Imagine having wings, and no place to fly; deep lungs for endurance, and no place to run; a slick skin for living in and out of water, but the water is ebbing; petals of a beauty so delicate they need protection from the sun, but shade is disappearing; a quicksilver body for darting through marsh water, but the marsh is receding.
Loss of habitat is more than loss of our human heritage, more than a threat to the ability of biodiversity to buffer us from the worst of the changes global warming is bringing.
The loss of habitat, or its protection, are the measures of our empathy toward other living things. The degree of recognition we give to other life forms whose genetic characteristics are so remarkably similar to our own.
In the news last week, a lawyer in British Columbia was baffled by the public fury against his client who had beaten a five-month-old puppy with a hammer, and then tried to bury it alive.
The puppy is recovering, but the lawyer can’t understand why so much public attention was given to the puppy’s plight, while very little attention was paid to another of his clients who had killed another person with a hammer.
What the lawyer missed was that attacking the puppy went beyond cruelty to the helpless. It was a brutal declaration of dominance, an attempt at stifling the song of life, the song that embraces all existence, and transcends all experience. The song from which grace and beauty spring. From which compassion flows. The song which touches us all.
I would expect the same reaction had the hammer-wielding man attacked a fawn, or a bear cub, or had he set about killing a proud oak in the city park.
The cruelty to the puppy I see as little different from destroying a bird’s habitat and precipitating its slow decline into an endangered species. Little different from eliminating a wetland and everything that lived there.
Two Canadian biologists, Anthony Ricciardi of Dalhousie University in Halifax, and Joseph Rasmussen of McGill University in Montreal, have given us the first estimate of how serious is the extinction rate of freshwater creatures in North America.
They say 3.7 per cent of freshwater species disappear every 10 years, a rate that is five times faster than for land animals, and three times faster than for ocean mammals. The main cause of extinction, they say, is habitat destruction.
In another study, the first large-scale, scientifically peer-reviewed assessment of biodiversity in the United States, the U.S. Geological Survey says that the loss of biodiversity is « rapid.’’ It, too, says that the main cause is habitat destruction.
Fortunately, there is something that individuals can do privately to preserve habitat forever. They can place their land under the care of a conservation land trust.
They can do this in two ways. They can donate their land to a trust and receive, in return, a charitable receipt equal to the value of the property. That will entitle them to a tax credit for 47 per cent of the charitable receipt. They will be able to deduct this amount from their income taxes over a five-year period.
Alternatively, they can grant a « conservation easement’’ to a trust. The easement will impose restrictions — for instance prohibiting hunting, trapping, and logging. The owners will continue to own the land, but they, and all subsequent owners, will have to abide by the restrictions. In return for granting an easement, an owner will receive a charitable receipt equal to about 20 per cent of the value of the land. Forty-seven per cent of this amount will qualify as a tax credit.
If you need more information about how to protect your land, telephone the Federation of Ontario Naturalists at (416) 444-8419. It belongs to the Ontario Nature Trust Alliance (ONTA), along with 21 other members, and provides the alliance with administrative support.
ONTA members are already protecting about 38,500 hectares across Ontario. But many times that amount of habitat needs protecting.