Elizabeth Jean Younce - The Withering
From the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Sagebrush Steppe and the Sonoran Desert to the Prairie, unique creatures inhabit and regulate these lands. The indigenous flora and fauna have been stewards of this land for centuries, often forming unique interdependent relationships that if altered would disrupt an entire ecosystem. A century and a half of industrialization, expansion, over-hunting, and corporate agriculture have led to the decline of native plants and animals in these areas, and as a result is having devastating effects on the environment at large.
Colonialist agricultural practices of planting invasive species have created virtual monocultures. Even things as seemingly minuscule as invasive grasses tend to have an extraordinary effect on ecosystems. In the Sagebrush Steppe, Cheatgrass is taking over, compromising growth of the Sagebrush which in turn minimizes the abundance of the Sage Grouse’s main food source. Buffelgrass is the most problematic and aggressive invasive plant in the Sonoran desert, replacing short grasslands with tall ones. These grasses consume the landscape by growing and spreading at such a rapid pace but in many cases can also burn more frequently than native species and grow back more abundantly after fires, completely transforming the landscape. Even when native species, like the Virile Crayfish, begin spreading their ranges into slightly new territory (Westward in Montana)their effect on the landscape can be disastrous.
As inhabiters of this land we should seek to maintain its natural balance. Instead, government organizations have played a significant role in altering our landscape through agriculture, development, and even medicine. The Farm Bureau incentivized farmers to kill Prairie Dogs that burrowed on their plots which led to the Black-Footed Ferret’s near extinction. The Biomedical industry currently captures live Horseshoe Crabs, bleeds them of a third of their blood, and then throws them back into the ocean claiming they survive the ordeal but many of them do not. Their blue copper-based blood is a life saving tool, since it clots on contact with bacteria and has been useful in vaccines (including the COVID-19 vaccine).Unfortunately, the Horseshoe Crab population decline has significantly impacted success rates of the Red Knot’s migration from the Southern most tip of Argentina to the Canadian Arctic.
Many of these destructive practices were commonplace throughout most of the twentieth century resulting in the rapid decline of species, and the climate crisis. As we learn about how human development effects the natural environment, it is more important than ever to be aware of, and reflect on, the delicate relationships our presence may be disrupting