LIBERAL ENVIRONMENTALISM DOESN’T WORK

Liberal Environmentalism doesn’t restore nature, heal the planet, bring back native plants and animals, save endangered species. In fact, in many of those cases and more, Liberal Environmentalism doesn’t even make things better, it makes things worse.

The Drake Exclosure, central Arizona, managed as a "World Without Us" since 1946.
A sedge meadow on the Verde River in Arizona—a true desert oasis: a source of stability and habitat in a land of extremes.
                    

A sedge meadow being “protected.” Livestock (cattle) have been removed to eliminate the damaging effect they allegedly have on riparian habitat and, therefore, on the native fish that live in the river. As a result, trees ungrazed by cattle have begun to invade the meadow.

 A sedge meadow being “protected” from livestock (cattle) to eliminate the damage they allegedly cause to native fish habitat. As a result, trees have invaded the meadow and caused it to erode

 

 

 

               
The end results of protection
    

 

 

 

Another part of the Verde that is unprotected (continues to be grazed under good management) and remains underoded and healthy

In the previous post (see Liberal Environmentalism’s Deepest, Darkest, Secret) I argued that Liberal Environmentalism’s claim that “protecting” nature, i. e. reducing the impacts of humans on forests, grasslands, deserts, meadows, mountains, etc. invariably makes those areas more natural, more healthy, better functioning, and a better home to their native plants, animals, and ecological functions is bogus.  

One example I offered to support that claim is that, when this remedy was applied to protect a native fish, the “threatened” spikedace in the Verde River in Central Arizona, the move that was intended to protect the fish—removing cattle grazing from along the river—seems to have extirpated it instead. How this happened, I explained, went like this: After grazing was removed, a large increase in trees and willows began to crowd the riverbanks, transforming the stream from wide, shallow, gravelly, and warm (ideal habitat for spikedace and other warm-water natives) to narrow, tree-shaded, mud-bottomed, deep, and cool, which is ideal for large, non-native Spikedace-eating predators such as smallmouth bass, which ate the native minnows.

But that’s just part of the story. Removing human impact (in the form of cattle grazing) created much more of an ecological disaster than just extirpating a native minnow. It drastically changed the course of the river, the shape of the riverbed, and the character of the riverside habitat. Here’s how:

Until recently, much of the riverside habitat of the Verde River consisted of sedge meadows. Sedges are grass-like, water-loving plants that are an irredescent green for much of the year. We call the meadows “sedge meadows” even though they also include rushes and grasses.  These meadows play an extremely valuable role in the ecological functioning of desert rivers like the Verde. When the river floods, the grass-like leaves of the sedge plants bend with the force of the water and form a thatch (like a thatched roof), which protects the meadow’s rich soils from erosion. The sedge leaves also filter sediment from the floodwaters, enriching and adding to the soils that support them. The roots of the sedges form a dense mat that helps hold the soil in place.

Sedge meadows thus create a habitat that is extremely rich and very stable even though it is frequently subjected to one of the most powerfully destructive forces on earth—fast-moving, sediment-laden floodwater.  Perhaps most important of the vital roles sedge meadows play in the life of the desert is as a water-storer. Their living community of grass-like plants, root mats, and deep, organic-rich soils acts as a living sponge, absorbing water when flows are high and releasing it slowly when times are dry.

These meadows thus even out the flash flood and deep drought water cycle characteristic of the desert and make water available for longer periods of time to larger numbers of living things—plants, animals, and humans—in a habitat where this is very, very important. When the cows were removed from the Verde they were no longer there to nip the occasional tree seedling that managed to sprout in the meadows. Relieved of this “predator” these seedlings grew into saplings whose stems stood up through the floodwaters creating turbulence that swirled and dug and eventually penetrated the protective sedge thatch and root mat at their base. Thus exposed, the meadows’ rich and vulnerable soils began to wash away. The results can be seen in the photo sequence shown at the beginning of this post.

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