Raleigh Nature

December 27, 2009

The Most Dangerous Species Grudgingly Groks Predators

Filed under: About & reflection, Exotica, green initiatives, Greenways & Parks, Nature Lore — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 9:40 pm

Wolf Face by Photos8

The wolf and bear are perfect bookends for a volume-sized summary of Ken Burns’ enormous film series about the national parks.  We came to this country and decimated the vibrant diverse native human population, mostly through disease, and then scoured the country for dangerous animals, paying bounties to cleanse the land of wicked ferocious predators.

When it came to the emerging national parks, it was no different.  Only until Alaska provided a landscape  huge and truly untamable did wildlife inside the parks begin to hold equal sway with the natural landscapes.  Many park officials recognized the vital role of wildlife all along, but wolves and bears were removed nonetheless.  Now we are slowly coming around to a national policy that recognizes the irreplacable contribution large predators make to an ecosystem.

The wolf –  free, wild and dangerous – is portrayed as the symbolic epitome of our estrangment with nature in the final segment of Ken Burn’s film on the national parks.  Wallace Stegner’s ideas frame the parks as a survival necessity – not just  for “the trumpeter swan and bison… but us.”  Stegner knew we needed “sanctuary from a world paved over with concrete by the raw engineering power of the 20th century.”  The ultimate sanctuary, in park terms, was Alaska, where park superintendent Adolf Murie championed the wolf as the crowning jewel of “a glimpse of the primeval.”  From Alaska came the research and experiences that brought about re-introduction of large predators into the continental U.S. parks.

Murie wrote a pro-coyote report concerning Yellowstone that almost got him fired – and did get him packed off to Alaska, where he helped establish the greatest U.S. nature preserves of all. In 1867 “Seward’s Folly” was derided as too remote to be valuable.   111 years later, Morris Udall and Jimmy Carter culminated Alaska preservation by signing off on 17 national monuments comprising 56 million acres (in Alaska communities, all hell broke loose about the feds stealing the state). The Alaska Coalition that facilitated the legislation represented the largest grassroots conservation effort in history.

Denali National Park in Alaska

The final segment of National Parks: America’s Best Idea folded an eclectic concoction of historical and policy facts around Alaska and our large mammals.  The crucial theme of preservation balanced against use is applied to various projects as well as the pure numbers.  By 1950, National Park visitors reached 32 million in number: by just the mid-50’s that number hit 62 million – 98% by car. These numbers would have crushed any system, eventually even Alaska, but for the strong atmosphere and policies created by National Park Service professionals, developing park policies based on scientific research from the emerging academic discipline of ecology. Aside from limiting roads and managing tourist hordes, one of the toughest policies to implement was the simple directive:  Don’t feed the bears!  Though wolves were extirpated from Yellowstone, the “cute” black bears were fed and habituated to tourists for years.  We can minimize our contact and effect, but we can’t really avoid interactions with wildlife, and interactions with dangerous predators require intense management.  The thorny problems inferent in the situation are not least of why Dayton Duncan emphasizes that “each generation must re-protect these lands.”

Burns and Duncan are stalwart in offering breathtaking proof of the value of such work.  They also did yeoman’s work in coverage of the National Park Service’s vast mission, which now includes hundreds of National Monuments and National Historic Sites.  This final segment also continued the thread of appealing human interest stories, from fish guiding Biscayne Bay to home movies of Echo Park.  But I was ready for the end, which came beautifully with the 1995 release of wolves into Yellowstone.  The elk are all the better off for it, and the creekside willows they eat are again thriving.  We can get it right sometimes in this great country, and the national parks are a great example.

All Raleigh Nature posts on the Ken Burns film

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Wildlife in Raleigh is regaining some small aspects of full-fledged wilderness with top-of-the-chain predators.  “Black bears are here to stay,”.  a NandO story just proclaimed.  “Coyote Pyrotechnics at RDU airport” was the title of the WRAL story relating that 2 regional jets carrying about 50 passengers each struck coyotes in a recent week.  Raleigh Eco News has thoroughly documented the establishment of coyotes in the Triangle.  Can we co-exist with coyotes? Probably so, because they are quite discreet. Can we, through the 21st century, co-exist with wolves, mountain lions, and bears of all kinds?  It remains to be seen.

coyote

The Daily Coyote

is an amazing record of human co-existence with a very personable “domesticated” coyote.  Very thought-provoking!

February 22, 2009

News, Notes, and Promises

Walnut Creek greenway at Wetland Center

Walnut Creek greenway at Wetland Center

 Walnut Creek Wetland Park is approximately 59 acres in size and is located between Garner Road and South State Street and south of Peterson Street in Southeast Raleigh. This site contains extensive wetlands that are located near the downtown urban center and offer an opportunity for the public to easily explore and learn about the value and significance of wetlands for water quality and wildlife habitat.     Raleigh City website

      Construction has begun on  the  Walnut Creek Wetland Center, as reported in NandO on February 11.   The center is the culmination of efforts led by Norman Camp to rehabilitate and protect the wetlands of Raleigh’s Southeast.   This topo map shows the area. The new building, shown below, was designed by Frank Harmon, and will stand six feet above the ground and have a minimal ecological footprint.  An earlier post describes some amenities of this section of greenway.

                         walnut-center-side_1_1                         walnut-wetlands-center-front_1_1

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henbit-on-hodge-rd_1_1

    The groundhog definitely saw his shadow, but early signs of spring abound in Raleigh.  Above is henbit between Hodge Road and Crabtree.  Below are red maples blossoms in Oakwood.  There is some cold air coming, so there will be some casualties – though our well-mulched garden parsley and “spinach under glass” on the deck are doing great!

winter-maple-buds_1_1

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     One of the exciting things about Raleigh Nature is the wonderful reader input, and I need to follow up and post about more of it.  There’s always a tension between getting around to it and doing it justice.  Here are a few smoldering issues on my draft posts:

First and most behind: responding to the multiple inputs about Lassiter Mill and Raleigh mill history.  From David’s great pics of the upper water, to the amazing Lassiter mill drive wheel images sent by Jimmy, and the history and memories in the comments, we need to return to this subject soon!  I recently got a fascinating inquiry from Carol about the infilled Lake Boone, and the natural springs that fed it, and I want badly to follow that up.  I very much appreciated the mistletoe tips from Meredith, and dream of my “pecans and mistletoe” map of Raleigh!  Scott, a well-known author, my old friend Joe, and Tommy, a songwriter from my past, all greatly helped my still-unfinished exploration of the Pigeon House Branch system and the expensive new Fletcher Water Park that feeds into it.  We’ve been blessed with an explanation of Raleigh Swamp’s waters by Mark, who engineered it, and we’ve been sobered by the plea for resolution from Deborah concerning Ward Transformer’s lifetime of ecological crimes against our area.    I look forward to sharing Patti’s wonderful hawk story, and keeping Michiel in the Netherlands all caught up on Raleigh’s natural scene.  Mentioning these highlights, many thanks to all who have written or commented.  It really helps the work!

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Oakwood maple

Oakwood maple

     Chris Crew and Matthew Brown just wrote a wonderful article about Oakwood wildlife for our neighborhood newsletter.They are neighbors at the bottom of the slope at whose crest I reside. Between my house and theirs almost every inch is controlled by humans, and the water flowing downhill is piped or culverted.  Below their house, toward Brookside and Glascock, the land opens up just a bit and has some natural edges. As a matter of fact, Chris is uncovering  the section of Grassy Branch in his backyard, and that’s another topic on my to-do list.  Just across the road, though, is Oakwood Cemetery, a significant oasis for many living things.  According to their article, our neighborhood boasts a huge variety of species. Among many bird species they describe, the cedar waxwing invasion for berries and the long-standing nest of red-tail hawks stood out.  Foxes, possums, and a substantial population of raccoons are described.  There are excellent nature lore tips regarding the colors of 5-lined skinks and owl sounds.  I wish the newsletter were online, but if you have a friend that’s a resident, check it out.  Way to go, Matthew and Chris!

PS:  Hope ya’ll like the revised sidebar.

PPS: Matthew very kindly posted the article referred to above HERE.

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