If you have been following the news for the past few years, you will have seen many disturbing and distressing news items surrounding mass die-offs of birds, fish, mammals and other wildlife. The headlines would lead you to believe that the scientific community is puzzled by these events, but is that really the case?
The facts are bleak and hard to face. Since 1970, half of all life on this planet has been extinguished. The sole cause is human activity. What took this earth 4.5 billion years to create, we have destroyed in just 45 years.
Loss of habitat due to human encroachment remains the leading cause of wildlife deaths worldwide. Whether it is direct, like building a new subdivision of homes, or indirect, such as mining or logging for resources for us to use, the net result is the same. The science on this is clear. Every time you increase human access into an area, you degrade habitat and negatively impact wildlife.
The facts of this reality seem overwhelming and can certainly make one feel powerless when faced with this kind of unstoppable force. While there are choices you can make around your home that can lessen the impact of this type of destruction, it is sometimes difficult to see how one can positively impact the environment under this kind of pressure.
Now, here’s the good news. Extensive research has shown how we can preserve the diversity of life on this planet, and how we can save wildlife. The solution lies in limiting human access into environmentally sensitive and significant areas, and to re-naturalize and restore the habitats that have been damaged. There have been some successes using these methods in bringing back species from the brink, including the Florida Manatee, and the Whooping Crane.
So, while you personally may not be able to do anything about the whales or the pandas, you definitely can take steps to provide support for our endangered and threatened species.
Here in The Scarborough Bluffs, the species that need the most protection and habitat restoration are butterflies, migrating songbirds, and our local bat population. The easiest way that you can help Monarch butterflies is to plant milkweed in your yard. Easy to care for, milkweed provides a habitat for Monarchs to lay their eggs, and food for their caterpillars when they emerge. The Monarch population is in a massive decline, and while measures have been taken to protect their overwintering habitat in Mexico, we need to increase their habitat in Canada if they are to survive.
Providing habitat for migrating birds is as easy as planting native species of shrubs and plants on your property that provide food and shelter for them. Did you know that The Bluffs is an important habitat for an endangered species of bat? The Little Brown Bat is frequently seen at dusk hunting for insects. Look up around any street or park lights around dusk, and you will often see the resident bats hunting up their evening meal from the insects that are attracted to the lights. Bat houses are inexpensive, and can be tucked away in a quiet corner of a yard providing shelter and habitat.
And, probably the most important thing you can do is to be mindful of our public spaces and the wildlife that live there. When the community is asked to consult on parks and public spaces, there is much weight given to amenities that increase human access and activity, like paved paths, bridges and boardwalks. Remember that every time you increase access into an area, you will take away from nature. While you may have a personal desire to access a park or a particular place easier and with less effort, you will ultimately take away from the experience that drew you there in the first place. Science has also taught us that a connection to nature is vital for our health and well-being. It is for our sakes, as well as the diversity of other life on this planet, that we need to protect some of our wild spaces and preserve a natural heritage for future generations.
Not every park or public space needs to be accessed by cars and paved over with concrete for easy access. This is especially the case with The Bluffs, which is one of the best natural places left to visit in the GTA. Nothing beats the sheer joy of being able to watch deer grazing or seeing a majestic Bald Eagle soar overhead. There is an excitement that almost everyone feels when encountering an animal in their local environment. I often come home with enthusiasm every time I get to see a fox out on the trails, or get excited when a rare migratory bird comes to the feeder. An event like that can make your whole day!
Whenever you are enjoying our beautiful outdoor spaces, stop, take a breath and look around. Who else is sharing this space with you? And, ask yourself what you can do for them.
Habitat Restoration Resources: