Both involved critics and conflicts of various kinds.
We met both kinds of challenges with positive vision and hard work.
The TED talk on which this post is based is at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RICTPEFbRh8
|Yet we worried about public perception. With our best intentions,|
we were changing landscapes that people had grown accustomed to.
Only mass media reaches them quickly. As the "stewardship movement" grew in both scientific knowledge and on-the-ground influence, we started running up against other social forces. We appealed to the public through the media - as did forces opposed to us.
For many people, the image of the forest preserve was partly "nature" but predominantly "dangerous", "dirty", and "another corrupt part of the county political machine." It was our job to get more focus on the nature.
I remember the time when about twenty of us assembled to burn half a dozen small prairies in the forest preserves. It was a rare day when the winds, humidity, and temperature were right for safe and effective burns. I emphasized to the all-volunteer crew (except me, at that point working for the Illinois Nature Preserve Commission) that they were heroic to take time off from work at short notice to do these critically important burns - that the ecosystem needed them because the forest preserve staff was spread too thin. The need for the volunteers was genuine. But the implication about the staff was, at best, charitable. Many of the staff were, at that time, not interested, not competent, lazy, or all of the above.
My contact was Division Superintendent John Mark, a good man who did care. He did his best with the patronage workers he was sent. He seemed to think what I was doing was okay as long as it didn't make trouble. I explained that we had enough good people to do the little burns quickly, leave a couple of people behind for mop up, and move to the next one. He said, "Let me know before you start each burn." He didn't say, "Don't start until I approve" - although I could imagine that it might come to that. These were the days before cell phones, so I had to find pay phones between prairies. That worked for the first three burns. Then no one answered the forest preserve phone.
It was important work, so I made the decision to go ahead and have one of the crew do the "check in" by personally driving down to the forest preserve office, about 15 minutes away. The volunteer who made the run returned with smoke blowing out of his ears. "You told us they were too busy to help," he stormed, "and they're all sitting around playing pinochle!" I calmed him down. I explained that if we rode on our high horses, making moral criticisms of the political machine, we'd be shut down. So our obligation to nature was to stay positive and do the good work only we could do.
As the volunteer community expanded and appreciation of our mission became more publicly acknowledged, it became harder to isolate what we were doing from the larger political currents. Some liberal Commissioners saw us as allies. Some corrupt ones saw us as dangerous do-gooders. That increased the potential for us to get drawn into political factional conflict.
For example, mountain bikers and horseback riders in the Palos preserves had for years made their own trails in violation of nature preserve laws and good sense - and without approval. Some staff resented what they saw as abuses, but felt powerless, as their supervisors told them not to rock the boat. So they'd encourage volunteers to confront rule-breakers and raise complaints to Commissioners. There were many examples of this kind of thing. Bad blood developed between the conservation program and various influential interests.
In the Palos case, District staffer Dave Eubanks effectively brought the stewards together with the mountain bikers and developed a positive consensus. But the process took many months, was a lot of work, and there were a great many such issues. Much-needed deer control programs also grew (in part thanks to volunteer support) and became ferociously contentious in Lake, DuPage, and Cook counties.
|Might our cutting and burning provoke controversy?|
|We reached out through leaflets, media, guided tours, however we could.|
|And the work progressed.|
is what sustains us.
|Over time, many volunteers developed special skills. No-holds-barred brush cutter,|
Lisa Culp Musgrave on weekdays is a tennis pro and coach.
|Inspired by Somme, she took up nature photography. First wildflowers …|
|... then animals.|
|She became a master.|
|But what inspired her most was learning that she could physically restore needed plants – the base of the ecosystem. She started with the declining fringed gentian. Somme had very few – and those few were typically eaten by white-tailed deer.|
|Lisa and friends protected the gentians with deer exclusion cages.|
Then she broadcast the seed that now matured,
and soon the gentians were widespread.
|Lisa moved on to Somme’s rarest plant – the federal-endangered|
prairie white-fringed orchid. We’d seen a few here and there, for decades,
but a very few, as the deer liked these even more.
|Cages helped. But there was a bigger problem.|
This small population didn’t attract its specialized pollinators.
Most flowers failed to set seed.
|Lisa hand-pollinated, by toothpick, and taught others to do so.|
In 1999 (nearly two decades after we started working to conserve these orchids) the federal "Recovery Plan" was adopted and funded. John Rogner, a former volunteer steward and now Chicago region director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, reached out to us stewards to help apply what we had learned. Some scientists complained that Fish & Wildlife should devote all their initial funds to basic research on the orchid. But Rogner decided that the stewards had already learned enough that we could get started on science-based species recovery. Some funding rightly went to research. But also, outstanding steward June Keibler was hired to establish a pilot program of volunteer-empowered endangered species conservation. Soon agency landowners were authorizing trained volunteers to do widely what we'd been doing at Somme.
|Lisa's efforts did pay off.|
By 2013, Somme had 460 white-fringed orchids,
more than four times the state-wide total seven years earlier.
When some species become numerous and widespread enough, it may then become time to brace ourselves and remove the "intensive care" protections - and see how well a given species of plant or animal can survive without help. Lisa has decided to leave some plants un-caged and un-hand-pollinated. In cases of species on the U.S. Endangered and Threatened list, it makes sense to be cautious.
We've learned a lot more since we prepared the above graph and last analyzed Somme's orchid results. We hope to post a blog update after the 2017 results are in.
This is the end of Part 2 of the blog supplement
to the TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RICTPEFbRh8
Part 3 will consider "Big Machines and other Big Changes."
Thanks for joining us on this adventure. Please spread the word to interested people.