Can we make a difference? Faced with the serious and urgent threat of global climate change, it may seem that there is little that we can do to stop the trajectory of Earth into a bleak future. Although it may seem impossible for us as individuals to reverse this destructive trend, each of us can choose to do activities that are beneficial for the environment and will help heal Earth. We start by not ignoring the symptoms of our ailing planet and we make choices and engage in actions that benefit and help preserve the ecosystem. We don’t have to go far to make a difference. It begins in our homes, backyards and neighborhoods.
Simple activities that make a difference
Ecocentric activities can take a little or a lot of work. Some, such as not disturbing wildlife, not moving rocks (they may be sheltering someone) and staying on trails are passive activities. Others, including picking up trash (even if it isn’t yours), leashing dogs, removing their excrement and planting gardens to attract pollinators take more effort.
Pick a Flower and Trouble a Star
Everyone must be mindful of the effects that individual and collective actions have on the environment. The consequences of our actions ripple through the ecosystem. Even the seemingly innocent act of turning over a stone in a river can have devastating consequences and hasten the extinction of an endangered species1
Larger projects carried out in open spaces including clearing trails and installing barbed wire fences and barriers across wildlife paths and corridors can fragment habitats, separate animal families and block food sources.
A shoutout to the children
The 88-acre canyon that I love and write about, hosts a diversity of wildlife. Although a small habitat, it’s an important one. This wild space is part of a network of other natural areas, separated from each other by roads and buildings. The little canyon is also a popular hiking spot for the locals. It’s a perfect place to see how people’s activities impact the fragile environment.
There’s a wonderful eco-minded pre-school at the head of one of the trails that leads into the canyon. A few years ago, the young students started calling themselves The Jell-O Club. The name wasn’t randomly picked. Like many preschoolers, the children were given mid-morning/mid-day snacks. After they and their eco-conscious parents noticed the plastic wrappers from their refreshments littering the canyon and floating down the creek, they asked the school’s director if they could have snacks that were in biodegradable packaging. These eco-minded youngsters didn’t stop there. They cleaned up the canyon trails, using pickers to grab up plastic, paper, metal and glass. To this day these little ones are still vigilante trail custodians. They are more than trail custodians; they are young conservationists in training, and they help keep the wildlife, dogs and hikers safe from the hazards of garbage and glass. The earth needs young vigilante conservationists like the Jell-O Club. They are making a difference.
Destruction of a shelter close to home
Until a few months ago, wildlife kept dry by crossing the canyon creek on a natural bridge made from branches intertwined between rocks, roots and the trunk of a large bay tree. The tangle of branches and leaves also provided shelter, cover and food for many species of wild animals. Generations of bobcats found the trunk and vegetation a safe spot to shelter and raise kittens. Although this was one of several shelters that the bobcat families used, they returned to it on a regular basis. Generations of kittens played, grew and learned essential survival skills on top of the branches and on the banks adjacent to the shelter.
Bobcats weren’t the only animals who hung out there. When the bobs weren’t around, possums would forage amongst the leaves and use the fallen branches and rocks as pathways to connect to the other side of the creek. Every night, dusky-footed woodrats, who are a species of special concern, ran over the tops of the large trunk that framed the creek. It worked well as a bridge, connecting to the bay trees where the woodrats built their large multi-generational homes.
For many years, this pile of rocks and branches played an important part in the lives of the wild residents. It supported many species for countless generations until one day a man with a shovel purposely destroyed it. It only took him one hour to eliminate it.
There were no reasons to demolish it. No human-made structures were nearby that could be impacted by the rising creek waters. Nature had successfully managed the creek for hundreds of years without this man’s help.
In addition to negatively impacting the animals, he destroyed part of a sensitive habitat that is home to species of special concern. Years ago, the county mandated that there can never be any building or modifications made in the canyon because it’s an environmentally sensitive riparian habitat. It is supposed to remain untouched.
It was difficult to watch the videos of wildlife discovering that their familiar crossing point and shelter was gone.
For ten years, an organization near one of the trail heads hired an exterminator to bait traps with 2nd generation rodenticides. These deadly rat poisons remain in the tissues of the rats and travel up the food web. After eating the poison, the sick rodents don’t immediately die. The rats wandered into the canyon and neighboring yards and became easy targets for predators, including raptors, bobcats, pumas, coyotes as well as household dogs and cats.2
5 years ago, Slim, a beautiful mountain lion died after she ate a rodent that had eaten the bait. She had been frequently filmed late at night walking up the canyon trails, often hesitating at the junction where two two trails intersected. Slim was one of many unintended victims of 2nd generation rodenticide.
One person made a difference
Because of the perseverance of one man, the organization recently stopped using the poison. He successfully convinced the organizations board of directors to stop its use and dispose of the bait traps. He presented facts and suggested alternatives to 2nd generation rodenticide for reducing the rat population.3 One person took action and made a difference.
You can make a difference
Although individually we may not be able to stop global warming, we can take actions that halt further destruction of the environment. We need to be mindful, think about the potential consequences of our actions and be aware of the ripple effect that our activities have on the ecosystem. We all need to do our parts to preserve and heal our fragile ecosystem.
- Hellbender, an endangered species is in danger of disappearing forever. Because it makes it home under rocks in rivers, turning over, moving rocks displaces them “Once a nest rock is moved, hellbenders won’t ever use that rock again.” Stroup said. “There’s not a whole lot of clean, pristine habitat left for hellbenders. A lot of time we were damming rivers and creating lakes, we lost a lot of that riverine habitat for aquatic species.”
- These rat poisons kill indiscriminately. A study commissioned by California Department of Fish and Wildlife found 2nd generation rat poison in 85% of the mountain lions, bobcats and fishers who were tested in California In 2020, Governor Newson signed the bill which makes it illegal to use 2nd generation rodenticides in California. Although it’s illegal, some people and businesses, including the canyon neighbor, hire exterminators, who place the lethal poison in bait boxes.
- Rats are a problem, but there are better, safer ways of managing and reducing the population. You can make a difference and let natures’ exterminators do their jobs. Rats are regular parts of the predator’s diet. Additionally, remove food items, pick up dog and cat food and secure garbage cans and clear away brush will also help keep rats away from homes and businesses. For more information contact the following organizations:
The Hungry Owl Project; Raptors are the Solution; California Department of Fish and Wildlife; Rodenticides Topic Fact Sheet
Marilyn is a certified cat behavior consultant (The Cat Coach, LLC). Not surprisingly, she’s fascinated by feline behaviors. This started with household cats and then after witnessing a puma being killed a few blocks from her home in the suburbs, expanded to include local mountain lions and bobcats. A few years after the tragedy, she joined the Bay Area Puma Project/Felidae Conservation Fund, maintaining trail cameras, writing and helping wherever she can. Her focus is on how urbanization is affecting apex predators’ behaviors.
She is also an author and educator. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior issues through clicker training, environmental changes as well as other positive reinforcement techniques. She gives presentations throughout the United States as well as writes columns and articles for a variety of venues.
Marilyn is interviewed on podcasts, print and on line publications. Additionally Marilyn is a frequent guest on television and radio and has appeared, along with her Bengals and Savannah Cat on Animal Planet, CBS, ABC, KGO and others.
Join Marilyn for lively discussions about all things feline on her Facebook page.