A World of Weeds and Wounds

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In an October 1998 essay in Harper’s Magazine, David Quammen proposes the idea of  “weedy” species: “scrappers, generalists, opportunists. They tend to thrive in human-dominated terrain because in crucial ways they resemble Homo sapiens, aggressive, versatile, prolific and ready to travel.”

As humans construct and expand their built environment, the natural world becomes increasingly depauperate with wild, native species giving way to adventitious weedy species able to take advantage of and even thrive in degraded environments. Through species extirpation and extinction, biodiversity is decreased, leaving only those species dependent on humans and/or those that can survive in spite of human domination.

Here in Santa Cruz, our City and County officials are overwhelmed by crime, gangs, “homelessness” and general disrespect for law and order, as a result of unlimited population growth. City and County officials seek to solve the problems brought on by population growth by encouraging even more population growth, and resulting development of the tiny bit of remaining natural land that makes Santa Cruz such an attractive place to live, work and play.

City and County bureaucrats and elected officials cannot see what some of us see when we look at Jesse Street Marsh, the San Lorenzo River, the Arana Gulch Greenbelt, Pogonip, Moore Creek, County beaches and mountains. They see only problems with price tags attached. To them, environmental protection and restoration costs money and does not solve the problems that reflect on their job performance and/or their re-election.

“Activating” natural areas is bureaucrat speak for social engineering to cause the problems to move elsewhere, somewhere less “activated,” the next place to be stripped of its native vegetation, its wildlife driven off, its water diverted to human uses, it’s air filled with noise.

The ultimate outcome is that human growth and development inevitably diminishes natural areas to the point that we live in a world of weeds and wounds. It’s to the point that there are really no “natural” areas left. Even “wilderness” is conceived of and formed by human intervention.

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

It is the job of those of us who see the marks of death in our world of wounds and weeds to speak out, whether others want to be told or not.

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One thought on “A World of Weeds and Wounds

  1. Well said. It is interesting to reflect on the bird species that have adapted to our urban culture – and ask whether the crows, jays, cowbirds, etc. are a mirror of our own aggressiveness, opportunism, and, yes, imtelligence.

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