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Earth Week Empathy for Life

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Earth Week should help us focus on our local community and things occurring in our neighborhoods that affect our daily lives. This might help us be better citizens. If we get to know the species that enrich our soils, purify our water, remove natural and human-caused pollutants, clean the air, and enhance biodiversity, we might be more empathetic and care more about their lives.
In Florida, a man died after disappearing when his bedroom fell into a sinkhole. It is a family tragedy. We care most about those closest to us and we empathize with that family’s loss. Headlines focus on natural tragedies around the world affecting humans. We hear good stories but it seems we focus on sharing bad stories. I want to know about problems I can rectify, resolve, or avoid. Human car accident deaths make news because they happen to one of our own. It does not make news when cars kill a deer, fox, squirrel, mink, song sparrow, ruffed grouse, monarch butterfly, cecropia moth, milkweed beetle and other species. Most small things killed are not even noticed until we clean their dead bodies from our windshields. We lack empathy for their lives because we do not know them or how they benefit our community.
Abundant species biodiversity ensures better functioning ecosystems and reduces time, energy, and money required to maintain a healthy community that supports our livelihood, pleasure, and basic survival needs. We evolved in association with other species yet systematically eliminate other species, not realizing we need their presence for society to function healthy and economically.
We view some species as bothersome and would prefer they not be present. Things like black flies, mosquitoes, termites, and wasps are targets for our destruction. In our quest, we often alter environments and kill thousands of species. Most species provide benefits for fruit tree and crop pollination, natural pest control, or are food for species we desire like Baltimore Orioles. Narrow focused pest management practices damage ecosystems. Aldo Leopold revolutionized wildlife management practices from single species management to ecosystem management practices with his 1933 text Wildlife Management. We could apply those principles to pest management in our home landscape to restore damaged natural communities for the benefit of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
It is not that we do not care about future generations. We have become more isolated from working the land or spending time in nature. We do not get to know our neighbors or their importance. By neighbors, I refer to species that share nature niches. Focus attention on the dozens of species of moths by the porch light. Most are helpful beneficial neighbors. Over 1000 species of moths have important functions in our community. Most people might only think of tomato hornworms, clothes moths, or exotic Gypsy Moths and conclude all moths are bad. This Earth Week start encouraging others to notice the beneficial creatures in ecosystems instead of focusing on those we consider bad.
Most of the moths in the yard are food for the birds we hope to see. Many pollinate plants we hope establish in wild areas of the yard. Wasps eat a great many caterpillars and prevent them from causing serious damage to plants. Spend more time getting to know nature niche neighbors that share your yard. There is more than a lifetime’s effort and enjoyment within footsteps. The variety of species is great and can only be protected once we get to know the species that share the yard. Begin to empathize with their lives this Earth Week, the entire year, and your lifetime.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

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