, and that some animals in groups feed injured individuals that would be unable to survive alone. When we add DNA to the mix, – given the tiny percentage of genetic differences between human and animal species, – it could be argued that it is likely that we inherited our ‘human attributes’ from the animals.

Now that’s out of the way, here are the points on which I agree: (1) Most people are  clueless about the natural world and that’s a bad thing. (2) Conflicts with wildlife demand humane solutions and thoughtful stewardship, –  right now.

There are chapters in Nature Wars I haven’t touched on here, which are also important considerations for this complex, life-and-death topic. While you may not feel good after you read this book, you will feel smarter.

A Magical Morning

Domestic Duck & American Black Duck

Made it through an awful winter.

As I fed the ducks, a Red-tailed Hawk flew across the pond to the top of a pine, – and a minute afterward – a Great Blue Heron appeared overhead, on its way to the marsh across the street. Later, I may have frightened a pair of wood ducks off (from their cries).

However, just beyond the ducks on the remaining ice, poised to join the rest of the garbage in Springfield’s well protected waters —

Two traffic cones and wood left on pond ice after a Fire Department exercise.

The city’s contribution to natural beauty and water protection.

Last year’s fire department, ice rescue exercise left yards of plastic, incident tape on a fallen branch, to endanger birds and other aquatic life.

Abandoned shopping cart in Van Horn Park

Long abandoned shopping cart – somehow invisible to Parks Department crew.So you see Springfield’s deep respect for the environment.

With the return of spring and promise of new life. I’ll hope again this year the city starts to manage its wonderful pockets of nature to protect the wildlife and preserve its value for the people to whom it belongs.

Link

Yesterday morning (March 11), I heard that squeaky-hinge noise for just a second and jotted in my notes, “Red wing?”

This morning it’s confirmed, – I had eyes on 12 Red winged Blackbirds, who were raucously announcing their arrival at Van Horn Park!

You can learn about them here – http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-winged_Blackbird/id

Spring is near!

The fallacy that cities are devoid of nature

I thought I’d share a link to this piece by Beth Buczynski:
How Cities and Wildlife Can Be Friends Instead of Enemieshttp://www.care2.com/causes/how-cities-and-wildlife-can-be-friends-instead-of-enemies.html

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It’s getting closer… Click to find instructions, FAQs, Tally sheet and a List of birds for your region (U.S. and Canada)

Save the dates…for the birds

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GBYBirdCount-2014

It’s fun & it helps science, which can help birds. For more information click http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/whycount.html.

Missing Chipmunks

When I saw the first Canada Goose chicks on the pond Saturday (5/11), it struck me that another sign of renewal is late. The Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) has been scampering across my backyard for weeks, but I haven’t seen one here in Van Horn Park. These are dates from my notebooks for first chipmunk sightings past:

  • 2012    April 30
  • 2011    April 12
  • 2010    March 17
  • 2009    May 8

I walked today (5/13) and still no luck.  It troubles me because 10 years ago my relationship with the park began as an enchantment with chipmunks.

In those early days, there was a man who came late in the afternoon, and walked at a leisurely pace with a bag on his shoulder and tossing its contents onto the ground as he neared a stand of  rhododendrons. When I drew close enough to recognize the peanuts, something else made me gasp, – mind boggling numbers of chipmunks.

They swarmed from beneath the shrubbery, fearlessly, eagerly toward the man with the peanuts, – as if he were the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I was one of many who witnessed this delight. People instinctively hung back and kept quiet, so as not to frighten the animals and spoil the moment.

After a time, the peanut man stopped coming and I never again saw the spectacle, but every year, from spring through fall, I recorded an average of 4-5 chipmunks in the park every day.

I am afraid the Springfield Parks Department’s thoughtless and repeated onslaughts and wanton destruction of living trees and fallen ones under which chipmunks live. They intruded as recently as March – when pregnant females and this year’s young may have been killed by heavy machinery.

Up until 2013, chipmunks could be seen scampering over a pile of logs that protected their  burrows. This is what's left.

Up until 2013, chipmunks could be seen scampering over a pile of logs that protected their burrows. This is what’s left.

Last Squirrels Seen February 15

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I don’t believe the Parks Department has killed them all…yet. There are marks snow at the base of some trees. Chewed twigs with tight red buds lay on the ground in a couple of places. And only bits of shell remain at my raw peanut drop spots. Still, not to record a single squirrel for nearly six weeks is an aberration, according to field notes I’ve kept since 2008.

How many died when the trees were cut down? How many lost their homes and froze to death, or otherwise died of exposure in the cold and snow that came after? How many fled into the neighborhood? – (Where they may be unwelcome house guests and face harm again at the hands of humans.)

Earlier in the week, I encountered a middle-aged man who shared his upset over the city’s latest and earlier attacks on Van Horn Park. He sadly recounted the disappearance of a fox family here, and said he’d seen dead rabbits – victims of the bordering streets.

Wheels of heavy vehicles plow up and scrape off topsoil in a Springfield, MA park.

Wheels of heavy vehicles plow up and scrape off topsoil