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Blackberries and briar patches | Kitsap Week
By Gene Bullock, Kitsap Audubon
Br’er Rabbit is not the only critter that loves a briar patch. The underbrush bordering parks and open fields provides food and cover for a multitude of birds and small animals.
Yet, park maintenance crews sometimes seem obsessed with turning these untidy havens into manicured lawns that must be watered and mowed. It reflects our view of nature as something to be tamed and subdued. And wildlife is paying the price.
I grew up on some of the most productive farmland in Michigan. The river bottom lands were built up from centuries of silt deposited when local rivers overflowed. Today, those farms have been replaced by paved streets and driveways. Instead of rhubarb and melons, the rich soil now supports landscaped yards and decorative shrubs. It’s a symbol of our time, when the American dream is a McMansion in the country with acreage stripped of its natural cover and forest duff.
I may just be a displaced farm boy who pines for the “old days” when I could roam the fields with my dog and dream Huck Finn fantasies. Nostalgia has a way of repainting boyhood memories. But we love our parks because they heal and refresh our spirits. They’re a reminder that nature is still accessible, even if it’s in a municipally managed parcel tucked between developments.
While I’m at it, I have another ecological peeve to share. Construction crews often think that spring is the perfect time to chop down trees and bulldoze brush to make way for new buildings, roads and other “improvements.” But planners never consider that spring is when trees and shrubs harbor hidden nests and dens that are homes for young birds and animals not yet ready to survive on their own. These conflicts too often turn out badly for birds and wildlife.
A friend I remember wouldn’t use his tractor until after the family of robins nesting there were fully fledged. We may not be ready to go as far as that, but construction schedules can often be adjusted to minimize the harm.
Members of Kitsap Audubon helped avert a wildlife tragedy a few years ago by partnering with the Washington Department of Transportation. Work crews were preparing to repaint the Warren Avenue Bridge in Bremerton, when Audubon members alerted them to the presence of nesting peregrine falcons and a unique colony of pelagic cormorants. WDOT was persuaded to delay repainting until after the birds were done nesting. Workers even arranged to lower a wildlife biologist to rescue eggs from a nesting pair of peregrine falcons. The eggs were incubated at a wildlife rescue facility in Oregon, and the young falcons were eventually released in the Columbia Gorge.
With a little thought and care, there is much we can do to live in harmony with the wonderful diversity of birds and wildlife that share our urban wilds.