I enjoy pretty much everything there is that has to do with the outdoors. Some of my most peaceful moments have been while walking through the forest, sitting on a beach, or boating (minus the loud engine). Accordingly I have a great respect for nature and enjoy learning about the plants and wildlife therein. My plan is to continue that learning process and hopefully enhance it by sharing what I learn. I intend for this blog to serve many purposes, but in the immediate future it will be a place for me, and hopefully others, to share ideas about reducing our individual impact on this planet, protecting wild spaces, and in general just to comment on the things we enjoy most in the great outdoors. I welcome all opinions as otherwise you cannot consider every aspect of a subject. However, I would ask that every opinion be expressed in a respectful way and considered with an open mind. Often there is no single right answer. Thanks.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Managed vs. Natural Ecosystems

Since my walk through Viaduct Flats I have been thinking a lot about managed vs. natural.  The Viaduct Flats, which I toured almost two weeks ago on a Restoration Walk, is a managed park.  Managing the deer population, managing the rabbit population, managing invasive species...these are topics that appear frequently in our local Saanich News and other publications.  I was listening to a radio interview with a man from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation a few weeks ago and the topic of discussion was conserving and managing the cougar population in British Columbia. 

It seems to me that we as humans are unable to touch a place without completely muddling up the ecological balance.  Whether by clearing of naturally occurring vegetation and it's inhabitants, introduction of alien plants and animals, or just general pollution, our species has a tremendous impact on our surroundings.  I wonder, if you had the time to add up all of the paid labour hours, volunteer hours, and cash that is pumped into "management" of areas that we humans have meddled with, what would the cost be?  Staggering would be my guess.  However, I agree with the premise that we cannot just meddle and move on.  Some attempt has to be made to set things back on track.  But as with any issue there is no one way that will satisfy everyone.

Two local examples are the rabbit and deer populations.  I have a giant soft spot for animals large and small and I have read many articles and letters to the editor with regard to these issues.  There is the argument that humans caused the problem and so we must fix it, but no agreement on the method.  There is the argument that it is not the fault of the animals and so they should be just left alone and we should do nothing.  My heart prefers the latter.  I would rather that all animals were left to their own devices and that nature could take care of itself, but Saanich, like many other ecosystems, is not a functioning, balanced ecosystem.  It is broken and we are responsible.

Some time ago one of my kids brought home a library book called "Wolf Island" by Celia Godkin.  I love this book as it contains a basic lesson on a balanced ecosystem.  A book review that I found describes it accurately as book that young children will be able to understand and that will give older children things to think about and discuss.  I would argue that most adults would also benefit from reading this book.  Based on fact, it is the story of an island on which resides a family of wolves.  The wolves leave the island and without the balancing role of the carnivores the island's ecosystem becomes dysfunctional and all of the other resident species suffer as well.  When the wolves are eventually able to return balance is restored and all species are able to thrive again.

The primary predators of deer on Vancouver Island are historically the wolf and cougar.  One interesting article I found from 2001 (In the Predators Domain) talks about how human activity has impacted these populations.  Given the fractured state of the green space in most urban areas deer populations are being cut off, and protected, from their natural predators.  My guess is that introducing predators into populated areas to naturally control the deer population is out of the question.  So that leaves management as the only other alternative since burgeoning deer populations are not sustainable. 

I love the deer and the thought of not having any in our neighbourhood depresses me.  The wider variety of wildlife in my new neighbourhood was one of the reasons we chose to live here rather than near downtown.  If I have to choose between managing the population and keeping them around, or getting rid of all them like the bunnies at UVic, I choose management.  So how do you manage these beautiful creatures?

I would not go hunting myself, but I can respect it if it is a managed hunt and the animal is not wasted.  I doubt that it is done much in modern times, but in some cultures prayers were offered as an acknowledgment of the gift an animal's life was in terms of the food and supplies provided for your tribe, or family.  One viewpoint would be that these prayers are just to relieve some of the guilt that we should feel for taking an animals life.  My point is that I would rather a deer's life serve a purpose, such as feeding families, rather than be drugged, cremated and wasted.  One letter to the editor I read with regard to the rabbits denounced the idea of feeding rabbit meat to the homeless as why should we expect them to eat something that the average citizen would not.  I do not think that is a valid argument in the case of deer, but just in case someone is thinking along those lines, my dad hunts occasionally and I have eaten deer and moose.  I do not consider it as being beneath anyone.  I also cannot think of any way of humanely killing an animal, but I do not imagine that being run over by a car, or wandering around with an arrow through your body, is all that humane either. 

Whatever management option is decided upon in our municipality I doubt that I will like it.  My heart will break for the deer population that is subject to the "management plan", but my brain knows that "natural" methods of population control are no longer an option here.  We have meddled and left our mark and now it is up to us to fix it.  I hope that one day we will learn to better coexist with nature, green belts will be left intact, people will learn to minimize conflicts with natural predators, and management plans may not be so desperately needed.  Imagine if we could be part of a balanced natural ecosystem instead of disrupting it completely.  A utopian view for sure, but one can always hope.

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