Migratory Species Need Migratory Spaces

The Pontiac hills, dales and wetlands resonate with the sound of music.

Whether it’s the whirring of the common snipe making its aerial display, the chik-chik-korree of the redwing blackbird, or the honking of Canada geese as they perform their V-shaped flyovers, the birds are filling the air with welcome chirps, tweets and whirrs.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate this annual event, which is particularly joyous in spring while the countryside sheds its wintry mantle of snow.

But there’s one thing about migrants: They require a habitat to return to. And it’s not just the Brazilian rainforest, or the wetlands of Ontario we should be looking to. It’s our own back yard here in Pontiac.

It’s for reasons like this - the return of migrants - that we all should be firm guardians of our natural world.

And I’ve not heard a single person speak to this issue when discussing the future of our Pontiac forests. Why is that, do you think?

Because wildlife do not possess a political voice. They don’t vote. Multinational corporations don’t consider them relevant.

After all, there’s no money in wildlife… unless that is, you want to shoot them, or fish for them.

So what’s the migrant to do?

What happens when returning songbirds seek to build nests along the Wilson, Westbrook, or Lac des loups (Wolf Lake) roads where logging has or currently is taking place? What about the woods near Greermont, the woods north of Rutledge, or along the Black River north of Waltham?

People’s jobs rule the wild. We human beings cut our woods for cattle, drain our wetlands for crops or replace arable, cleared land (often deemed “waste land” or “good for nothing space”) with subdivisions.

And yet, quixotically and endearingly, we human beings have a marvellous propensity to care for, if not love, wildlife.

There are very few among us who don’t take distinct pleasure in seeing a monarch butterfly feeding on the pom-pom shaped, fragrant milkweed blossom. And who among us doesn’t enjoy seeing a hummingbird darting from flower to flower?

So it is peculiarly human to have the capacity to love precisely those things that we are actively, thoughtlessly destroying.

Now hold on. It’s not as if we are actively heading out and killing hummers and monarchs.

But we are, really, little by little. Because we’re eradicating habitat.

You do it. I do it. We change our properties for specific reasons… and the reasons make sense to us.

And so, when the spring grows into the heady days of summer, and we suddenly realize that the mockingbird or red-headed woodpecker hasn’t returned, we feel diminished. We miss these creatures as surely as we recall their glorious songs.

So we can argue back and forth about our “right” to cut the trees. We can posture and claim that we require no legislation to protect the woods and watercourses. We can rant and moan about government interference. We can all claim we know what’s best for the forest.

But just as some readers have written letters to The Equity regarding their support of this legislation, just as I’ve heard people around their kitchen tables debating the proposals’ merits, I too believe we are irresponsibly depleting our natural resource of forests here in Pontiac, Québec and Canada.

While Eric and I were touring Southern California a couple of weeks ago, we overheard some tourists chatting about the energy and water crisis there. One person said “they should do something about that,” with respect to conservation. His friend gently reminded him, “But who do you mean, ‘they’? ‘They’ are you and me.”

This is the kernel of wisdom that we must understand. You and I must take a second look at what we’re doing to our environment here in the Pontiac.

We need to reassess our place within our land for it, and only it, sustains us: it’s the only planet we can live on.

And just look at what we’re doing to it, here, right here in the Pontiac. I’ve mentioned previously how cleaning up the ditching along our eastern field drained its southeast corner just enough so we could harvest the crop of hay. But insodoing, we drained “our” American Bittern’s annual nesting ground. Permanently. I miss its gurgling call and naturally, I’ve been told not to worry, that it will just go somewhere else to nest. (And so it might… but did you drain your field, too?)

See what I mean? All of a sudden, there’s a subtle change.

Or not so subtle. Wiping out a complete forest is not subtle..

Now hang on. I should call the “forest” by it’s real Pontiac name, shouldn’t I? Many people don’t call them “forests,” here in the Pontiac, or even “woods”? Instead they are given an economic, a political name: “woodlots.”

So what, you ask?

“Woodlot” subtly divorces nature from the equation. That word eliminates nature from our thoughts and conversations among one another. And believe me, words are critical political and economic tools that influence a people. Us, in other words.

Words convey meaning and are our building blocks of conversation - and conservation.

Not to mention civilization. And we do like to consider ourselves civilized, no? But that word conveys meaning too: Some factors that “civilize” us are empathy, consideration for others, compassion, caring.

So let’s give some thought to the wild during National Wildlife Week (April 9-15). Let’s not just view our land through moneyed lenses. Our children require a sustainable life. That means land to grow good food; potable water; it means they must have a vocabulary of considered words so they can build worthwhile thoughts and actions - and a caring guardianship of our natural world that looks beyond an economic spreadsheet.

Welcome home, migrants, long may you have Pontiac forests, lakes and wetlands for your home.


Katharine Fletcher wishes you a happy Easter from her home near Quyon.