Monday, January 5, 2015

Newport News Park (1/4/2015)

Wow, 2015.  Happy New Year to all my readers.

Today's blog is a multipurpose posting first of course it is a wish to all to make the best of it all and enjoy 2015.  I am sure that some readers may think something like: "this guy had 11 days vacation, and all the time to take the perfect picture, and now see what he shows as his first of 2015."  I'll explain this below.  Remember, one of my favorite sayings is: "It is what it is", and there is not much we can do about certain situations, but to enjoy it (or maybe grin and bare it?).

So why this picture.  It is about unintended consequences.  Lets start: I believe in the inherent goodness in all and everything, and that we as humans are capable in screwing it up (or sometimes misinterpreting it).  I am often reminded of Aldo Leopold who made a 180 degree turn after he shot a wolf (in the early 20th century) and later on came to the conclusion that exterminating wolves was not going to save the sheep ranchers, but that it was actually going to hurt them since the deer no longer had any predators.  The loss of predators resulted in the explosion of the deer populations and overgrazing by the deer, which in turn resulted in the loss of food for the sheep and actually crashing sheep populations.  In other words exterminating wolves actually hurt the sheep farmers.

A lot of human interference in nature has unforeseen consequences, but wolves are great examples.  After their reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park, the ecology of the riverbanks and wetlands improved.  When the wolves were exterminated from the parks, elk became bolder and started grazing in these areas and greatly impacting the vegetation.  The reintroduction of wolves really helped in the restoration of these areas.  This link provides some great information on that.

So why this picture?  During our walks out behind our home, a sight such as this is very common.  The bark is stripped from the small pine tree, and I can guarantee that the tree will most likely not survive.  This is not necessarily bad in this case, you can see in the background that the the tree density is very high and killing some trees would be very good.  But there is a deeper issue here.  What is this stripping of the bark all about?  Well, bucks (male deer) shed their horns in the late fall, and they start growing out around this time of year.  You can imagine that horns that try to poke out of your skin hurt or at least are a little itchy.  That is where these small trees come in.  A buck can not ask one of the girls in his harem to give him a scratch on the head, and so he has to do this himself.  In that process they scratch so hard that the bark comes off the tree.

But briefly coming back to those deer.  We have no (or very few) predators in the woods out back.  We have sighted a few coyotes, but that's it.  Moreover, no hunting is allowed in the park.  As a result the deer have proliferated. eating everything in sight.  The woods very impoverished; seedlings are eaten as soon as they germinate.  (It is actually so bad that the deer are running out of food, and they have invaded our neighborhood.  The other night we almost witnessed a crash between a deer and a car).  So now, the woods out back have very little understory and they are not very diverse.  The only plants that grow there are the ones deer do not eat.  Although I understand we cannot reintroduce the wolf in our back yard, or allow hunting, I wish we could somehow keep the deer population under control, thus keeping the biodiversity in the woods behind us (and allowing me to grow nice plants in my yard).  As you can see, our actions have all these unforeseen consequences in nature that may show up much later and sometimes too late for us to do something about.

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