Environmental expert shows how forests reflect health of the planet

Chagrin Valley Times

August 23, 2018

by Joan Demirjian

Protect Geauga Parks hosted Judy Semroc, conservation specialist with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, recently to talk about habitat fragmentation.

Cutting into the forest cover means a loss to insects, butterflies, animals and birds, she said at the event held at the West Geauga Library. Large openings in the forests could cause some to perish. “Forests are essentially the lungs of our planet,” Ms. Semroc said.

In introducing Ms. Semroc, Kathryn Hanratty of Protect Geauga Parks noted that it is important to understand the value of conservation and the perils of failing to protect the values of the natural world.

Deforesting involves clearing without intent to establish future growth, Ms. Semroc said. Ecosystems can change dramatically, she said. Clear cutting is the most common form of timber harvesting. It is much easier to move over bare ground and that is why they do clear cutting, she added.

Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests in order to utilize the trees and land. Timber harvesting involves every marketable tree being cut down.

Some 28,000 species may go extinct because of changes to the habitat. “We need to pay attention,” she said. Factors including soil erosion and floods all contribute to global warming. Rain forests, which provide 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, are being lost.

Agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation. Land for cattle requires open fields. “Deforestation is speeding up global warming,” Ms. Semroc said.

Once trees are cleared and the soil dries out, certain species can no longer live without forest cover. In the United States, an average of 949 acres was lost each year between 1990 and 2010. That could increase in the future with tree pests accelerating climate change. In the United States, mining, paper production logging and over population is a big factor for deforestation.

Forests are cut for food production, for livestock and for building new places to live, she said. Loss of species, flooding and erosion decreases the quality of life and increases the greenhouse gas emissions.

More and more, the removal of trees and wetland use increases the erosion aspect.

To help, she said people must be educated about using renewable wood sources and even eating less meat. Reduce paper consumption and don’t buy products that can’t be recycled, she said. Forest-friendly policies must be encouraged, she said.

She related the situation of a large wooded tract in Auburn where the area of 6 to 7 acres was cut down for development. Some six years later, gravel has been spread on the area, there is a silt fence and trees are coming back with some native and non-native plants. The soil is running off the site.

Habitat fragmentation and clear-cutting are common today, Ms. Semroc said. When areas are being developed, trees are cut to the ground and upscale areas are built that take up acres. Yet when asked, people would prefer areas with more trees, she said.

It is so much better if homes are developed with woods, ponds and walking trails included and kept intact, she said. “People are so much happier when they walk in areas close to home,” she said.

And it is good to get away from developing with large grassed areas. “Grass doesn’t help the natural world,” she said, noting how well water is often used to water that grass. “If you like nature, think differently about the way you manage the yard,” she said.

Fragmentation is also created by clearing for power lines and pipe lines. She noted that using weed killers for keeping those areas clear is putting chemicals in the system. “Think insects and animals,” she said of the effects.

Everyone has to think of what can be done differently, she said. “Let’s plant rights of way with native plants. Grow milkweed plants for monarchs.” They need nectar on their migration route, and asters, goldenrods and Joe pye weed are good plant choices, she noted.

Scarlet tanager birds need continuous forests to nest in, not fragmented areas, she said. “The more we fragment, the more we take away nesting habitat,” Ms. Semroc said.

Clear cutting exposes the inner trees to wind damage and can increase disease and insect infestation, as well as the spread of invasive plants, she said. Timing of the tree cutting can also affect species such as the Indiana bat and birds during their nesting times.

And when wetlands are filled in, it impacts creatures. Heating up the forest floor affects animals and creatures like salamanders and spring peepers, she noted. Some plants and creatures need to be in water.

The goal is to try to keep natural systems intact and to build away from them, Ms. Semroc said. “We have to think about doing it a little different,” she said.

There is also the matter of impacting meadows with undesirable land-use practices, including spraying with herbicides. Cancer rates are going up and there is a direct relation to spraying herbicides, she said.

Some farmers are turning to organic practices, including no use of pesticides or chemicals with the focus on long-term fertility of the soil. The bumble bee is in great decline because of those pesticides.

Ms. Semroc reviewed the influx of the emerald ash borer which has destroyed millions of ash trees as well as an aphid-like insect that was introduced to Virginia and is killing hemlock trees. Fragmented woods invite in the brown-headed cowbird which competes with the native birds by laying its eggs in the other birds’ nests. The cowbird will not venture into intact woodlands, she said.

All is not lost, Ms. Semroc added. Humans can help. “Preserve and protect habitat diversity,” she said.

Protect bogs and fens where rare animals and insects live including the spotted turtles. When farmlands and meadows are protected, butterfly nesting takes place. Native plants including the golden rod can survive. Big open areas that are not mowed are important to birds and the young of the animal world as well.

She urged everyone to volunteer and help a land preservation organization, attend field trips to learn about the natural world and donate to protect land. “And recycling helps offset logging,” she said. “It can make a big difference.

“And part of our job is to educate people.”

Categories: News

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