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Are We Losing It? Trees and birds are disappearing and Arkansas is home to one of the 10 most endangered rivers– How far will we let it go?

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In chainsaw we trust: The disaster of defoliation in Fayetteville’s brave new world

by Zan Jarvis

Ah, Spring! The sound of the chainsaw is heard throughout the land!

As Fayetteville explodes, the trees are suffering. Apparently we don’t  clearly realize that the suffering of the Standing People, as the  “primitive” original residents of this land called them, is our suffering, as well. Calling trees “people? What did those primitives know anyway? Clearly they did not understand properly how to exploit resources.

The pervasive sound of the chainsaw and the bulldozer; the smoke from the useless burning of the wood; and the barren wastes of masonry, concrete and asphalt radiating the heat of the sun for hours after dark, make me intensely aware of what we are losing.

I also hear that loss at night where I live on Mt. Sequoyah overlooking the town. Since the Methodists, in the name of Jesus, did away with an entire block of old oaks, I can clearly make out the lyrics to many of the songs blasting away in the outdoor cafes of Dickson Street as I lie in my bed trying to sleep.

As I write this, my neighbor has hired a gang of I want to say thugs, for they are mugging the greenery, ripping through their trees. Meanwhile, down on Lafayette Street, the Californians who finally bought that house that had been on the market longer than any other, are making changes, too. As soon as they took possession, they hired workers to chainsaw their shade. They deserve every penny of the whopper air conditioning bill they will get, but living expenses are so “cheap” here it probably won’t matter to them.

I know of one instance in which owners cut down ALL the trees on their lot because the leaves were so messy. God help us if everything is not in our control.

God help us is right.

I understand how easy it is to become a clearcutter. It can seem neat and clean to whack at the greenlings. Japanese honeysuckle definitely needs a trim now and then or it will just assume you want it to take over. Well, I set out just to trim the part that swiped at my eyes as I mowed. That’s all I intended to do. Then it seemed okay to trim some of the low branches of the oak that made me duck. When I came to the lovely evergreen with its lushly brushy branches sweeping low. I had moved into overdrive. This tree and the oaks that have grown up within it have shielded me from the hubbub of the street for years. I slashed onward.

Only when the ground was littered with branches did I realize what I had done. I had obliterated my natural screen and my shade in that part of the yard. Evergreens don’t grow back as fast as the invader honeysuckle bushes. I will suffer this loss for many seasons. Hopefully, I will think of this next time.

Last night I saw an old car with an old bumpersticker. In green ink, it showed the stumps of fallen trees and exhorted, “Remember in November.”

Do you remember the flap that one little grandmother made over just one grove of trees where the Kohl’s store is now? We got a tree ordinance out of it…and a new mayor. This new mayor immediately made sure everyone in the nation knew about Fayetteville. He took out ads in major magazines hoping to lure more people here. New jobs! Prosperity! After all, we were so backwards. How could that be wrong?

Since this mayor has been in office, more and more trees are falling. No, it’s not ALL his fault. Yes, society is very mobile and the rats have begun fleeing the sinking cities for greener pastures—to mix in a metaphor or two. The migrants seek peace and safety from terrorism. They think that Fayetteville looks perfect, except the yokels who live here really need to clean up all this overgrown brush and trim their trees. It’s so messy!

My mind grew up in a woods and it gave me a different perspective on the value of trees and undergrowth. We had a yard, but just two steps into the trees that wrapped around my home rendered me invisible. I could spy on my parents, which was very boring since all they did was sit around, or I could listen in on the plans of the gang of kids from the next street, vital intelligence in neighborhood wars. But while I waited for the parents to do something or the other side to get close enough to hear, all sorts of wonderful things happened.

I could feel how the greenery cooled the woods so that it seemed air-conditioned in that verdant cathedral. The mowers, cars driving by, moms yelling for kids to come in—all the sounds of the world—were muted. Leaves provide an incredible sound barrier. I could use more of them now between me and Dickson Street.

Little beings lived in those woods. I watched and played with chipmunks, lizards, rabbits, squirrels, birds and turtles every day. I learned their ways: how they ate; how they cleaned themselves; how they played; how they mated; how they cared for their young. I watched generations of small creatures being born, growing up, growing old, dying and decomposing. I knew where the berries were and when the wildflowers would be blooming.

All these treasures reside in the greenery. Now it saddens me to see the fear in the eyes of the deer who must venture onto our lawns late at night because we have eliminated so much of their habitat they must invade ours to feed. I feel sorry for the baby birds who will not live because nests are falling across the street.

I love the cycling whine of the bugs in the bushes in the summer and the way that natural sound masks the noise of machines. I miss the quiet we used to have here at midnight when you could still go out in your own backyard and have enough night to see the stars. I love the daytime chorus of birds that can only exist when there are enough limbs for their nests. I see all of this beauty falling with the trees.

Sadder than all that is the sorrow I feel for us, the humans who do not understand the things we lose. For my friends who have only recently come from a city to this place, it must seem there is so much greenery bursting forth that eliminating a tree or two hardly means anything. It must seem so quiet here that no one could have a basis for complaining about a little more noise.

Yet all those overcrowded, impersonal, scary, noisy places our newest residents have escaped were once like this place. We all have a choice as to what kind of place this will become. It won’t take long, if we allow it, for this place to become just like the place you left. Or we could keep the bits of Eden that are left. Think about it.

When you studied King Lear in school, remember the teacher pointing out how clever old Shakespeare was in the way he used nature? The king battled nature in the storm, but the language also made it clear the old king was at war with his own nature. How might such ideas apply to our town and ourselves?

I realize all this is just shouting in the wind, preaching to the choir and spouting the old cant of those tree-hugging dirt worshipers who went out of style with the eight-track tape. I just can’t help myself.

You see, nature is my religion. My most dear spiritual understandings require that I at least TRY from time to time to speak for her. She is grand and all pervasive, even in the green blade struggling up from the crack in the concrete, but she is shy. She bends gracefully to our will, for we are creatures of her body  just like the rabbits and the birds. She loves us and wants us to be happy, even when we see our happiness in her destruction.

Shel Silverstein wrote a lovely book called “The Giving Tree” that describes nature’s inhuman benevolence. The little boy and the tree start out in love with each other. When they are young together, the boy climbs her branches. Dad installs a swing. It bites her bark, but it’s for the boy, so it is good. When he’s older he injures her by carving his initials and his love’s on her trunk, but she is happy. Later he needs lumber for a house and cuts her down. Then when he is old, he comes back to that good tree. All that’s left is a stump. The man is tired and needs to sit down. He sits on the stump and the Giving Tree, after giving all it had, is happy once more.

I ask you to think of stumps now. What happened to that tree ordinance that was supposed to keep us green and to protect trees over a certain circumference from being cut? It’s still on the books, but no one even cares if it’s enforced. If it’s even thought of now, it is only to rationalize a specific exception to that toothless rule.

In Atlanta, someone told me, you must apply to the city for a permit even to cut limbs in your own yard. That may be extreme. However, we need some enforcement before we become an asphalt wasteland like all the metropolises.
If you notice, the temperature in summer can run up to 10 degrees hotter in
Tulsa. They have more concrete and, so far, we have more trees. The TREES make it cooler. The TREES make it quieter. The TREES make it much more beautiful.

My friend Perry who lives in Pettigrew says he has never understood why all the educated, aware, back-to-the-landers who moved here in the 1970s never took over the government of Fayetteville. In Pettigrew they did and they have protective ordinances of all sorts to ensure quality of life and to preserve natural beauty. Seems those motivated by personal greed have more stamina than us tree-lovers. Perhaps we’re getting our just desserts.

Now, after two hours, the chainsawing going on across the street has stopped. When these chainsaws finally quieted, I could hear another whine gnawing away down the hill. And so it goes.

God help  us.

Disappearing Birds Send Environmental Wake-up Call

Population declines in Arkansas’ bird population echoes the findings of a new report by the National Audubon Society that reveals how birds, habitat and the environment are being threatened nationwide.
The study found that populations of some common birds nosedived over the past 40 years, with several down nearly 80 percent. In Arkansas, birds such as the Northern Bobwhite, Eastern Meadowlark and Prothonotary Warbler have declined from 60 to over 90 percent, mirroring or exceeding nationwide trends.

The dramatic declines are attributed to the loss of healthy grasslands, forests, wetlands and other critical habitats from multiple environmental threats such as urban sprawl, energy development, and the spread of industrialized agriculture. The study notes that these threats are now compounded by new and broader problems including the escalating effects of global warming and demand for corn-based ethanol.

The culprits that have eradicated the wildlife habitat are development and urban sprawl in central Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas and row-crop agriculture in the Delta.

Species especially hard hit in Arkansas are:
- Northern Bobwhite populations, which are down at least 70 percent mainly due to loss of suitable habitat to development, agricultural expansion, the planting of exotic grasses, and plantation-style forestry practices.
- Field Sparrow populations are down nearly 77 percent due in part to expanding agriculture, forestry, and urban development.
- Eastern Meadowlarks populations are down 67 percent, threatened by the loss of grasslands to industrialized agricultural practices, plus the potential conversion of acres currently protected for conservation to biofuel crops like corn puts meadowlarks at even greater risk.
- Loggerhead Shrikes inhabit open farmlands and pastures across the state but show population declines of nearly 92 percent amid increasing habitat damage.
- Prothonotary Warblers that breed in wooded swamps, river bottoms, and sloughs are losing ground due to loss of bottomland hardwood forests and channelization of waterways. Populations are down approximately 85 percent.

Dan Scheiman, director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Arkansas said that public support is crucial for the future of Arkansas’ bird population.

“With 90 percent of Arkansas in private ownership, average citizens can make a big contribution to conserving our birds,” Scheiman said. “There are many things that individuals can do to help make a difference, such as enroll marginal farmland in conservation programs, or support legislation that promotes wildlife habitat management on public and private lands.”

Scheiman said that volunteers working with Audubon and other conservation groups can play a critical role in collecting important data by taking part in bird monitoring projects like the Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and entering bird observations into eBird.

More information about Audubon’s Common Birds in Decline analysis is available at www.audubon.org.

Audubon Arkansas’ recommendations for sustaining the bird population

Protect Wetlands
Support for local, state and federal wetlands conservation programs is essential to protect a wide array of species. Learn more at http://www.audubon.org/campaign/cleanWater2.html.

Combat Invasive Species
Invasive non-native species disrupt the delicate ecological balance that sustains birds and other wildlife. Federal, regional, state, and local regulations are needed to combat this growing environmental threat. Learn more at http://www.audubon.org/campaign/invasives/index.shtm.  The Audubon At Home program offers tips for supporting birds with native plants at http://www.audubon.org/bird/at_home/index.html.

Promote Sound Agricultural Policy
This has enormous impact on grassland birds and habitat, including Northern Bobwhites and Eastern Meadowlarks.  Promoting strong conservation provisions in the federal Farm Bill and Conservation Reserve Program can help to protect millions of acres of vital habitat.

Support Sustainable Forests
The Boreal Forest in the Northern U.S. and Canada is essential breeding territory for many species of birds, including Evening Grosbeaks. Federal and state legislations promoting sustainable forest management will help fight habitat loss from inappropriate logging, mining, and drilling.

Fight Global Warming
The decline of common birds is just one impact of global warming’s mounting threat to people and wildlife around the world.  Individual energy conservation along with strong federal, state, and local legislation to cap greenhouse emissions can help to curb its worst consequences. Learn more at http://www.audubon.org/globalWarming/.

Protect Local Habitat
Join Audubon Arkansas and local Audubon Chapters and other groups to protect and restore habitats close to home. Audubon’s Important Bird Areas program offers opportunities to save critical bird habitat, from small land parcels to broad ecosystems. Learn more at www.audubon.org/bird/iba/index.html.

The Natural State’s Lee Creek makes national list of 10 most endangered rivers
Last month Arkansas became one of ten states to earn the distinction of being home to one of the 10 most endangered rivers in the United States. The national organization, American Rivers, named Lee Creek, which originates in Northwest Arkansas south of Fayetteville and travels into Oklahoma, one of the 10 most endangered rivers of 2007.

Lee Creek has been designated a protected State Scenic River by Oklahoma and Arkansas has officially declared it an Extraordinary Resource Waterway, which also offers protective status. But, a movement is underway to change the protective status of the waterway so that a dam can be built. Not only is the health of Lee Creek threatened by this, but the protected status of all of Arkansas’ pristine waterways, as well.

The River Valley Regional Water District, which provides drinking water for rural areas near Van Buren, wants to build a dam on Lee Creek, so that another drinking water supply will be available.

The water district has petitioned the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality suggesting a proposal that would severely weaken the state’s Extraordinary Resource Water protections for all designated rivers and streams in the state, not just Lee Creek. Weakening this state designation would remove substantial safeguards that protect Arkansas streams.

Arkansas’ Extraordinary Resource Waters contribute to keeping “The Natural State’s” natural and cultural heritage, which bolsters quality of life and tourism not only in Northwest Arkansas and the state, but in the entire region.

Doug Szenher, a spokesman for the ADEQ said the agency is currently evaluating public comments regarding Lee Creek and will present its opinion to the state legislature in July. Szenher expects the issue to be back on the ADEQ agenda in August.

3 Comments

emphaticallyno June 22, 2007 at 2:19 pm

Thank you so much to those that wrote and published this. It comes at a crucial time. Recently, I found while looking through Springdale’s Planning Map that a road is going to be put through the north edge of the Lake Fayetteville trail. We need to stop this!

Reply to this comment
ozarklogic June 23, 2007 at 12:46 pm

THANK YOU for publishing “Are We Losing It?”
THANK YOU for keeping this type of topic on the public “radar”.
Please continue to do so. The FreeWeekly is, literally, the only paper I have time to read. It’s inportant to me and, I’m quite sure, others (who also have limited time) to be able to read opinions such as these.
After reading an article such as this I am inspired to maintain my resolve to “do my part to help” in the many small ways that I can.
Also, after reading this article, I wanted to know what local groups I could support that specifically advocate for the city’s trees.

Reply to this comment
iiijjj June 24, 2007 at 8:26 pm

As a Californian who relocated to Fayetteville not only to get into a graduate program where I could study natural resource conservation, but also because the cost of living is so “cheap,” please don’t single us out as being ruthless prospectors. Those assholes who cut down the tree on their new Lafayette St. property irk me just as much as you. Thanks for supplying the readership with those activist links.

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