Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Nature Preserves (Big and Small)

Coal isn't the only embattled resource harbored by federal lands. In Oregon, cattle grazing ranges and timber are flashpoints for disputes arising out of economic vs. environmental foci. While federal jurisdiction is not as widespread as Oregon's, much of Maryland's economic activity takes place on property owned by the federal government. Presumably, should the union disintegrate following a slide into rebellion, states or regions will inherit these jurisdictions, but they may have to fight locally interested militias like Oregon's in order to maintain control. That won't be difficult for most of Maryland's federal lands, as most are owned and operated by federal departments involved in national security.  The Patuxent River Naval Air Station (home to my former employer, Naval Air Systems Command), the Aberdeen Proving Ground, and Fort Meade (home to the National Security Agency) are among the largest.

One prominent resource of interest to our future economy and our environment is the Patuxent River, which is largely held in the public commons. Adjacent to Fort Meade is a large chunk of federal land called the Patuxent Research Refuge (not to be confused with the Patuxent River State Park or county parks such as Prince George's Patuxent Park).  The navigable reach of the Patuxent River ends short of these environmental preserves, as the British discovered to their dismay during the War of 1812. Their largest vessels had to stop well below the headwaters, disembarking troops at Benedict, MD in preparation for their assault on the nation's capital.  That won't stop shallow-draft boats and barges from inland commerce up the Patuxent in the fossil-fuel deprived future that soon awaits us, especially as sea level rise backs up the tidal force to maintain wider and deeper channels all along its course. Environmental preservation will take a back seat to economic necessity in order to move goods via waterways in and out of populated areas, but that will be balanced out by the return to the wild of some areas which are economically unsustainable.

Developed landscapes that fall into neglect are vulnerable to invasive species, which also often include pioneer scrub plants such as thistles. Returning to a more beautifully advanced stage of wild can be fostered by a method now being practiced at the Patuxent Research Refuge by Master Gardeners. It is being taught to Master Gardeners in many counties through a series of workshops for creating foundation seedbeds of native plants. The process includes (1) Native plant rescue/seed saving (2) Seed sowing, and (3) Maintenance and propagation of foundation beds. Planting a foundation seed bed and collecting the seed from the mature plants allows a gardener to propagate natives via:

  • starting plugs or pots of local genotype native plants, (for community greening projects and MG plant sales and demo gardens) 
  • providing parks with genetically appropriate seed for restoration of areas after invasives removal or other soil disturbance 
  • sowing native meadows 
  • making wildflower seed packets, or 
  • selling to produce income or raise funds.
It doesn't require a nature preserve to carry out this small-scale approach to environmental preservation. Gardeners like me can dedicate a little of their gardens and time to restoring natural beauty at home and in their communities. Groups throughout the country are holding seed swaps on or around the last weekend in January. I plan to participate in our county's event this weekend, where one of the seeds on my shopping list will be a native for my foundation seedbed.

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