Saturday, November 15, 2008

Our back yard

Why does global warming matter?
Anyone like my oldest nephew, who is “crazy” enough to race his dogsled team 1,000 miles across Alaska’s wilderness, can tell you. Ice in the polar regions that has moderated our global climate for millennia is melting, fast, but we will lose more than ice and polar bears.
The melting of polar ice will come to places like Allegany County, New York, too. One town here claims to be the Republican Party’s earliest birthplace, while another contains America’s earliest truly coeducational school, and the region’s oldest museum. Inhabitants invented the automotive universal joint, and performed the first successful instrumental insemination of honeybees.
Allegany County was logged and settled in the 19th century, and has remained mostly rural since then. This is a place where people get to know each other, and where neighbors look after each other.
Our family has lived in this county since 1827, when they traveled part of the way from Rhode Island on the Erie Canal. They came on by horseback and wagon, after they found the canal frozen, near Syracuse. Our great-great-grandmother wrote of those “pioneer” times, including her arms-length encounter with a bear as a young girl.
Other ancestors founded farms, producing food and goods for several communities and enough excess to send their children to Alfred University and even establish scholarship funds for others.
When the melting of polar ice results in the flooding of coastal urban areas, this region will be flooded with “refugees”, and they will bring their ways with them. Here in our two-college town, we already know what that can mean: binge drinking, loud cars, littering, careless drivers and hunters endangering our pets, homes and lives, and all-terrain vehicles trespassing with reckless abandon.
Plenty of other problems already threaten places like our small perched wetland, here on a hill at a place we call “Would Knot”. We have seen Painted Trillium, Ladyslippers, Dwarf Ginseng and other threatened plant species in its interior. These are often (if not always) nibbled off before they are able to produce seed, by White-tailed Deer. In our ancestors’ time, they killed the wolves and cougars without thought of any negative consequence, but their “vermin” would help to control the deer which now ravage nearly every plant in sight.
We have already lost the American Chestnut and Elm to pests imported from other continents, and most American Beech trees are infected and dying. Canadian Hemlock, and Sugar Maples, from which our ancestors made 500 pounds of sugar per year, in “pioneer days” may be next. None of them can move away from pests, but now an even larger, more insidious threat looms: Plants, and many animals, cannot readily move away from a climate that is no longer hospitable.
Right here in our back yard, I have seen Least Weasels (ermine) and Fisher, Black Bears and Coyotes. A few remained from great-great-grandmother’s time to my own, but I wonder what my son will see here when he is my age.

copyright 2008, G. Douglas Clarke

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I've been a number of things over the years: husband, father, environmental technical specialist, college instructor, carpenter, volunteer firefighter and ambulance driver, student of Lakota and Japanese languages, technical writer, process engineer, research technician, IT technician, emergency dispatcher, etc.