A Word from Our President 6.1.2023


A Word from Our President 6.1.2023

I’ve been birding far from home lately in a place that nevertheless felt very familiar. Let me explain.

Imagine a Mediterranean climate — miles of hilly oak woodland crossed by occasional river valleys. Imagine also a region where the winter rains have fallen far below average for three consecutive years, where farmers are competing for irrigation water, and where rivers and natural wetlands have largely dried up. Imagine a land where wildlife is struggling to survive.

If all this sounds familiar, let me tell you that I’m not talking about California but somewhere much further away. The region I am describing is Andalucía, a province in southern Spain.

In a biological sense, Andalucía is similar to California, in many ways. The Mediterranean climate in Spain works the same as it does in California, with winter rains and hot, dry summers. The natural vegetation also resembles the Golden State, with miles of oak woodland, extensive open grasslands, and mountains with chaparral-like thickets and pines at higher altitudes.

But what really struck me was how similar the environmental problems of Spain seem when studied from a North American perspective. To out it bluntly, southern Spain is suffering from a combination of too little rainfall – a pattern being intensified by climate change – and too much groundwater pumping for intensive agriculture. The result is that the rivers and wetlands that sustain wildlife are drying up.

I share all this because the challenge facing Andalucía is the same one facing not only California but also Harney County and the Malheur Lake. In a world where humans dominate, how much water can we divert for human use before the natural world simply collapses? Last summer, Malheur Lake almost disappeared completely; all that remained was a few hundred acres of inch-deep water. This year, thanks to a much more generous winter, our lake is back and once again providing critical habitat for migratory and nesting birds. For that, we can be thankful.

But the challenge remains. We humans must be careful not to fatally wound the natural things we love.

– Wm. Tweed


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