I hope you are enjoying the Holiday season, your families and friends, music, food, and meaningful reflection. These are gifts that we sometimes take for granted. As I’ve written before, I view nature as a gift also. The beauty of birds, the majesty of trees, and the fascinating way they all interact with each other to function as one enormous whole with so many parts. Here in Wisconsin we can experience so much of the good that nature provides.
There are many challenges in nature; however, as there are in our own individual lives. In mine, I strive for optimism, and a greater appreciation of the nature around us. I need that in my life, but I don’t always succeed in maintaining that attitude. For those who are paying attention, there is a wake-up call that is increasing in volume each year. Clearly, we don’t always appreciate the gifts that are given us. Three things stand out for me:
* One million species of living beings are at risk of extinction (United Nations report)
* There are about 1 billion fewer birds in North America that there used to be (Cornell University research, based on breeding bird and Christmas Bird Counts, and radar studies of birds in the air)
* A lot of people are under stress- according to The American Institute of Stress, 77 percent of us experience physical effects from stress in our lives. I would imagine that such conditions lead to a lot of other personal and social problems.
I don’t think these things happen overnight. Rather, they began some time ago in a minor way only to snowball over time. And the longer we ignore them, the harder they are to fix. They are huge problems, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I do have an opinion about one possibility, and that would be to take better care of nature. A major part of loss of species in general and birds in particular is loss of habitat, either by outright elimination, or degradation by things like non-native invasive species. Preserving natural areas, and then taking care of them, will help wildlife recover… and it can recover if given a chance. Plus, doing such things can result in cleaner water and air, sustainable forest products, recreation, and a host of practical benefits.
And then, there are the effects on people. Where do we tend to go if given a choice to relax? The Lakeshore? “Up North?” The nearest park? Beginning 10 years or so ago, researchers began to measure the effects of being exposed to natural areas. Now, one can find study after study indicating benefits of being near nature and creative ways to restore and manage natural areas. Even planting more trees on a city street improves how people feel. And each natural area, which we have always known were special, becomes in fact more valuable.
So we have been given incredible gifts – birds and other living things. Like anyone who is so gifted, we should appreciate the value of those gifts and take care of them. And it turns out that they in turn may take care of us as well.
photo- a snowy Cattail Trail at Woodland Dunes