For Earth Day: Nature is a system; embrace all of its parts

Evidence of beaver activity

On this blog on past Earth Days, I have mounted what I call my green pulpit to preach about the struggling biosphere on our beleaguered planet. Frankly, I am so discouraged by what humanity is allowing to happen these days that I almost didn’t bother to write anything today. But a recent local event motivated this post.

Beaver lodge.

Wonder Spouse and I have lived on the same wonderful five acres for 29 years. Because we live beside a perennial creek with an adjacent wetland, beavers have moved into our immediate area several times. Photos throughout this post are of the current beaver pond adjacent to our property. The transformations they manifest on the local environment are immediate and mostly wonderful.  From a human perspective, though, because they cut down and eat trees and raise water levels to flood multiple acres, they are often considered a nuisance.

About ten years ago, the last healthy 1000-acre stand of forest near our house was erased and replaced with a truly enormous subdivision full of houses packed so closely together that I am sure neighbors can hear each other with the windows tightly shut. Yards are tiny and all look alike, adhering, no doubt, to strict HOA rules. Frankly, the place gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Canada geese noisily enjoy the beaver pond.

But the California company that erected this monstrosity over fierce objections from the local community was clever. They market this massive people prison as “nature-friendly,” because they left alone small patches of forest around creeks and wetlands (where they couldn’t build houses easily anyway). They built trails through it, and I gather it is used heavily by residents. In fact, many of the residents claim they chose to live there because they are “nature lovers.”

One border of this suburban nightmare is less than a mile from my house, so it is no surprise that the creeks that run through it host a healthy beaver population. Recently, beaver activity there covered one of the expensive pedestrian bridges in their trail system, and the HOA voted to have the beavers exterminated, which created such an uproar from some of the residents that their protests gained local news coverage, and the HOA has temporarily halted their extermination plans pending further review of possible solutions to “the beaver problem.”

The beaver dam; this is the deepest area, where the Canada geese prefer to frolic.

On this Earth Day, I describe this to you because I am flummoxed by the ability of the residents of this massive subdivision to see trees but no forest. In other words, they pick and choose what bits of the natural world they like and which parts they dislike, oblivious to the reality that nature is a system of complexly interlocking parts that evolved over spans of time beyond their easy comprehension.

These residents have decided they like beavers. But these same residents team up in blocks to get a group rate on poison applications in their yards to kill ticks and mosquitoes. The poison doesn’t outright kill honeybees, but it is concentrated in their honey. More important, the poison, which is sprayed 30 feet high into the trees, also kills aquatic animals like fish and frogs (big mosquito eaters). Imagine what it likely does to nesting birds!

So on the one hand, these beaver-lovers are fighting to save the wetlands created by these industrious rodents, while simultaneously poisoning that environment, all because they want to be able to sit on their patios without being bothered by the insects that are a key food for that aquatic environment.

Caterpillars of the Viceroy butterfly eating a wetland willow tree.

These same residents trap squirrels visiting their bird feeders and release them elsewhere. This is illegal, by the way, but also demonstrates ignorance of ecology. If you remove squirrels, more squirrels will move into the vacated spaces. I guarantee it.

Another resident of this suburban monstrosity told me of the big argument she had with a pesticide company over not spraying poisons in her house. She told me that it is apparently a selling point of this subdivision that all the homes are constructed with pipes running through the walls. Once a month a pesticide company hooks up its tank of poison to the outlet to these pipes and fumigates inside the walls to kill any insect foolish enough to consider moving in.

As for ticks — which I readily admit are significant disease vectors — balanced ecosystems are less likely to be overwhelmed by them. White-tailed deer and white-footed mice are two key transporters of ticks. Both species are very happy dining on over-fertilized lawns and shrubbery and beneath messy bird feeders. Adding clusters of native shrubs that feed and shelter birds and reducing lawns in favor of, say, small pollinator gardens of flowers would help dwindling insect and bird populations and reduce the need for supplemental bird feeding except during winter months when food is scarce. Small brush piles provide habitat for birds and opossums — known by ecologists as “tick vacuums,” because when they are present, the ticks they pick up are eliminated by their meticulous grooming habits.

Frozen beaver pond.

To all these residents who moved here from elsewhere, I ask you to embrace the fact that you now live in the southeastern United States. Our mild climate means insects thrive year-round. We who grew up here know this and long ago adapted to that reality. When you attempt to kill or remove every animal that you don’t like, your choices impact more than just those target species. You hurt the environment you profess to love. You hurt the home of those furry rodents you have anthropomorphized into your friends. This is not an either-or situation. Nature is a system, an orchestra composed of myriad instruments, a chorus of many voices. The richness of the song is diminished every time you exterminate a voice. The viability of the entire system becomes more fragile every time you impose your will onto the environment that supports all of us.

On this Earth Day, I implore my neighbors to embrace all of Nature’s parts, whether or not they inconvenience you. If you can find a way to co-habit with beavers, that’s great. But if at the same time you do not protect the health of the wetlands they create by ceasing to poison and over-fertilize your yards, by replacing biologically sterile lawns with native flowers, shrubs, and trees that support wildlife, by learning the names of all the native plants, animals, birds, and insects in your environment and teaching those names to your children, then you are merely killing your beloved beavers by slower methods than those planned by your HOA.

Sunrise over beaver pond.

  1. #1 by klarsen1839 on April 22, 2018 - 8:45 am

    This is wonderful, thank you for taking the time to write it! I’m going to have this in my head as I get out into my garden and get some of my spring plants started. Thanks again, and happy earth day!

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on April 22, 2018 - 9:07 am

      Thanks for reading. I, too, will be planting today. Happy Earth Day!

  2. #3 by Mary on April 22, 2018 - 8:49 am

    Thank you for the Earth Day reminder that we are all part of this planet. Let us protect the system that provides for each of us.
    Live Free …

  3. #5 by Julie Higgie on April 22, 2018 - 1:34 pm

    You express my feelings entirely! I live on a wetland area inhabited by beavers and other critters. It is an old-fashioned neighborhood not usually sprayed, and has no HOA. We love it that way! However we recently had new people move in who have their yard and trees sprayed. I’m wondering if they will hate me if I stop by to educate them on the subject of wildlife conservation?

    • #6 by piedmontgardener on April 22, 2018 - 3:46 pm

      Hi, Julie! Thanks for your comment. As for your new neighbors, I’m wondering if you should care if they hate you when you stop by to share with them the concept of wildlife conservation. But maybe that’s just me. 😉

  4. #7 by Susan on April 22, 2018 - 6:03 pm

    Thank you for this heartfelt and very important post.

    • #8 by piedmontgardener on April 22, 2018 - 7:00 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Susan — and for the compliments. 🙂

  5. #9 by Donna Deal on April 22, 2018 - 9:24 pm

    Yes! Fantastic essay. I totally agree with every word. I am absolutely sick about Chatham Park, and clear cutting is being allowed everywhere. There is little or no thought to open space and preserving any part of nature.

    • #10 by piedmontgardener on April 23, 2018 - 4:44 am

      Thanks for reading and your comments, Donna. It’s always nice to hear from you.

  6. #11 by Marsa Alam Desert Retreat on April 23, 2018 - 8:51 am

    Thank you for ‘bothering’ to write this for earth day, I share your frustrations with your new ‘nature loving’ neighbours. Unfortunately, they are the result of ‘commercialised environmentalism’. Victims who buy ozone friendly fly killer. Maybe you should be grateful that they haven’t covered the place in astroturf because they dislike worms. 😊 Great post!

  7. #12 by Lynn Smith on April 23, 2018 - 8:11 pm

    I’ve only read the headlines in the paper about the HOA’s plan to kill the beavers in Chatham County. Your blog provided great background information, as well as facts and an opinion, with which I whole-heartedly agree. There is so much food for thought in this one short post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I suggest that you also submit this post to the News and Observer, and to Our State Magazine..

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