Saturday, February 15, 2014

The toll of human "taking:" Wildlife buried alive

Naturalists, conservationists, and just-plain folks who enjoy the countryside of Wild Nature have known about this sad reality for many decades. But others and their “development” outfits, fueled by greed, fossil fuel and the dollar bill, conveniently ignore what happens to terrestrial wildlife that crawls, walks or slithers slower than a bulldozer or grader chugs along, wrecking – forever, almost always – the wild homes of those same critters.
Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen, in a May 7, 2006 essay headlined “Killing Animals for Profit,” wrote this, in part, about the burying of Gopher Tortoises in Florida – that’s the “burying alive” of the animal:
“Consider Florida’s poor, pokey Gopher Tortoise. Since 1991, the state has allowed grown-ups to bury 74,000 of them because their burrows stood in the path of future subdivisions, highways, golf courses, and supermarkets.
“Officials prefer the word ‘entomb’ instead of ‘bury’, but it’s the same dirty deed. Even on its most fleet-footed day, the average tortoise cannot outrace earthmoving machinery. Some are able to tunnel to freedom, but most suffocate slowly over a period of weeks.
“Gopher tortoises have been around for 60 million years, but the last few decades have been murder,” Hiaasen wrote. (Readers can take in the whole piece. It’s in Hiaasen’s new paperback titled “Dance of the Reptiles,” a collection of columns he’s written for the Herald.)
To learn more about this reptile, read a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet about the species at
Observers of Wild Nature have been watching, and taking field notes about, these kinds of unnatural, killing events for many decades. A field notebook of mine from the mid-1990s includes notes I took of the clearing of an urban forest in West Hazleton. That land, for more than a decade now, has been home to parking lots, retail shops, a supermarket, and a hardware store.
Among the observations I recorded on first seeing this clearing away of nature: “There goes hundreds of hibernating salamanders, likely a screech owl roosting cavity, and the tree-cavity homes of woodpeckers and nuthatches as well as the habitat for a diverse array of songbirds.” Hazleton-area residents who recall what that land once looked like are likely few in number today. But, there are many other case studies across the country.
Sadly, many such places are passed on the way to a protected natural area, a spot where Wild Nature is appreciated for, among other reasons, its positive impact to the human quality-of-life scale.
I see, and study a bit, scenes the one just described while on long fitness walks in northern Vermont. And a trip a couple of years ago to sprawl-mad Colorado Springs yielded more field notes on the local extirpation of nature.
Coming to grips with this habitat loss is made easier, and more meaningful to the observer, when thinking about it in terms of its toll on a favorite wildlife species. For me, as a longtime watcher of the herpetological world (reptiles and amphibians) that brings to mind the Red-backed Salamander. I Googled the species’ name and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (yes, there are state agencies whose mission encompasses both terrestrial wildlife and fish (unlike Pennsylvania, which has two agencies) offers this capsule of information: “This salamander is found under rocks, leaf litter, and rotten logs in deciduous, conifer, and mixed forests throughout Virginia. It nests in rotting logs or stumps or in cavities beneath rocks. It occurs at a variety of elevations, from the crest of Whitetop Mountain to areas as low as 3,000 feet.”
What happens to such animals when a front-end loader or grader shows up?
The same end as Gopher Tortoises continue suffering in Florida.

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