Bark from our indigenous trees is used in African Traditional Medicine. In rural areas, in earlier times, the bark was sustainably harvested. Fast forward to busy markets in large South African cities … and trees are ring barked and killed.
All the more reason to encourage people to explore sandy beaches where they will mostly find already dead organisms such as empty mollusk shells, pieces of water plants already severed from the underwater substrate, cast-off exuviae of arthropods, and so on.
Not all of nature exploration has to involve serious damage to the organism’s habitat.
And all of the people that live inland, many hours drive from a beach are just supposed to refrain from exploration??? Just asking???
There are way more people inland than those close to a beach…just saying…
There are many other ways in which inland folks can try to take advantage of observing organisms that are already dead. There’s roadkill of course (unfortunately) but there are also plants that get cut or trimmed by roadsides to improve visibility for traffic. I am sure there are lots of other examples out there if you start looking for them.
And I should point out that smaller sandy beaches also occur on rivers, streams, and lakes, not just on oceans and seas. And all those other beaches accumulate flood debris after rain events and storms, and flood debris has a lot of land-snail and sometimes water-mollusk shells in it.
As I was saying in my first post on this topic…
Heavy rains, strong winds, trees falling over, rock slides, soil collapses on banks or cliffs, etc…do more damage than a person can do in reasonable exploration in nature.
Have you ever seen an area after a bear has been foraging for insects/larvae or roots?
Have you ever seen an area where a flock of wild turkeys have foraged for food?
Have you ever seen an area after animals such as deer, elk, bear or moose have been fighting?
These cause a lot more damage than an individual or even several responsible individuals cause while exploring nature…
Come on people! If we stop exploring (being in) nature, go back to our cities, and focus on our flickering technology, we are still disturbing (or outright destroying) habitat! We need people who not only can recognize their own footprint on the land, but understand their place in ecology and hold a deep reverence for the wild; we won’t get that if we restrain ourselves from time in Nature, merely because our presence causes disturbance (as does the presence of any other large animal).
In New England and the greater northeast, our species has dramatically altered the character of the landscape over the last few centuries; most of our forests today are even-aged second growth forests that lack the structure and biodiversity of old growth forests. In this case, human disturbance, if applied in the right way, can be an immensely positive thing. I heat my house with wood, and cut the wood from living trees, for the exact reason that this forest will benefit from having more light reach the forest floor, more space between individual trees, more deadwood enriching the soil, and more snags and fallen logs providing structure (habitat). Since the forest is still developing and largely short on snags, I also will girdle some live trees, this creates a snag that will eventually fall over and return to the soil, all while providing habitat and food for mammals, birds, insects, amphibians, fungi, plants, etc., during its “lifetime”. Some people, when they’ve seen the little patch of forest I tend (a term I prefer to manage), find themselves in disbelief to learn that I would kill, and then not even use a tree, but they don’t know the flying squirrels who find shelter here, or the sapsuckers and barred owls who have raised their young here; I could go on, but I’m hoping you get my point. Our ecosystems in this region thrive on disturbance (even if it is as simple as a tree dying of old age), but this disturbance has largely been interrupted by humans in the past few centuries; I feel that it is our responsibility to do right by this when and where we can.
As to the original example, yes, I do peel back the bark of trees to look for insects, and I look under logs and rocks to find salamanders, but I do so with moderation; I don’t try flipping over every rock I find, this way there is still plenty of undisturbed habitat available for these animals to move to, if need be. I also do a lot of work to improve habitat for these species, and without knowing how they are using different habitats, this work would be poorly informed.
Too often I see people saying things along the lines of “Well, I can’t criticize governments or corporations or have any opinion on climate change, because I take long showers / don’t always turn my lights off / drive a car etc…” This is an attitude that of course absolutely delights those people who are truly destroying nature, because we’re feeling bad about ourselves instead of getting angry at them. Which is why they do everything they can to encourage this attitude and dismiss us as hypocrites when we call for nature protection.
So I say try to do everything you can to not disturb or destroy anything you don’t have to. But don’t beat yourself up over peeling a bit of bark when in the next lot someone is probably cutting all the trees down.
Thank you this helps a lot.
I would add to this that I also work a lot to tend native plant communities, this can be removing destructive invasive species, or “weeding” out unwanted plants, often to favor a different species. And a lot of my “forestry” work has to do with preserving and restoring the herbaceous communities in the understory. Yes, this does involve disturbance, but it is relatively minor in comparison to what ‘natural’ events can do. Just this summer, a powerful thunderstorm leveled several acres of second growth forest near my house, making it look like some kind of clearcut, though it was entirely natural, and perhaps is just what the forest needs if some of the shade-intolerant canopy species are going to persist here into the future. Looking under logs and rocks for salamanders is nothing in comparison.
I was about to reply on your prior post when I saw you covered my additional angle on it right here. :)
In my woods, I do see a lot of foraging disturbance from these animals (plus raccoons, chipmunks etc). I use these particular sites to my advantage when I can: Rather than peeling up a patch of moss myself, I pick up the moss bits that an animal has already scratched up, for example.
Looking for these spots also helps me understand how the animals are “hanging out” when I’m not there.
When I find a new insect/animal species that I have not seen I am happy but I am sad that I disturbed it.
That’s perfect I live just a few minutes away from a beach.
Thank you everyone for replying this has helped me a lot.
You are touching on something that hasn’t been discussed specifically - scale. There is a difference between me lifting one or two logs in an area, and lifting every single log in the same area. The first one has minimal effect on non-human life, the second is more damaging. As you point out, nature itself can cause a lot of damage without human interference, so to organisms this is somehow ‘normal’. Similarly, if my dog defecates in the bush, it will break down as part of a normal process. Dumping the waste from an industrial pig farm in one place overwhelms the process and becomes a pollution problem. I don’t really see a problem with one or two humans exploring a natural habitat and perhaps doing some sampling as well. Yes, there will be some damage done, but nothing that ‘life’ can’t deal with. Get a hundred people doing it in the same area and it becomes problematic. I suspect that most folks in iNat either are already minimising their impact, are observing in cities or other previously disturbed sites, or will offer direction to new naturalists.
I’m not trying to minimise this issue, but it is possible to go overboard. One of my sons did an Outdoor Rec. degree, and realised on one trip that every step he took caused some of the boot sole to wear off. He’s a sensible guy, and was able to put it into a larger context. If he had allowed that idea to guide him, he would go nowhere. So, moderation folks!
I’d just like to mention that we have similar problems in Canada, mainly in Western mountainous forests. I believe is an introduced beetle that has killed vast swaths of conifer trees. I haven’t seen them personally, but have read about them.
Exactly…As my last sentence states in a previous post…the emphasis on the bold and italic words below…
We also have a problem with fungus that spread quite in recent years by bark beetles, so now all old huge elms are dead and almost all on the ground already, good opportunity for other fungi growing on them, but to see it and reading how it’s a global problem and trees can die in months is sad, hopefully younger trees are still ok and alive, but they’ll need another 50 years to come close in size to those that are dead.
Yes, we’ve lost almost all our elms to Dutch elm disease. The beetle is native, but the fungus is introduced. It’s tragic.
There is much have been said already, my post will be repetitive somewhat, but in my opinion, there are three golden points that should not be broken:
- Type of organism
By scale I mean extent of damage. All explorations do some damage. It is fine to break a decaying stump or two if you are doing a research. But I will never understand breaking stumps for idle curiosity, nice pic, etc. I would not even understand breaking all stumps in, let us say,study plot, even for a research.
By type of organism I mean how much damage affects vitality of the organism. It is OK to break a small fruitbody of a fungus if necessary, or a piece of plant or a lichen (providing they are not rare) for ID or research. But killing organisms should be done only for research and only in smallest possible numbers.
By situation I mean disturbing animals (even common ones) when they rear young and in winter, when they feed, especially daytime species, for which short winter days provide little opportunities to find food.
As several people have said, it is a question of scale and acting with moderation.
One point that has been hinted at already but maybe deserves a more explicit mention: When you destroy a piece of habitat, you invariably create another. When you peel off a piece of bark, you create an area of exposed wood that might suit hole-nesting wasps, and the piece of bark on the ground now acts as a new piece of shelter for ground-dwellers. When you trample a section of pond edge, you create bare mud where annual plants can germinate.