Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: There Is No “Someplace Else” for Wildlife

Wood Thrush

One of my first environmental battles after joining Bergen County Audubon many years ago was to try and save a local eagle’s nest from a developer. Now, as you can imagine, standing up against a multimillion-dollar project is not easy to say the least and it is a long story in itself.

During that fight, at meeting after meeting, I was told time and time again, and I quote, “Don’t worry Don, they will go somewhere else.” Now, to be honest, that irresponsible, reckless and totally unscientific statement came from not only the folks that you expect working for the developer but also from some well-meaning people that were supposed to be on my side. Thankfully, the somewhere else people failed and in the end we saved the nest, which to date has produced 13 Bald Eagles over the years. It became obvious to most of us that the place the Eagles chose to make their nest was much better than the imaginary fantasy world of “someplace else.”

Sad to say the myth of “someplace else” continues to be used at many of the meetings I attend when we try to protect and preserve wildlife habitat around our region. I can remember sitting in on a mayor and council meeting concerning a warehouse development plan and a resident asked where will the wildlife go? Of course, it was a typical answer: “They will go someplace else like up the hill, don’t worry.” It has always been my experience that when someone tells you not to worry, is the exact time to actually start worrying.

Unlike human beings that can be stockpiled in high-rises, suburban streets and apartment buildings and be supplied with food from local supermarkets, it does not work that way for our wildlife. Most wildlife species are territorial, which means they can only breed and survive within a given area. For example, a Wood Thrush will need an acre or more for nesting. This means finding food and gathering nesting material. The bird will defend its territory against any other Wood Thrush that try to move in.

If it fails to do that, it will not find enough food to feed its young and the nest will fail. To add insult to injury, we continue to lose more habitat every day, and the habitat we do have continues to be degraded and compromised by invasive plants, water quality and human encroachment. Now our magnificent Wood Thrush and many other songbird species are in steep decline. Obviously, the imaginary “someplace else” is not helping in any way.

The “someplace else” myth also is harmful to not only breeding birds but to migratory birds as well. Just imagine you are driving down the highway on vacation or maybe even moving your family across the country to a new home. And now you continue to drive and no matter where you go, there are no diners or restaurants. All the service stations are out of gas and there is no place to take shelter from the snow or rain. But maybe by some miracle you are lucky enough to get to your destination but then find it’s no longer there and has been bulldozed and paved over. This in fact in all likelihood would be the end of the line. Of course, you might be able to go “someplace else,” wherever that is.

Our elected officials like to put nature in a box. Trees here, warehouse there, new housing over here, but that is a failed plan when it comes to wildlife. The wildlife that thrives at one location only can do that if there is healthier habitat nearby that creates stepping stones. Just like you, they need a kind of road or natural stepping-stone of habitats that will get them to places to rest and eat and bring forth a new generation. Otherwise, they will never make their destination and continue to add to the 3 billion birds we have lost since 1970.

So my question continues to be unanswered by the powers that be, ‘Where is that wildlife Atlantis, the nirvana for birds.’ The Eldorado and Garden of Eden that I have been asked to believe exists that takes in all displaced wildlife no matter where we decide to boot them out of time after time? Is it around the corner from the new giant warehouse project? Is it just down the street from the beautiful new housing development? Or maybe it is just beyond the big lawn and tennis courts?  

The fact is we need to protect and preserve wildlife habitat where it is right now, the places where the birds already nest, the places that provide them with food and shelter, and places to raise young. We should save the trees where Bald Eagles choose to roost, the forests where Fox have dens and the meadows where the muskrats have chosen a home.

There is no “someplace else,” only the places where wildlife now survives, where we love to walk in nature. The places that future generations of both wildlife and people depend on for their health and well-being.

Be cautious and wary of the “someplace else’s.” One day that is where they will be asking all of us to go

See you in the Meadowlands


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