ECO-Tours only purchases trees and dirt to plant them in...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Geographic Literacy

This ECO-Tour involves getting to know your unique ecotone. There are several ways that you can explore what I am talking about. On foot you can walk a sort of rosette around your neighborhood. I am lucky, I have a Cartesian coordinate system surrounding where I live. To the South, I can go three ways, along a Parkway, bordering the East River and I can go out one, two or three blocks, same to the West, same to the North. Like petals on a flower, walk out and back all around the series of blocks surrounding your home. In the country, it may be fewer routes with longer blocks, but explore them on foot, or bicycle if it seems too far. Go slow, appreciate, the breaks and hollows, where the terrain is lush. Where it is not. What aspect influences each slope? What native trees live around you? What name is given to your climate and why? Are some areas in your neighborhood more abundant with water? Or shade? Which places are sunniest and dry? How have human impacts changed the amount of moisture, heat and wind protection is available? Getting to know the immediate area around us can change our lives, the lives of other organisms that share our space.

These first ten questions are mostly about the physical features and a few of the life forms who inhabit the area. Investigate albedo, the reflectivity, of different surfaces keep in mind that grass is usually about 15% grey. Black absorbs the most energy, white reflects the most (Barring reflections from glass, mirrored surfaces and water at the proper angle.) Homes, buildings, paved areas as well as anything with a combustion engine exudes heat energy. Begin to understand the predominant airsheds and associated conditions and how they differ from place to place in your immediate area as well as the surrounding neighborhood. Begin to see that watersheds begin at the peaks of each local roof top and follow the path from sky to whatever the local lakes or rivers may be. Start thinking through the delivery systems for food, water, energy and consumer goods. Try to get a grasp of waste disposal as well. Where does all the waste water go? how many truckloads of garbage are produced in how long a time. If people still burn their garbage, how often do they do it and are they properly sorting to eliminate all plastics? Are metals recycled in your area? Those second ten questions fill out the understanding of what is going on in your immediate area.

Asking such a large battery of questions and getting to really understand the answers to these sorts of questions could take as little as an afternoon, but most likely will take months, if not years. Finding out as much as possible about where you reside can help you to see other places more clearly as well. Starting from your home, try to build the most accurate map possible in your own mind. Really look at the place closely. What creatures reside nearby? How easy is it for them to find what they need to sustain them and how can that carrying capacity be enhanced? If the population of any single organism is limited, what is the limitation and can it be addressed? Are any species existing in too much abundance? Really delve into the area that you can walk to and back in an hour, or half hour if that is all the time you can spare. Just this simple practice, entered into with attention and determination can yield a great deal of satisfaction and can be the basis for further knowledge of a wider area. More on that later.

 This is one of the first shelterbelts that we planted with ECO-Tours of Wisconsin Inc. Prior to this we planted smaller groups of trees in smaller numbers and areas. This was over three hundred trees on two acres. It protects the property from prevailing Westerlies as well as the north winds of winter. The trees are now large enough to shelter a two story building and create a cool shady area along a large farmhouse in the middle of a treeless windswept plain. It also helps stabilize water levels in a local stream by both sucking up some of the peak flows of rain and snowmelt as well as slowing the release of runoff that used to flow unimpeded to a nearby muddy stream. Before planting, we did this same ECO-Tour on just the ten acre parcel that included the two that were remediated. Our assessment was that the landowner needed a similar area utilizing different species on the downstream side of the property as well, but they opted to save the open wet area for possible development. To date, nothing has been planted along the running part of the stream that opens up on the opposite side of the parcel.

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