Thursday 7 July 2011

Grass, Sky, Song

In Grass, Sky, Song: Promise And Peril In The World Of Grassland Birds Saskatchewan author Trevor Herriot intertwines the status of grassland birds with his own experiences studying them. Each chapter ends with a profile of a grassland bird — a feature I especially appreciated as I’ve spent much more time in the forest than in the grasslands and subsequently know very little about grassland birds. I really appreciated the Saskatchewan aspect of the book — too often we focus on environmental issues elsewhere (whales, the Amazon, etc.) and ignore the issues in our own back yard.

Herriot’s experiences are filled with awe at the beauty of nature and the resilience of grassland bird species. However, these experiences are tinged with mourning as less birds return each year to the areas Herriot visits. In fact, you could almost read Grass, Sky, Song as a local follow-up to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring [my review]. Unfortunately, the situation doesn’t look good. Although the use of DDT has been banned, other chemicals are still commonly used. Twenty-one of twenty-four grassland bird species are in decline. The chapter on pesticide use is especially hard-hitting as Herriot juxtaposes his discussion of the effects of chemicals on grassland birds with his wife’s experiences with breast cancer.

Is there any hope for grassland birds? A little, but not unless significant change takes place soon.

Ultimately, the most important message might be contained in the brief preface: Herriot didn’t begin to care about grasslands birds until he spent time in their habitat observing them. I’ve read of similar experiences for other environmentalists; it is time spent in nature which made them care. While I’m not advocating for bus tours of the grasslands, it seems that one of the most important things we (that is, people who care about the environment) can do is facilitate experiences which help others overcome what is often referred to as Nature Deficit Disorder.

by Andrew Johnson, reprinted from from seed to bloom

What we can do:
Give hayland birds a break in a wet year
Visit the Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre in Moose Jaw
Participate in Operation Burrowing Owl
Visit the Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve
Positive practices for Prairie landowners (pdf)
Follow Trevor Herriot`s blog
Visit Last Mountain Lake Bird Sanctuary