The Nature of Pets

WE LOVE OUR PETS!

Haiku and Rhododendron
Photo by Marian Blue

But…

is it in the nature of pets to love the environment?

Are we damaging nature with our pet love–fish to cats, birds to dogs, snakes to rats?

If we answer these questions honestly, we have to admit that pet care often equals environmental damage.

Here we’ll pause to acknowledge that pets provide many benefits.

It’s the nature of pets to:

  • assuage loneliness.
  • help us stay physically fit.
  • probably help lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, aid sleep.
  • teach children responsibility.
  • act as service and rescue animals.
  • and, if nothing else, make us laugh and play.
  • and more Benefits from Pets.

Few (any?) people advocate eliminating pets. Does that mean that environmental damage must continue to be in the nature of pets? Or can changed human behavior change that?

Change Can Happen

In the past, people have adapted, changed their behaviors.

For instance, when I was a kid in the 1950s, leash laws were a rarity; dogs trotted freely from yard to yard and even from neighborhood to neighborhood. My mother and other shoppers regularly included one or more of their small dogs in the cart kiddie basket as they wandered grocery store aisles.

Buying pet food was optional. Dogs usually got scraps off the table. Cats earned their living off rodents and birds as well as scraps from dinner tables and trash cans (where dogs also often dined).

As for picking up poop–! I was an adult before I saw a person cleaning up after a dog. Not until the 1970s did poop laws appear.

Today, leash laws are common, poop bags are ubiquitous, and pet food is a multi-billion dollar a year business.

Change For the Good

Unfortunately, many of those changes are now damaging our environment, not because the changes are bad but rather because hindsight is better than foresight. The changes didn’t incorporate today’s awareness of environmental issues. Consequently, pets and the pet industry contribute tons of plastic, carbon, and waste to the environment.

The good news is that we can make wise changes to improve the situation and keep our pets, too.

Pick It Up—Then What?

We mostly acknowledge that picking up pet poop is essential for the environment and for our health (see…Scoop the Poop). Unfortunately, we mostly use plastic bags to do the job. Even worse, some people leave the poop-filled bags on the beach, hanging from branches, or hidden under rocks.

First, you have alternatives to plastic: Paper waste sheets, paper bags (such as Pooch Paper), newspaper, portable tools, and some bags that aren’t plastic (plant-based). Unfortunately, there are a host of bags marketed as compostable or biodegradable that aren’t.

Picking up poop and leaving it for someone else to pick up? Pick up then dispose of responsibly. Photo by Abandoned Poop Bags

Read the label, which should advise what the bag ingredients are, how long break-down takes, and how to best dispose of the bag. Using alternatives to anything plastic is best. However, if you’re a user of plastic in the home, at least re-using the plastic is helpful rather than buying poop bags.

Once you’ve picked up, dispose of poop appropriately, usually in the trash.  The city of Bothel has these excellent hints. Safe Poop Disposal

Cats Poop, Too

While thinking about poop, remember that cat poop isn’t sweeter, better for the environment, or cleaner than dog poop. Dispose of cat poop and litter in the same way as dog poop. Avoid using plastic to line litter pans.

Cleaning up after cats is complicated by the fact that cats, unlike dogs, wander where they want. Unfortunately, that means cat poop can wind up in someone’s flower or vegetable garden or even in children’s play areas. This saves concern for owners who chose to let their cats wander, but makes cat poop other people’s problem.

Don’t believe that cats are somehow wilder than dogs. See Wild Things Sanctuary. Why do we treat cats as free agents? This site addresses some our social history regarding cats and why they aren’t legally required to be contained: Michigan State University

Attitudes about cats are changing. Keeping your cat on your property (or on a leash) might well be required in the near future. People are building catios and making their yards secure. Check out the Humane Society page. This not only benefits people who object to cat poop, it also protects birds (American Bird Conservancy), squirrels, and the cats themselves U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Beyond Poop

Plastics for pets: leashes, treat packaging, the lining of food cans, can covers, dental supplies, water/food dishes, toys (and even squeakers in toys), medical containers…our pets are plasticized. Photo by Marian Blue

When buying pet accessories–toys to food to beds to dishes to cleaners–consider ways to avoid plastic, especially one-use plastic. This includes bags and packaging. Pets, like people, aren’t helped by ingesting plastic. Plastic and Your Pet Note that plastic is often hidden in what you buy, such as the lining of pet food cans.

Other information abounds, including

Changing Lives

Every day brings opportunities to live harmoniously with all other life (see Living In Harmony With Wildlife ). By thinking more deeply about how to care for both our pets and our environment, we can bring ecological awareness into loving our pets. Then we can say that the nature of pets is good for people and the environment.

Next Month’s Blog: What Trees and Plants are Best for Your Yard?

Saving the Natural World

Saving the Natural World Feather by Feather
Photo by Cherie Ude

For those of us who love wild and natural places, saving the natural world for future generations, both human and wildlife, takes priority. Obviously saving the natural world isn’t a one-person job. Yet each of us plays a significant role by sharing our love of the natural world with people, showing them ways to enjoy and interact with wild and natural places. People love what they know.

 

SHARING YOUR LOVE OF NATURE

Educating people about our world doesn’t mean telling them what to think, how to think, or what to do. Nor do you have to be an expert yourself. Sharing your experiences doesn’t require an impressive resume.

Everyone has stories about nature. Even if you live in a megalopolis high-rise, you, yourself, are a part of the natural world, sensing the air, temperature, breezes, rain, and sun every day. You can find a lifetime of writing from your own backyard or window box.

You’ve interacted with fall leaves drifting down or you’ve fed wild birds or seen a butterfly exploring a flower. Books have been written about spider webs. Anything that captures your attention is subject matter.

Your encounters suggest ways in which other people can both experience the natural world and share those experiences.

If you enjoy photography, you’ve got people’s attention–perhaps without writing a word! For instance, this kayak photo lures the eye and mind out into the open water.

The story: Calm open water ahead!
This photo was used by Sound Water Stewards in their book Getting to the Water’s Edge.    Photo by Marian Blue

If you’re a little uncertain about your photography or how you can use it for saving the natural world, check out Court Whelan As a professional photographer, he provides these free Webinars that explore ways to tell stories through photography.

Combining a few written words with a photo can help someone’s imagination catch fire.

Type conservation in Twitter and see the many examples; some of these have thousands of likes. Photos catch the eye on Facebook but even a few choice words or a link in a colored box can have an effect.

One of my books, How Many Words for Rain, includes my poetry and Lynne Hann’s photos. These poems and photos aren’t meant to educate so much as to simply show beauty in the world and human connection to that beauty.

JUST A FEW HINTS

  1. Re-create the experience. Provide the colors, sounds, emotions. Let readers know how you felt at the moment, how you feel when remembering, or why you want to share. Don’t tell them; show them.
  2. Avoid expressing your personal opinions. Let the experience speak for itself. If you start lecturing, people will leave. For instance, my opinions about hunting crept into the first blog of this Conservation series. A professional forester called me on it, and I revised it.
  3. Read other nature blogs and newsletters from organizations such as Audubon. This is an international interest. Reading about conservation is a great way to find inspiration.
  4. Your writing can be in any genre: poetry, essay, fiction. It can also be for any audience, adult or child. You can slant it for interests, fantasy to realism.
  5. If you do wish to provide researched information (as I did in my two past blogs), make sure your sources are legitimate and vetted. Don’t grab information off a social media site or other random site. The best sources are .org or .gov or such. Check out this site for evaluating your sources: CMU library

LOOK FOR PLACES TO SUBMIT YOUR NATURE WRITING & PHOTOS

Many magazines that focus on nature love to receive submissions. For instance, Snowy Egret Magazine, published a short story of mine called “Badlands” years ago. This fictional story about an elderly man’s connection with his land was reprinted in my collection of short stories Sailing Off the Hook. Meanwhile, I have a short essay about a memories journey into the wild forthcoming in Snowy Egret.

A day in Viera Wetlands! Photo by Cherie Ude and poem by Marian Blue published together at Points & Parks online magazine.

Recently, one of my poems, combined with one of Cherie Ude’s photos, was published this year at Parks & Points Parks & Points Magazine.

The poem tells a story about a day at Viera Wetlands, and the photo illustrates both dawn and twilight.

 

 

***

Your only limitations come from doubt. In essence, writing about and helping to save the natural world is as much a part of you as breathing.

Get started now by taking a look at  International League of Conservation Writers

 

Next month: Preserving the wild while living with pets.

Snags for Good Health

An old forest snag:            Something to Cherish? Photo by Marian Blue

Snags abound in healthy forests.

 

 

Hazardous.

Dead.

Ugly.

And

Something to Cherish?

Today, many landowners cherish snags and, if none are present, create them by topping or even girdling trees.

Why would you want to keep this possibly dangerous eyesore on your property, much less create one?

Wildlife Habitat

According to the National Wildlife Federation, about 1,000 different species, nationwide, use snags. These uses are varied and essential.

  1. Home

            Birds, mammals, insects, and even amphibians settle in these quarters. Pileated woodpeckers and other related species (known as primary cavity dwellers) create new cavities for their nests each year; snags provide softer and drier wood to carve away.

A toppled snag revealed a former nesting cavity, smoothed and enlarged with use. Photo by Marian Blue

Woodpeckers also create cavities when seeking insects that are attracted to the dead/dying snags as seen in the snag photo above.

Other critters (known as secondary cavity dwellers) include owls, raccoons, chickadees, squirrels, nuthatches, and others who often call them home as well as a dinner resource Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Snags, in essence, are a foundation for good wildlife habitat.

Snags provide lush growth with abundant food supplies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Food for plants and animals.

Snags grow fungi, moss and even plants. These gardens attract insects.

Although you wouldn’t want to share your home with them, insects attract a wide variety of insect-eating critters (birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals) and are essential to good wildlife habitat. The pacific tree frog, for instance, eats a variety of items, including moss, decaying vegetation, and insects. Raccoons, owls, and snakes eat frogs. A variety of other creatures also eat tadpoles and frog eggs. Thus, from moss to raptors, snags grow a habitat that suits many.

Good snags mean a healthy forest.

Many kinds of fungi love snags. Critters love fungi. Photo from Interpretative Guide to Western Northwest Weather Forecasts.

Predators find snags useful for lookout perches and even dining tables. Photo by Marian Blue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Hiding

This cedar log has hollowed out, providing a hiding hole, food (moss), and a bounty of bugs and shelter underneath. Meanwhile, it’s providing a place for new growth. Photo by Marian Blue

Ducking for cover preserves the life of many small birds, squirrels, and other critters.

Snags provide look-out perches for predators, such as raptors, too.

Snags provide places to hide both when standing and after falling. The job of a snag extends beyond life, beyond falling, and even beyond decaying; nutriments that build soil occur as mosses and fungi break down the wood.

Forest soil usually becomes rich very slowly, so each fallen log, branch, and leaf is valuable. In addition, logs often become nurse logs for the forest’s next generation of trees. If you see, for instance, a line of hemlocks, they likely began their lives along a fallen log.

This old stump has grown a garden that includes salal, huckleberry, ferns, and a hemlock. Photo by Marian Blue

A hemlock got its start on a stump; now it appears long-legged as the stump rots away beneath it. Photo by Marian Blue

 

How Many?

The number of snags for your property depends on both the diameter and the type of tree. A general number is three snags of 12” diameter and one of 15” diameter per acre. In addition, at least 4 downed logs per acre helps to ensure a healthy habitat. More specific details and information, including use of habitat brush piles, are abundant online. This site is specifically for the northwest but includes other resources (Northwest Natural Resource Group). In some cases, landowners can find financial assistance in creating wildlife habitat (and corridors) on their property. A healthy environment benefits people and animals alike.

Make Your Own

If your property lacks adequate snags, you can make your own. A wide variety of ways of doing this is found at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife . By killing some trees to create snags, you can improve the health of your property for both flora and fauna!

Bad Snag

Snags are a natural resource for a healthy forest ecosystem. Photo by Marian Blue

Snags aren’t static. You don’t want a large snag next to your home or other structure.

In addition, because they attract insects, you don’t want snags where you’re combating insect invasions (next to your home, for instance).

Beautiful Snag

Beauty comes from understanding. Once you appreciate a snag’s value as a contributor to a healthy ecosystem, you can see the beauty in the same way animals do when looking for a new home or a good meal.

 

Next Month: Nature Writing

 

Wildlife Corridors–Living in Harmony with Wildlife

Losing Your World

Imagine this as your front yard.

Imagine walking out your front door, perhaps to go to work or shopping, only to discover that all roads, sidewalks, and paths have vanished. Trees are growing where roadways should be, where you were cursing chuckholes the day before. Creeks are chuckling along, gleefully replacing bridges and culverts. Bogs and rocks and fallen trees have taken the place of mowed parks and groomed yards. You can’t tell where your yard ends and a neighbor’s yard begins.

Through determination and ingenuity, you find your way to a grocery store, but a big gate is across the doors. If you figure out how to get through the gate, you find that individuals start shouting and shooting at you. The world you and your family have known is gone.

Saving and Building Environments

Wildlife faces challenges daily very similar to the above idea.

Humans often develop their nests by destroying the preexisting environment.

Suppose the above woods went to this overnight? Image from South Whidbey Record

They mow down wildlife’s homes and food sources to pave roads, sidewalks, and parking lots. Wild places of safety are replaced with groomed yards full of hazards: domestic animals, poisons, dead ends at gates and fences.

Desperate to protect their nonnative bushes, trees, and pets, people use poison, hunting seasons, traps, and other lethal measures to eliminate hungry and homeless wildlife.

Even if these animals are only trying to travel from one native food or water source to another, their routes are turned into deadly mazes of highways, fences, and bare landscapes where they and their young are vulnerable to death or injury.

You have a choice

Such situations aren’t inevitable. Each person can do something about the conundrum of living harmoniously with wildlife, which, it turns out, we need to do to maintain the healthy environment, including air and water, that humans also need to survive.

Conserving Natural Environments Harmoniously

  1. Support the idea of intelligent planning on the part of your neighborhood, town,

    Planning green areas improves water and air quality for all life. (Image from SmartCitiesDive)

    county, and state. Make sure development includes corridors of easy travel for wildlife from one natural area (parks, streams, beaches) to another. Help make every park connected to every other park with areas of native trees, bushes, and free-flowing streams. These are areas where snags provide food, places to hide, and nesting spots for birds and small mammals; where brush provides shelter with berries and insects; where fallen debris creates brush piles where animals can hide. If roads are nearby, control where these corridors cross; animals will use safer areas. This protects both wildlife and humans. Tunnels, overpasses, and high fences funneling to crossing spots also help. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Corridors and New York Times article, May 31, 2021:Wildlife animal crossings provide more information.
  2. Plan yards that fit with the environment. You can plant native plants and trees for both beauty and for wildlife habitat. This can be designed to fit within the area’s corridor plans. If you want exotic plants or if you want to raise vegetables, fence them securely. If you plant within an animal’s home and then spread a tempting buffet, you can expect them to try it out. Keep poultry and other small animals secure as well.

***

Animals feel safe when they know they can escape into wooded areas. This corridor passes between homes and pastures.
Deer, coyotes, and many other animals and birds use this forested corridor between Glendale Creek and Holst Road on South Whidbey Island.

 

Summary

Problems with wildlife are usually the result of human behavior within the environment. People can live in harmony with their environment and wild creatures. Think ahead. Plan wisely. Relish the world around you and think about how to preserve it for all life.

You’ll find many resources online about living in harmony, about helping to create a healthier environment for all life. Natural Habitat Adventure Travel (in conjunction with World Wildlife Fund) is a fun way to start learning about living with wildlife. Check on this and other videos: Daily Dose of Nature Webinars. This is also an important resource for living harmoniously with wildlife: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Next blog: Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about snags (http://sunbreakpress.com/2021/09/05/snags-for-healthy-habitat/)