When to Incorporate Wild Nature Versus Leave It Alone and the Bigger Picture of Healthy People and Healthy Ecosystems

Posted on Thursday, May 7th, 2020 by Guest Blogger
UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Rachael Long and Justin Rominger check a hedgerow that borders a tomato field on Rominger Brothers farms in Winters, Yolo County. Global studies, and UC studies in the Central Valley of California, have found that habitat on farms provides crop pollination and pest control benefits. Research brief: Hedgerow benefits align with food production and sustainability goals. Image provided by Wild Farm Alliance

This is excerpted from an article by CalCAN Coalition member Wild Farm Alliance. See the original post here.

Guiding Principles

At the heart of our work, we believe that farming within natural systems nurtures healthy people and flourishing ecosystems. Farming is dependent on ecological interactions among many kinds of species. Farms can be safer and more resilient because diversity encourages a wide array of beneficial organisms and processes. Farms are more cost effective with reduced outside inputs, and more climate-friendly because diverse habitats store carbon and buffer farms from storms and droughts. Farming with nature also gives room and rights for our nonhuman brethren to co-exist and prosper.

At the same time that we promote incorporating and accommodating nature on farms and ranches, we advocate leaving wild nature intact, as much as possible. We also support local and regional food systems that respond to people’s needs and that adhere to conservation ethics. These guiding principles can help prevent the spread of pandemic viruses like COVID-19.

Image provided by Wild Farm Alliance

Diseases and Climate Change

Ecosystem disruption and decline are causing more disease outbreaks and more impacts to the climate. “Many of these emerging diseases arise from changing environmental conditions — including from deforestation, habitat and biodiversity loss, wildlife exploitation, the bushmeat and traditional medicine trade, confined animal agriculture, and antibiotic misuse,” according to Dr. Jonathan Foley, Executive Director of Project Drawdown.

People keep crowding nature, and with that comes unintended consequences for which we are currently paying the price. The next pandemic could come from cutting down intact forests to produce food, whether it’s to grow crops or graze livestock. The pathogens carried by species in these forests have co-evolved for thousands of years and have come to a kind of equilibrium, in which pathogens may have killed some of its members in years past, and now co-exist with the rest. When animals are crowded, the propensity and rate of disease transmission increase among them. We intrude into a wild area and capture species that have the potential to infect us. And we fragment the habitat, making it easier for rodents, squirrels, monkeys, chimpanzees and bats to come in contact with us or our domestic animals, that then may amplify and share those pathogens with us. We insert ourselves into the mix at great risk without the same immunities.

The interconnections of our planet dictate that when we cut down forests, we increase the release of greenhouse gases and thereby our climatic risk. Not only has the demise of these trees and many others in the world made them unable to absorb existing CO2, but their loss has contributed to the increasing CO2 load in our atmosphere. It’s not getting better. Between 2015-2018, average annual CO2 emissions were 63 percent higher than in the preceding 14 years.

People’s internal biomes are yet another interconnection with nature’s ecosystems and are dependent on our food system. As society strives for sterile human environments and compels many to eat nutritionally vapid, cheaply processed food due to the inequitable distribution of wealth, immune systems are compromised. It’s the people with the lowest immunity that are at the highest risk of dying from the coronavirus. Even if they survive this one, there will always be another virus on the way.

This current pandemic is thought to come from the wet markets, where live, wild animals, extracted from their natural habitats, mixed with people and domestic animals, give rise to pathogens that had never before had access to such hosts. As author David Quammen states about pathogens like COVID-19, “It’s won the sweepstakes.”

A ban on the sale of all wild animals, especially those that move across international lines, is needed. As human numbers increase, and poor people struggle to feed themselves, it is understandable that some go into adjacent forests for desperately needed animal protein. If we were to help to alleviate that poverty, the rest of humanity and wild nature would benefit.

What We Can Do and Our Hopes for the Future

Image provided by Wild Farm Alliance

If we have learned anything about pathogens, it is that management decisions should be based on science, not fear, and certainly not on the fast buck which doesn’t account for the full costs of our actions. The world is realizing that to lessen our exposure to pathogens we need to stop these deep intrusions into natural environments. By doing so, we conserve ecosystems for the climate resiliency benefits and a vast magnitude of biodiversity. We need to reorient our focus on our security and finances to include the health of native species and the ecosystems in which we all live.

We need to expand our support of beneficial birds, insects and other wildlife that provide pest control and pollination services with little risk to ourselves. We need to put livestock out on pastures, decrease their antibiotic use, and reduce the amount of meat we eat. We need programs to reduce poverty near wild areas to lessen encroachments, and in big cities to increase nutrition. We need to decrease or eliminate the wild animal trade. We can cut down the impact and destruction on wild animals and their ecosystems by eating food grown closer to home. We all need to support more local and regional farmers, and get our states to do the same.

We have an opportunity and a moral mandate to make big changes for ourselves and other species with whom we share this planet. As Jane Goodall says, “We have to realize we are part of the natural world, we depend on it, and as we destroy it we are actually stealing the future from our children.”


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