I am sitting here on the last day of February, in 50 degree temperatures, looking at the activity around my bird feeder.
My mind turns to the changes occurring in the weather and their effects on wild plant and animal populations. Mind you, as an environmentalist and biologist, I have been seeing these changes slowly accumulating for the last three decades. Long before the debate over whether climate change was “a thing”, (it was known as global warming then), I was already observing, collecting data and analyzing the effects on the landscape. The shifts of both plant and animal population ranges were of particular interest.
Today, I note two new migratory bird species dropping by for a visit before they continue on to Canada. They are outside their normal flight pattern and about six weeks early. Many of the usual summer residents have also arrived already; very early indeed. It seems odd to hear their territorial calls, so loud and raucous, at this time of year. I wonder how many new species will begin to show up in the years to come, and how many will we lose. The mammals are out and about, too; the rabbits and squirrels still very plump with unused winter fat reserves. They really haven’t had a lot of severe cold to deal with for the last few years.
Having grown up in the mixed hardwood forests of the American Midwest, I have a particular affinity for the ecosystem. I derive much comfort and enjoyment while in the woods. Lately, I do worry for my beloved trees. I have repeatedly witnessed events that have never occurred before in my memory. For the past three years, several of my trees have produced buds in late December to early January, just to lose them during the next cold snap. Some of these trees seem to then have a hard time starting up again later in the spring, probably due to the depletion of their energy reserves. I expect that some of them will die off. My wooded childhood comfort zone is changing and that saddens me. However, I am excited to see what new species will come in to replace them; what will my new comfort zone look like?
I think most informed people have finally accepted that climate change is truly “a thing”. However, there is still the debate as to whether humans caused it and whether we can “fix” it. Personally, I think it is extremely arrogant of our species to think that we have the power to completely change the underlying workings of the environment. Did we contribute to the acceleration of its occurrence? Probably. Would it have happened to some extent anyway. I think so. Does it make sense for us to point the finger of blame at each other? Not to me.
One thing I learned of in my life among the wild things is the amazing resilience of natural ecosystems. As individual components are removed, new ones repopulate the vacant niches and life moves on just as efficiently and harmoniously as before the perturbation. Will we be wiped out because of all this? Maybe, if we don’t adapt. But, we are very good at that. What we could do is try to foresee the potential upcoming changes and prepare…and enjoy the unfolding saga as it happens.