May 28, 2020
The trees were dying. Scientists could find no infestation or disease. But something was impacting these stands of fir and cedar in Washington State’s old growth rain forests along the Elwha River. Turns out the problem was, in part, bear shit.
It was after the Elwha was damed in 1913 that the scientists began to see the tree death. And it was only after the dam was removed in 2012 that scientists realized what had happened in the more than 100 years that the salmon were blocked from their migration. Their conclusion: Over time, the Elwha’s fish populations dropped dramatically. In the Pacific Northwest, salmon are a linchpin in a healthy ecosystem. They carry critical marine-derived nutrients from ocean to forest, fertilizing riverbanks with their bodies as they die and decompose after spawning, and effecting terrestrial ecosystem productivity. Numerous animals rely on them, forming a chain of predation that circulates these critical nutrients throughout the forest.
Critical shit. The thing is, it’s all critical. Every part of the ecosystem is essential. Indigenous people knew this. Our ancestors knew this. And they knew themselves as part of, not separate from, this web of all life. We have forgotten to our peril.
Yes. The Earth restores and rebalances the ecological web. Even after 100 years. Even after only a few months, as we are seeing in this pandemic. The photos of cleaner waters and skies are remarkable. And we celebrate.
But in that celebration will we remember what our ancestors knew? Will we examine our intrusions on the Earth’s ecosystems, intrusions that are solely for human benefit and convenience? Will we shift the narrative and make decisions based on knowing that the natural world and every aspect of it is essential and critical? I join my voice with the many many others who say that we can and we must.
And I wonder. If we don’t, we may discover that essential and critical within the world’s ecosystems might have one exception. And that exception might be us.
Judith – firstname.lastname@example.org