When conservation groups burn natural land, does it disturb wildlife species? Simply put, yes.
Then why do we do it, and how can we call it “ecological fire” if it may harm some species?
Historically, fire was a natural part of the ecology of the Midwest before the land was settled by European-Americans 200 or more years ago. As settlers moved into the area, they did their best to suppress wildfires. After all, fire is dangerous and destructive, especially to human settlements that might be in the path of a fast-moving inferno.
I read an article about bats in the most recent University of Vermont alumnae magazine today. It made me want to cry.
Bats are dying due to a little-understood disorder called "White nose syndrome." The disorder causes the bats to wake frequently throughout their winter hibernation, and since they are hungry when they wake, they fly off in search of insects - their primary source of food. The problem is that in the winter, there are no insects, so the bats expend valuable energy in futile searches before returning to their winter slumbers. By the time they wake in the spring, the bats are so emaciated, that they are susceptible to other illnesses that healthy bats can easily fight off. So, the bats die from a variety of things, so it has been hard to pin-point the exact cause of the syndrome.
As I look around this time of year - leaves off the trees, flowers now brown, insects and other small creatures hidden away - I can't help but think of the wisdom of Nature.
Months ago, as the amount of daylight was shrinking and temperatures started to decline, plants and animals were heeding these signals and starting to store energy for the coming winter.
Deciduous trees and bushes like oaks and maples literally shut down for the season. Sap no long flows, and without leaves, photosynthesis - that energy producing machine - ceases. Perennial plants like coneflowers and hostas die back to the ground after storing as much energy in their roots as they can. Frogs find a mucky spot where they nestle in for the winter, their vital signs dropping to near zero as they enter a state of suspended animation.
When the snow and ice and freezing temperatures arrive, they are ready. And rather than fight back against the weather with shovels and salt and four-wheel drive, they wait. They wait patiently while the amount of daylight grows longer and the temperatures climb ever so slowly.
The plants and animals are ready for winter. Are you?
Did you hear the sound of a thumb raking over the teeth of a comb while on a recent hike? That's the Western Chorus Frog. The first frog to emerge when the ground thaws.
They are very loud near some wetlands in our area, particularly in the Alden region where small, fishless ponds (vernal pools) abound this time of the year. A diversity of tiny creatures, such as the fairy shrimp (photo to the right), are found in abundance, providing a valuable food source for the recently emerged amphibians, as well as the hatchling salamanders, frogs, toads and turtles.
In larger ponds - those with fish - these small creatures do not survive, as they become food for the fish. But, in the small temporary pools of spring, the young amphibians are able to mature, feed on mosquito larvae, and breed so there will be future generations!
If you live near one of these spring pools, be on the lookout for spotted salamanders! They have a tendency to end up in window wells - the three on the left were rescued from one during a spring hike to look at vernal pools and the critters found there!