Giving Nature a Hand
By Jim Kurth
Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System
Mother Nature is pretty good at taking care of herself.
Ecosystems are full of forces that provide for renewal. Some occur annually, like flooding in bottomland hardwoods. Others are periodic, like fire in longleaf pine forests. There are infrequent, catastrophic events – major hurricanes, stand-replacing wildfires, tornadoes and derechoes – that reset the clock on natural succession of the landscape.
As our population continues to grow and more wild life habitat is converted to human uses, the fragmented landscape often prevents the ecosystem from functioning naturally. These fragmented lands, which include most of our national wildlife refuges, require management that mimics the ways natural landscapes function.
Over the years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has developed a wide variety of management practices to assure refuge lands provide healthy and vibrant habitat.
We have studied the ways that natural disturbances – like the ones described in a recent focus section of the Refuge Update newsletter – help shape ecosystems.
We have continued to learn and adapt our land and water management practices to accommodate such disturbances. No one manages land for wild life better than the Service staff working on national wildlife refuges.
At Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, where I started my refuge career in 1979, the coastal savannas the cranes depend on were so degraded that the birds were on the verge of extinction. We found only two nests in 1981. Timber companies had tried to drain the land, convert it to pine plantations and keep fire out.
Over the past 30-plus years, the refuge has worked hard to return fire to the landscape, restore natural hydrology and remove the pine plantations. The landscape has returned to its more natural state, and the birds have responded.
I saw on Facebook that the refuge had already found 15 crane nests by mid-April, and there’s plenty of time for more to be found. When bad budgets and big bureaucracy start to wear us down, it helps to remember stories like this can be found throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Ira Gabrielson told us in 1941 that “the conservation battle cannot be a short, sharp engagement, but must be grim, tenacious warfare – the sort that makes single gains and then consolidates these gains until renewed strength and a good opportunity makes another advance possible.”
Keep up the good fight.
For more stories like this, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/newswire/