The rural poor often knew something about wildlife habitat management. They would speak in terms of referring to this as “they kinda like it brushy.” Or, “yep, deer always like the acorns and beechnuts up there by the ridge.” It could mean a food supply engaging in this sustenance hunting in the past.
The ultimate quote I once came across when earlier researching wild turkeys came from a Deep Southern who said, “I never eat no tame turkey” when asked whether there was a difference in taste between domestic fowl served up at Thanksgiving versus the wild stock. That seemed a standout answer to me. The wild version feasts on pecans, hickory nuts, acorns, beechnuts, and other hard mast for an apparently indescribable taste most of us will never know — unless we hunt.
Poor people always have had to shoot or trap wild animals for the table. They had to learn the habits and habitat needs of the natural food they sought. It has often surprised endangered species managers that putting converted poachers to work (for maintaining that particular mammal or bird) as the quickest way to ensure their return.
The former poachers were just that good at knowing the wildlife’s entire life existence. This fact is almost universal across the globe, and becomes a social welfare program at the same time preserving the species in question. My friend Cheyenne says the best way to “learn about nature” is be hungry and go into the woods.
Today, all this backwoods information can be very relevant, as more and more of us own wild property. Yes, we only care predominantly about songbirds and the success of non-tropical migrants’ reproduction up here. But what amazes me is to constantly find that we already know most of the stuff we need to enhance the wildlife habitat we care so strongly about, whether we hunt or birdwatch. It’s all the same thing, really, and what I have tried to do is merge these two dichotomies into a holistic approach for naturally managing the land.
From the federal government’s work back in President Franklin D.Roosevelt’s time to state wildlife shrub nurseries of today, there are many instances where people possessed careers spanning 30 years remain fascinated with this natural resources knowledge. But today, I fear we are now forgetting more than we knew as we become increasingly urban. The coined term “nature deficit” has even arisen.
I think native shrubs need our help in flourishing since they go along with our country lifestyle so well. I once discovered Ward M. Sharp’s introduction to “Shrubs and Vines for Northeastern Wildlife” in speaking about Pennsylvania’s experiences over past decades”
“It has not been generally realized that in the agricultural era, conditions of rural living (including clearing and burning, extensive acres of pasture land, fence rows, and early lumbering operations) enabled native shrubs to flourish and increase in abundance. Now with clean farming, use of herbicides, and conversion to a closed canopy forest, native shrubs have declined in sites where they were formerly abundant. These conditions point up to the need for an aroused interest in the ecology and management of native shrubs and vines.
“Beginning in the 1930s, shrubs from other parts of the world took precedence over native species. Much emphasis has been on exotic species for wildlife and soil-erosion plantings since that time. Consequently, native species received little study except by a few individuals who recognized the limitations and risks of exotics compared to native species. Even with emphasis on planting millions of exotics in wildlife habitats, they have contributed little forage or fruits for wildlife. Having conducted studies in shrub ecology over the past two decades in Pennsylvania, I can only view the future with concern if interest in native shrubs continues to lag as in the past four decades.”
He had worked for the Bureau of Sports Fisheries and Wildlife in that state.
I guess this is where I came in. Now recent legislation passed by New Hampshire’s state government and others are saying pretty much the same thing when they are banning the sale of and outlawing introduced cultivars that can escape into the wild. These plants are guilty of competing with our berry bushes and nut producing shrubs, and they are not as nutritious feeding native wildlife.
The North American Bluebird Society members said as much in their former quarterly publication, “Sialia.” Planting native shrubs and maintaining them for overwinter use by bluebirds is the only realistic way to deal with the worries about any winter’s deep snows’ effect on this species. Those natural berries of the forage shrubs feed bluebirds in the off season.
So, there is company to keep with similar concerns and knowledge as mine. Spring shrub sales by Audubon societies and our local conservation districts are also helpful.
Dave Eastman also broadcasts “Country Ecology” four times weekly over WMWV 93.5 FM. As vice president of the Lakes Region Chapter/ASNH, he welcomes you to monthly programs at the Loon Center in Moultonborough. He is available at: countryecology.com for consultation.