Towering pin oaks shade vernal pools, which hum with the sounds of a diverse cloud of insects that are prey for the salamanders, toads and frogs who call this forested swamp home. As day fades to dusk, the chorus frogs and spring peepers welcome the return of spring. Later in the season they make way for the calls of American toads, gray tree frogs, green frogs and bullfrogs.
In the savannah we glimpse barn swallows swooping after insects, blue winged warblers standing on branches as a stage for their song and monarch butterflies sipping nectar in the grasslands.
All of these ecosystems contribute to the biodiversity of a natural area, providing habitat for wood thrush that prefer forest interior, blue-spotted salamanders that dwell in the leaf litter and white-tailed deer and robins that live along the edge. We are an integral part of this whole; this world is our natural heritage, part of what makes us and keeps us.
Is our natural heritage a commodity that should be sold to the highest bidder? Are those who fight to preserve wetlands and forests against development and progress?
We have been equating growth of population and subdivisions with a forward step for our communities, seeing them as the promise of prosperity.
We look for short-term gains while ignoring the long term advantages that leaving areas in a natural state can bring. Natural capital is a metaphor used to account for the many benefits that flow to us from nature. “Natural Capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this Natural Capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.” (World Forum on Natural Capital) A trend is growing to try to put a dollar value on ecological services, but the life support and sustainability functions that they provide far exceed any market value that we could possibly assign to them.
As these benefits are free, many who deal mainly with dollar values do not value them. When wetlands are destroyed to build more subdivisions, developers increase their monetary wealth but leave a huge debt of demolished natural capital that they do not have to pay to the citizens of a community who are left with an impoverished ecosystem. Many community members may never appreciate the value of natural areas until they are gone and ecosystem services such as flood control and cleaner air and water are jeopardized.
Here in Niagara we have many brownfields and lands without valuable natural heritage features that could be developed. We need to do all we can to stop the needless destruction of any more of our natural areas. We need to preserve our biodiversity as each loss of species and habitat lessens our resilience to threats such as climate change and pollution.
As naturalists, we all know that our natural areas are vital to our sense of health and peace and well-being. We know that children need to spend time in nature. Spread the word! It will take all of us to stop the loss of our natural heritage by a thousand cuts.