Editorial: Celebrating Earth Day

Apr. 18, 2013

Let nature take its course. Nowadays that’s easier said than done.

Any Rappahannock resident who has battled stink bugs or has let a field go fallow knows what I mean. Nature, so disrupted by human activity, is no longer natural.

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Instead, invasive species are taking over the natural order of things. The now ubiquitous brown marmorated stink bug, for example, hitchhiked to the United States aboard container ships full of consumer goods from China. As a “foreigner,” the stink bug faces no natural predators in the pre-existing ecosystem here and thus proliferates exponentially.

The same goes for foreign plant species. The so-called tree “tree of heaven,” with its bamboo-like sprouting root system, can quickly “weed out” not-so-fast-growing native trees. Meanwhile, native grasses have been superseded by human-seeded, prolific fescue.

Fescue’s dense, close-to-the-ground matting is a prime culprit in the disappearance around here of the bobwhite, or Virginia quail. Certain conservation programs help landowners re-establish native grasses (which allow for quail nesting habitat) and otherwise take actions to control invasives. But undoing what we humans have wrought remains a complicated, time-consuming and expensive business in need of further attention.

Thus it was welcome news last Saturday that The Farm at Sunnyside’s Nick and Gardiner Lapham, through their family’s foundation, would be spearheading a new public-private partnership to manage and mitigate invasive species in high priority areas of Shenandoah National Park.

Next to climate change, invasive species are the biggest threat to the National Park system, according to Jim Northup, the Shenandoah National Park’s new superintendent, who also spoke at Saturday’s announcement at Sunnyside. Also present were representatives from The Nature Conservancy and the Shenandoah National Park Trust, which are joining this innovative effort, the scale of which may expand depending on success in attracting additional partners.

While invasives are here to stay, it’s nice to know that Rappahannock landowners have meaningful options available to tackle the problem – both on their own property and now also in partnership with the park.

“Plants and animals are the rivets holding the ecosystems that sustain us together,” in the words of biodiversity professor and author Douglas Tallamy. “If the plants disappear which sustain those animals, then we too cannot be sustained. We need those other creatures to support us.”

That Earth Day is being celebrated this coming Monday (April 22) adds poignancy to the Laphams’ inspired partnership.

Walter Nicklin

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