Backing into Eden: Chapter 1 – We are Responsible
When I drive from home to work, none of the land I pass is wild. It’s lawns, or parks, or part of the city. On my drive in, I can see the Olympic Mountains as I crest the hill and head down toward the Kirkland waterfront. They are a mash up of native lands, national parks, and beach cities. Forks, the city of the Twilight books, is over there. The Olympics are largely wild, but they are managed carefully. I suspect there is no land in the whole mountain range that is not owned. Someone – a person, a government, a tribe, a company – someone manages everything I can see. Even the water between the mountains and me is managed by a series of laws and contains a lot of protected spaces and reserves– whether the deep and beautiful lake Washington that is used primarily for recreation or the troubled Puget Sound.
The primary premise of this set of blogs is that we are on our way to managing the Earth, to turning the whole thing into a garden. I am not even going to try to make a case that I view this as optimum – I don’t. But I believe it is happening. The short version is that we are already working large amounts of the Earth as farmland, setting aside other areas to protect and preserve, and closely controlling specific ecological niches. We plant, we water, and we harvest.
In this entry, I’ll talk about full ecosystems. In the next entry, there will be examples of how we care for specific species.
First, we farm. According to multiple articles that I found, we use something between 37 and 50 percent of the Earth’s arable landmass for farming (animals and crops). By definition, farmland is managed: farms are crops, and humans intervene over most of that acreage. Actual crops are planted, cared for, and harvested. Pests are discouraged via pesticides, genetic modifications to plants, or organically. Rangeland is fenced and patrolled. It is no longer wild.
Second, we set aside large areas of the Earth and the Oceans. We call them reserves, protected areas, and parks. In many cases, we limit uses. This is still management. It takes a combination of laws and rangers and myriad government or NGO entities. The cost of protection is significant. Rangers who work to save elephants from the ivory trade die for their troubles. Much of the Amazon basin is “protected” but deforestation occurs even inside the protected areas. Each year, we (the global community) are adding to the number of protected areas, which means we are taking responsibility for more portions of the land and the sea.
Third, we are working in microcosm to protect countless local natural resources. While humans generally do more policing than actively managing of protected areas, there are herculean efforts all over the globe to protect beloved local ecosystems. One of those programs is in my town: the Green Kirkland Partnership. Members of the community gather frequently to “weed” the park of invasive plants, to plant or re-plant or protect native plants, and to save urban forests. All the way across the country, Florida is working to save the Okeechobee through a federally adopted Everglades restoration plan. Transportation planners are increasingly planning and building wildlife corridors. These already exist in Banff, in the Netherlands, and here in Washington State. They vary from wide bridges designed for migrating wildlife to simple re-designs of ways that water already flowed under roads to allow for wildlife to pass through with the water (terrestrial and aquatic). Wildlife corridors are being designed into cities as well as built into rural areas. These stories are happening all over the world. Success varies, but the heart and energy and care that go into these projects does not.
Yes, we are still lucky enough that portions of the Earth remain largely wild (some of those, only through active preservation). Some will stay that way. But which areas, and how wild, will be our choice. Let’s hope that we can make good choices.
Today, we farm, protect, and work to restore our land. Yes, we are also destroying land, habitat, and animals, and that tension is not going to go away. We are already making conscious and unconscious choices about which ecosystems and species to save. I’ll talk about that in the next post. In the meantime, you might look around for conservation projects near you, and notice how the nearby land is used. Who is responsible for it? What do you see on your commute? On your favorite trips?
Some of the resources I used developing this article:
- Farming Claims almost half of earth’s land, new maps show, National Geographic News, December 9th, 2005, James Owen: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/12/1209_051209_crops_map.html
- World Bank, Agricultural Land (% of land area): http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.AGRI.ZS
- The Guardian, UN warns of looming worldwide food crisis in 2013, John Vidal:
- New York Times, Rangers in Isolated Central Africa Uncover Grim Cost of Protecting Wildlife, December 31, 2012, Jeffrey Gettleman: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/01/world/africa/central-africas-wildlife-rangers-face-deadly-risks.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
- Mongabay.com, Protected areas cover 44% of the Brazilian Amazon, April 20th, 2011: http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0420-protected_amazon.html
- National Geographic.com, The Ocean, Marine Protected Areas: http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/take-action/marine-protected-areas (This is a nifty interactive map)
- City of Kirkland, Green Kirkland Partnership page: http://www.kirklandwa.gov/depart/parks/Green_Kirkland_Partnership.htm
- Everglades Foundation website: http://www.evergladesfoundation.org/the-everglades/saving-the-everglades
- City of Portland, Parks and Recreation, Westside Wildlife Corridor: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/article/204516