According to a recent evaluation, the eastern United States has no wilderness left at all. You might want to dispute that. But the issue is fragmentation. "Once fragmented, an entire habitat may change in character, such as the eastern forest did after the initial wave of deforestation that doomed species like the passenger pigeon." This is a quote from The Once and Future Forest , a new book by Leslie Sauer, from Island Press. Leslie, you will remember, was the restoration ecologist who 'knocked our socks off' during SUMMIT III, Can the Creeks Run Clear.
The book documents in detail her restoration practices, how to heal a scarred landscape, how to restore a scoured embankment, what techniques, what implements to use, what micro-organisms may need to be re-introduced and how. I recommend it for all of you who would like to see the creeks run clear. It is Chapter three I quoted from. The chapter offers some interesting insights in view of the forest fragmentation that surrounds us in Maryland.
In the eyes of most planners and developers, a 25 foot forest buffer should be sufficient to shield a passerby from the impact of a major shopping mall. We sometimes hear talk of 100' to 300' buffers for various impacts, and we're lulled into accepting that pitiful remainder of trees as if it could still function as an ecosystem. It can't. Even at a casual glance it appears weary, forlorn. And to an expert it has lost its essence.
It is no longer large enough to house the migratory species which once found shelter there, raised a brood. Invasive vines like honeysuckle and poison ivy take over. Seed dispersal becomes difficult. Winds dry out the seedlings reducing the likelihood of their survival. Road kills occur with increasing frequency because the normal pathways animals frequent have been interrupted. (I am reminded of a porcupine pathway I discovered anew each year in the snow, which had been used by generations of porcupines traveling the woods.) We forget - or never knew - that animals have traditional pathways from one place to another. When we plan a road, we do not take into consideration what the habitual uses have been by other species than our own. We often do not even protect our own traditional uses.
And we disconnect the water systems, the upland wetlands, the ephemeral streams, the patterns of water in the landscape to which plant and animal communities have adapted over millennia. "Small headwater streams are segmented by impoundments or eliminated altogether and buried in drainage pipes. Large rivers are channelized."
In many places, even when we see trees all around us, we see none of the forest that once characterized the area" because the fragmentation of forest has altered species composition allowing alien species to invade and expand at the expense of natives. This sort of forest will not support warblers. Only the weed species of birds can survive here. Think of the visual loss, the loss of song.
I got my copy of Leslie's book in paperback $30 . . . an investment worth making to guide us each, working with our family, our neighbors, our City, County, and State foresters, Public Works officials, planners, developers. As Leslie says, "You will never be quite the same after you have grasped the ecological aesthetic. The landscape will be forever transformed in your eyes. Driving down a country road, a city street, or an interstate highway will be different. Walking into a wood or into a backyard garden will be different. To see the world whole is to appreciate the integration of form between the bee and the flower, the shape of a blade of grass, and the character of the prairie or of the rhythm of growth in a forest. It is to see the need and the opportunities we have to reinhabit each place. It is to recognize that while many worry about the cost of "going green", the real issue is the price we have already paid and will continue to pay for exploiting and degrading our environment."