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August 12, 2017

Ecosystem Re-Balance: Native Prairie, Native Plants, Seeds & Rewilding

 

You probably heard about rewilding before. The process is actually quite simple. Humans have destroyed, and are in the process of destroying, many ecosystems. Rewilding is the process in which individuals or organizations reverse and fight for the conservation of these destroyed ecosystems.

Rewilding is not only about conservation. It’s also about action based on knowledge and physical strength of planting seeds of plants that used to live in a certain place or trying to reintroduce both predators and key species to a certain area are also part of the rewilding process. There are a few organizations around the world that deal with the conservation of the environment. One great example is The American Chestnut Foundation in which I’ve been a member of for many years. In reality though, you can begin your own rewilding process if you have a bit of land.

How does the rewilding process begin?

Use research to try to find out the key species that can live in certain areas, as well as their key predators. Next, determine how damaged a certain area is. If damaged, try to determine the numbers of predators and key species by contacting local authorities.Sometimes, due to pollution or changes in the environment, some species go extinct. For example, if predators are hunted for their fur, the population of wild rabbits will grow wildly, and some of the population will migrate since they need more space.

When it comes to plants, using native seeds is extremely important because the regular seeds found in stores are genetically modified and might not have the same nutrients that native seeds have. This is particularly important for herbivores who will need as many nutrients as possible from their food.

Why should we care about rewilding in Wisconsin?

According to Greenpeace, the Amazonian forest will disappear by 2100 if we continue at this rate. The earth strongest lung will fade due to the illegal deforestation that occurs in Brazil. Despite the fact that many forests are protected on paper, hundreds of trees are being chopped down and sent to highly industrialized countries. We read tons of articles about corals and fish populations disappearing in the great barrier reef, but why should we care here at home? Rewilding is the only way we can save certain species from extinction that do not get press, look at the list . Introducing animals that once lived in captivity back into the wilderness again is the only way we can help them adapt and survive. This also applies to Wisconsin insects and plants that are threatened by the human activity, either through our abundant farming with pesticides or deforestation.

Unlike what most people think, rewilding doesn’t affect commercial activity that much. For example, whale watching is a more profitable business than hunting whales and selling their body parts. Fascinating travel activities like safaris can also be monetized without doing much harm to the ecosystem itself. Lake Michigan does not need to be over-fished for business to thrive. The best part about rewilding is the creation of self-sustainable systems. Once an area is protected from pollution and the right animal and plants are introduced, nature finds a way to keep the ecosystem balanced. You won’t have to worry about planting new seeds or constantly watching them if the ratio predator-prey is imbalanced.

Biodiversity is another concern that makes rewilding so important. Damaging habitats and overhunting can have disastrous effects. We all know what happened to the famous Dodo bird, which surprisingly survived the volcanic activity in Madagascar but went extinct 100 years later after Spaniards discovered Madagascar. Unfortunately, the Dodo bird is not an isolated case. Over 14 major species went extinct during the last century.

How you can contribute to the rewilding process

If you want to make a positive change and help the Wisconsin environment, there are few steps you can take, even if you aren’t part of a large organization.

One of the first things you should do is protect the animals by not feeding them bread, especially birds. What few people know is that doves and ducks do not thrive on a diet high in carbohydrates. Therefore, bread that both old and young people give to their favorite animals on the lake is actually harmful. Also, littering is often associated with environmental harm. However, few people know that animals are most impacted by it. When you throw food out the window while driving, you attract animals to the road. This why so many animals get hit by vehicles. Often times, they’re just searching for food.

Even simple things such as choosing paper over plastic can have a huge impact on the wildlife as well. On the coast, thousands of marine animals die every year because they mistake plastic bags for jellyfish. Whales, turtles, seals, and birds suffer a slow and painful death because they end up consuming the plastic, which can’t be digested by their gut. Pesticides are harmful both to the insects and plants. Also, pesticides used in agriculture can lead to serious health issues in humans who regularly consume vegetables on which pesticides were sprayed.

Recently it was discovered that the widely used pesticide Glyphosate may cause cancer. It’s also known to block the hormonal pathways in women, among many other issues. Fighting against pesticides not only saves the environment but our health as well.

What else can you do? Restore a Wisconsin prairie. 

How to restore a prairie? First, you need to make sure that your area was even a prairie 100 years ago and make sure that it wasn’t recently deforested. If your site of choice was recently deforested, you’ll still have trees competing with whatever you choose to plant. Besides, a recently deforested area is not a native prairie. When trying to restore a prairie make sure you use native seeds, no exotic plants, no genetically modified seeds. The whole point of restoring it is to recreate the ecosystem that was once damaged and to encourage the same type of insects and animals that one left the prairie to come back.

Prairies in Wisconsin

Over 400 types can be found in the prairies of Wisnconsin, however the prairies in this state, especially the tall grass prairies are in danger of disappearing. It takes a lot of research to find exactly what you should replant in your particular area. However between 1950 and 2017 plants specific to prairies started to be replaced by generalistic plants, like the ones you could find near roads or in a ditch. Many plants such as Ratlesnake master can absorb large amounts of water, protect communities against drought and absorb carbon dioxide. One of the easiest forms of making an impact is planting oak trees for forest land or native milkweed for fields. The amount of wildlife that uses both oak and milkweed is well over 1500 native species and would cause a major ecosystem impact in four years. Doing so is relatively cheap costing about $200 for 30,000 milkweed seeds covering about 10 acres.

Hope you enjoyed some random environmental thoughts, go plant oak trees!

~Michael Goetzman