The loud guttural rumble of the approaching truck snaps my attention away from the slowly creeping fire. The burn crew has just left, and I’m out by the road leaning on the fire engine watching the last bit of life of the controlled burn’s flame slip away. Only minutes ago, it had been a glorious display, with columns of fire and smoke reaching high into the heavens. I see the truck now – a dark form on large tires slowly flanking my position. With my stare on the fire’s flame and my peripheral vison on the ominous truck, I watch as the driver sticks his middle finger high into the air and shouts $%*^&(%^*$ at me.
While this happens many times each year, and the sting isn’t as painful as it used to be, it’s a constant reminder that we’re alone in our choice to restore biodiversity to the land. And with my passion just exposed by fire and smoke for all to see, his words catch me at a vulnerable time. As a younger self, I would have charged my hill of despair, relying on only my internal convictions to guide my steps. Today, I find, I need the knowledge that there are others who care, to muster the strength to move forward against seemingly unbeatable obstacles.
Many landowners engaged in ecological restoration find themselves isolated and alone in their efforts to promote biodiversity. Not only are unmanaged neighboring lands “hostile,” with a constant threat of invasive species encroachment, neighboring landowners’ attitudes can also be openly hostile against our land use. Combine this with property tax laws that penalize conservation and societal values that seemingly only value consumption, it’s easy to understand how our uphill climb looks more like a major mountain climbing expedition comparable to scaling Denali.
In the times when darkness and self-doubt creep in, I long ago traded in my ice ax, rope and crampons for the strength that comes in knowing there are others out there who value biodiversity as much as me. I find myself thankful for the support I receive from others who share similar values - such as the readers of this blog, my clients, my private and government professional peers, fellow engaged landowners, members of conservation organizations I belong to, and my ever-supportive wife, Debra.
I hear the cry of a red-tail hawk and look skyward to see him circling above. Like the generations before him, they have all learned through the years how to exploit our prescribed fires for their hunting benefit. I catch movement below me and spot a meadow vole scurrying among the cool ashes. I think, you’re lucky I’m here little guy, or Mr. Hawk would surely make you lunch! The hawk, the vole, and the timeless struggle of predator and prey. They represent an important, yet small, part of the diversity of life and its ancient processes that call this place home. Their home is also my home. A home that I am happy to share.
For all the people in the universe who care about biodiversity and conservation, stretch out a hand to a neighbor, join and support conservation groups, volunteer for land management work parties or advocate on behalf of biodiversity. Your efforts will not go unnoticed, for there are some of us out there on the conservation front lines who need to know you exist. We need to know you care!