I am 28 years old now, yet one lesson in middle school about politics and ecology has remained vivid in my mind. I remember being taught about the Chinese communist revolution and their desire to kill the birds that were eating their grain. In order to increase crop production, Mao Zedong had ordered the killing of sparrows. The reasoning was that if the birds were killed, more grain would be available for the population. The decline in the sparrow population resulted in unrestrained growth for many types of insects; subsequently, the insects actually did more damage to crop yields than the birds themselves. This, and other factors, contributed to the death of millions of people due to starvation.
[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjRZIW_hRlM[/youtube]
In the videos subtitles: “Cereals” = Grain. 🙂
Despite this memorable teaching, I had not given much thought about ecology growing up in California. I grew up in a medium size developed city near the coast; it all seemed pretty barren. The animals that I had seen growing up near my home were the occasional stray cat or dog. The plants that I remember were presumably mostly nonnative ornamental plants. In 2015, I moved to Oregon for the VetsWork program with the Mt. Adams Institute, AmeriCorps, and the Forest Service. Between the immersion into this new region and my responsibilities with the Forest Service, ecology has become a reoccurring thought.
One of the most interesting examples I have come across are the wolves of Yellowstone. In 1926 wolves were eradicated from Yellowstone National Park, and in 1995 wolves were reintroduced to the area. Elk are the preferred food source for these wolves, and when the elk populations began to decline something interesting occurred. Vegetation began to thrive once again, most notably many of the species of trees. With the increase in trees, beavers returned to their native habitats and the damns they built provided habitats for insects, birds, and other animals. The pools of water created by the damns also helped more plants to grow; which in turn helped more species to thrive (1). This is one of the positive accounts I have come across.
From the air we breathe to the water we drink, we are inextricably linked to our environment. To be more specific, Oregon, Washington, and a few southern states are the primary producers of timber and lumber. When individuals mismanage these resources by destroying animal populations, introducing nonnative species, or introducing pollutants, we all lose in the long run. We rely on these resources, and without them our lives would change dramatically. Without proper management these resources are no longer sustainable. Change begins with the individual and trickles up to society.
[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q[/youtube]