Garden Notes : Standing up for the natural world
"With ecology the stock from which all wealth grows, the financial and environmental crises feed each other...."
- George Monbiot
Is it not worthy of a resolution in the coming year to take time to stand up for what we stand on? I appreciate the unabashed, impassioned but well-reasoned writing of George Monbiot (monbiot.com). In the absence of national and international leaders whose first duty, one would think, would be to "stand up for what we stand on," Monbiot's words and message, his unwavering defense of our planet's workings and well-being, are hard-hitting and perceptive. But, sad to say, along with the eloquent voices of many other scientists and writers whose data and knowledge seem doomed to fall on deaf ears, they are continually marginalized, while we are busy "growing" our economy, fixated by the price of gas, dollar fluctuation, financial bailouts, politics as usual, the things we do in pursuit of our daily bread.
Losing a planet opens up no possibilities while, in an experience shared by many a clear-eyed gardener, losing a plant opens many. As I flagged dead oaks in our woods, I was trying to entertain ideas that provided some consolation for the loss of these familiar trees. What could I plant here instead? Could we squeeze an orchard of semi-dwarf or dwarf fruit trees in here? We have a lot of dead oaks, maybe three dozen or more, mostly black oaks with a smaller number of white oaks. Already we have enough firewood for a couple of years: can we turn some of this into usable timber? Why not leave some dead standing trees, to become wildlife habitat?
Photo by Susan Safford
Learning as much as we can about our environment has never been more urgent. Observing dead trees in up-Island woods is a morbid pleasure, but ignoring them is impossible. Why am I seeing belts of caterpillar destruction? Sites that experienced wind shear and blow-down in Hurricane Bob along the North Road, and elsewhere, seem subsequently to have also been devastated by caterpillars.
I have really not seen much dead beech, swamp maple, sassafras, hickory, or beetlebung - only oak. Will there be delayed mortality among these other species, or are the oaks the designated victims of the caterpillar outbreaks? Is there an unseen factor we have yet to recognize, part of some larger unknown cycle, in this extended caterpillar-sparked die-off?
Meanwhile in mainland Massachusetts, consider this. According to a Boston Globe article of December 9, the trees and residents of sections of Worcester are bracing themselves for the attack of the Asian longhorned beetle and the subsequent removal of thousands of trees: "There are 4,500 infested trees in a two-square-mile area of the Greendale and Burncoat neighborhoods, considered the epicenter of the beetle outbreak in Worcester...Another 15,000 trees in the neighborhoods are classified as susceptible to infestation, and the US Department of Agriculture has recommended that they also be removed. No final decision has been made."
Many of these very trees date from replanting efforts in the wake of a freak tornado in 1953. What's going on here?
"Overall, a 63-square-mile area including Worcester and parts of Boylston, West Boylston, Shrewsbury, and Holden is now considered a regulated area, where wood transport is restricted because of the beetle infestation. Eventually all of the 635,000 trees that are potential hosts to the beetle in that swath of Central Massachusetts will have to be evaluated.
"Officials have been especially alarmed because of the invasive species' proximity to New England's forests, which feed the economy in many ways - from attracting foliage tourists to providing lumber to producing maple syrup. This fall, smokejumpers who normally extinguish forest fires instead climbed Worcester's trees to search for telltale signs of the beetle. It thrives on maples, but also eats a variety of hardwood trees, including elms, willows, and birch... That tree-to-tree survey led USDA officials to recommend removing a total of about 20,000 trees - both infested and at risk of infestation - in the core area, according to Suzanne Bond, a spokeswoman for the federal agency. 'For the first year, beetle eradication is expected to cost between $32 million and $35 million,' Bond said."
The potential loss of 635,000 trees would be a major ecological blow for central Massachusetts, with consequences that extend throughout the web of its life. Sure, for a nanosecond tree companies and lumber interests might have a flurry of economic activity, but what happens to a de-forested central Massachusetts when it rains as hard as it did last week? What happens when summer temperatures hit the 90s? Does lack of climate mitigation from forests mean temperatures routinely soaring higher? We might feel we have squeaked through in the case of winter moths: "why, it is only oaks - we still have lots of other trees."
But these events are sobering. All things are interconnected, and Martha's Vineyard is not so very distant from central Massachusetts, either. Is it not worthy of a resolution in the coming year to take time to stand up for what we stand on?
Tapping a slightly different vein, I appreciate that our community maintains a solid commitment to educating our young people. Their knowledge and sense of integrity and justice, and their confidence that they can make a difference, will eventually be our support. Is it not worthy of a resolution in the coming year to take time to stand up for that as well?