Reese ’12: Blue Heron Fascinating Part of Trip

Diamond Reese ’12 – With the long week behind us, by Friday we were all a bit tired and ready to head back to Wabash. Before we boarded our 4:00pm flight to Atlanta we took a detour and stopped at St Joseph Peninsula State Park. The state park is located across the bay from Port St. Joseph, Florida. The bay area was particularly interesting because it is not a fresh water system like the Apalachicola Bay area. The fresh water bay is dominated by shell fish fisheries which utilize a rocky substrate for the natural habitat of the local cuisine. The St. Joseph Bay is dominated by many different species of sea grass which provide habitats for marine life. These habitats are shrinking in size due to pollution and urban development which threatens Florida’s precious wildlife ecosystems.

When we arrived at the St. Joseph Peninsula State Park I saw a Blue Heron covered in oil with its wings spread trying to soak up some sun. The bird was trying to dry off because of all the oil that covered its body. Earlier in the week when we were kayaking up and down one of Apalachicola Estuarine systems I came across the same situation. I saw a perched bird atop a tree branch extending over the water system and it was covered in oil. Upon flight, the bird flapped its wing but did not gain altitude or speed. It would seem that the oil covering its wings is actually weighing down the bird. So whenever there is lots of sunshine, and Florida is the sunshine state, birds will spread their wings to try to dry off.

The bird covered in oil from the recent big oil spill raises some interesting questions about the natural habitats around us. Clearly incidents like this remind us that we, humans, are not the only animals that inhabit this earth. Our actions, both small and big, have an impact on the environment around us.

Smokey the Bear was created in the early 1950’s by the United States Forest Service as propaganda to try to reduce the amount of forest fires. We once thought forest and prairie fires were bad and had a negative impact on the ecosystem. Of course movies like Bambi do not help this image. Nonetheless, it was the mission of the United States Forest Service to try to reduce the number of wild fires.  Then in 1988, 7 out of 50 prescribed burning attributed to 95% of the burned areas.  This is because of the natural fuel build up since the reduction of wild fires.

In the Apalachicola area Park Rangers regularly prescribe forest fires to reduce the natural fuel buildup. Wildfires also play an important role in maintaining habitats for local and migratory bird species. This change in prescribed wild fire burning policy stems from a system of trial and error.

Environmental Science is not exact and there is no way to absolutely determine the outcome of specific policies in place. We do have a long charted history of making mistakes and trying to correct them. The grievances against nature are not singular in such a way that individuals are to blame. As a society we are to blame for the natural state of the world around us. It is important to remember that we share the planet with ALL organisms both terrestrial and aquatic. Hence, as a society we have set up institutions that are in place to investigate and maintain un-logged and undeveloped wildlife ecosystems.

Policy and politics play a large role in the future of wildlife conservation. The decisions and steps that we need to take require a dynamic solution that the government seemingly can offer. As much as I love science, because the lack of politics, I would be naïve if I did not think that policy and politics guide our conservation efforts, but it is up to wild life reserves to convince policy makers to make good economic policies that will benefit the wild life ecosystems.

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