Stalking: Effect of Land Use on Ecosystems

The Earth provides many opportunities for humans.  Humans take advantage of the land in every way that they can and that effects the ecosystems of those areas.  Every change that humans make change the land around them and therefore the ecosystem around them.  Humans do not always think about these changes that they make and how these changes affect anything except for themselves. Humans use the land around them in ways such as National Wildlife Refuges, dams, and agriculture. Each of these things has a different effect on the ecosystems around them, some of these changes are positive and some are negative.

National Wildlife Refuges are established by the Federal Government and are protected lands that are managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  National Wildlife Refuges have very limited development; refuges are extremely limited in what is allowed to be done on them. The limited development on these Refuges allows for increased biodiversity due to the decreased exploitation of natural resources and therefore the decreased destruction of natural habitats.  However, humans can still use these Refuges to gain some value aesthetically and through recreation.  Some Refuges allow people to hunt on them but there are very strict regulations on the amount that they are allowed to hunt and what species they are allowed to hunt while some people just enjoy the Refuges in aesthetic ways, such as kayaking and photography.

Dams, like the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River, are owned by private companies in an effort to develop an alternative form of energy than the burning of fossil fuels. Dams have a major effect on the ecosystems around them.  Dams completely block off the waterways that they are on which makes it close to impossible for migratory fish to make it farther upstream to spawn.  This increases the density of fish in one area therefore increasing the amount of birds of prey and fishing opportunities in one area.  A prime example of this is at the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River in Harford County, Maryland.  There is a large amount of bald eagles and vultures at the base of the dam because not all of the fish are able to make it up the fish ladder into the Conowingo Dam Pond.  This decreases the spawning opportunities of these species of fish like Rockfish and American shad (Chris Cerino).  The decreasing of spawning opportunities decreases the population of these species of fish and is one of the reasons there has been a dramatic decrease in the population of American shad in the Chesapeake Bay.  This increased density of the fish population also effects the birds of prey that have the opportunity to feast in these areas.  The birds no longer have to struggle and try hard in order to find food to eat so they no longer have the skills that the birds once did that allowed them to survive when there is not an abundant food source directly in front of them.  These birds will now suffer if the fish are not abundant in these areas.

Agriculture is one of the most detrimental forms of land use to ecosystems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Agriculture is an essential part of the human culture and way of survival; without agriculture humans would have to return to using hunter gatherer groups in order to find the food they need for survival.  Lands are often clear cut in order to create agricultural fields which destroys habitats which greatly decreases the biodiversity of the area.  This was displayed throughout Journey 1 when Mike Hardesty told us about the decrease in the quail population due to the destruction of the warm season grasses in which the quail thrive in.  Agriculture also has serious effects on the ecosystem due to the chemical fertilizers that are applied to agricultural fields.  These chemicals are leaked into the waterways through runoff therefore increasing the amount of nutrients in the water.  This was evident when water quality sampling was done at Deer Creek in Susquehanna State Park.  The nitrate levels were almost double the accepted threshold levels for a healthy non-tidal waterway.  Most of this runoff probably came from the chemicals applied to the abundant amount of agricultural fields around the state park.  These high nutrient levels can eventually lead to an increase in the production of algae and eventually an increase in dead zones which completely destroy the ecosystem and make it almost impossible for organisms to live there.

Human alteration of the environment challenges the question of what is “wildness”.  Is the environment only wild and natural when it is untouched and unchanged by humans? Or are the changes that humans make to the environment a part of that wildness?  William Cronon explores these questions throughout The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.  Cronon discusses how humans are an essential part of the earth and of the ecosystems on earth, so the changes that they make to the environment are a part of the “wildness” of nature.  There is no answer to these questions but humans must be aware of the effects of use and non-use of land and its connection to creating a balanced and sustainable relationship with the environment and with “wildness”.

All of the things that humans do to manipulate and change the environment have an effect on the ecosystems surrounding them.  These effects can be positive or negative, but they alter the environments either way.  Three main changes that humans make to the environment is through National Wildlife Refuges, the building of dams, and the use of agricultural fields for farming. Each of these changes to the environment is important to humans and society would not be the same without them.  Large areas of marshes and important habitat would be lost or humans would have to go back to hunter gatherer groups without these different changes.

Cerino, Chris. Interview. 7 October 2015. Harford County, Maryland.

Cronon, W. (n.d.). The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature. Environmental         History, 7-7.

Hardesty, Michael. Interview. 8 September 2015. Queen Anne’s County, Maryland.

Conowingo Dam vs. Blackwater

What is the best way to handle the natural environment? Two optimal examples of extreme ways in which we can handle the environment are Conowingo Dam and Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. Should we develop and use the water and land to the best of our advantage or should we preserve the environment and keep it untouched by humans?

Conowingo Dam is a dam on the Susquehanna River which is used for hydroelectric power.  The dam completely divides the Susquehanna River and has two fish ladders according the Conowingo Background reading.  The dam completely alters the environment and ecosystem it divides. The dam stops fish from being able to spawn north further into the Susquehanna.  The fish are blocked by the wall of the dam and since they cannot escape, the area has become a prime feeding ground for large birds of prey such as Bald Eagles.  The dam also greatly affects the flow of sediment in the Susquehanna River. All of the sediment gets stopped by the dam and none of it is able to flow down through the rest of the river or into the Chesapeake Bay.  The dam also changes the flow of water. There is usually at least a small flow of water out of the dam, but when the dam is completely open, so much water is released that they must put out sirens so people know to get out of the water because the water level will rise at least a foot within minutes or an hour. In addition to the many ecological impacts of the dam there are also many anthropogenic impacts of the dam as well.  When the dam was built in 1938 an entire community had to be evacuated because their town needed to be flooded and put underwater due to the 94 foot dam.  People are also able to have much better luck with fishing in front of the dam.  This is especially true during spawning season due to fish not being able to swim farther upstream and being blocked by the dam.  This is the same reason that birds of prey are so successful right in front of the dam.

Blackwater Wildlife Refuge is the complete opposite of the Conowingo Dam.  Blackwater Wildlife Refuge is managed by the Federal Government, while Conowingo Dam is managed by a private company, Exelon Corporation.  The refuge is preserved and undeveloped, and is a natural habitat in which people can go to observe the beauty of nature and appreciate what parts of the Earth would look like without human intervention.  This is the complete opposite of Conowingo Dam, which is an example of human obstruction and exploitation of nature.  When people visit the Conowingo Dam, they observe a manipulated and developed environment as opposed to Blackwater’s pristine beauty.  But Conowingo provides a lot of power to a lot of people.  Determining which is more valuable is entirely up to the interpretation of the individual.

Stopping pollution

Most people are aware of the impending problem of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.  How can we solve that problem? Can we just immediately stop polluting or does it have to be a process? Within that process are we going to completely destroy the environment?  Unfortunately, no one has the answer to these questions.

Sources of pollution come from agriculture, erosion, urban runoff, and human waste.  Most people know that the main source of nutrient pollution is from agriculture.  Most people are unaware that not all of the nutrients are polluted via runoff, some of the nutrients leak down into the groundwater.  The groundwater generally stays in the ground for about ten to twenty years according to Dr. Rebecca Fox in her lecture on Nutrient Sources and Transport.  This means that even if we stop polluting and using excess nutrients on fields right now, nutrients will continue to leak into the Bay for another ten to twenty years.

This makes a huge impact on our society.  We are trying so hard to fight pollution, but we won’t see the effects of it for so long that people may lose their interest in trying to save the environment.  Humans will fight and fight for something, as long as they see that their efforts are working and that they are making progress.  If they don’t see that what they are doing is working, they will completely quit trying.  We need to ensure that we continue to fight against pollution and figure out ways to keep people motivated.

If we do nothing about the environment and don’t work on stopping pollution then the environment won’t be here in the future.  We won’t have natural resources to use for manufacturing goods and progressing our society.

Stopping pollution is essential to saving our society and saving the planet.  We must continue to work on the environment and fighting to save it.  Even if we don’t know the best way to do it or if our efforts are working.  We must do something, we can not sit back and let the environment be complete destroyed and ruin our chances of having any sort of future.

We need to start tackling all of the different sources of nutrient pollution and coming up with a feasible plan that people will follow in order to begin to tackle the problem.  Some sort of plans must take shape in order to make this work,