Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.

Standing-Rock Sioux Defend Right to Clean Water, Part 2

spring

For background on the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and the Sioux Water Defenders, read Part 1 of this series.

Why the Protest?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are 1.3 million gallons of petroleum leaked into the ground or waterways each year. There are roughly 2.4 million miles of pipeline that transport crude oil in the U.S. In addition, crude oil is transported by ships and tanker trucks. The U.S. has been using pipelines for 70 years to transport petroleum and gas. Ships and trucks, when involved in crude oil spills, have a limited quantity or capacity but when a pipeline leaks, it has the potential to be catastrophic before being shut down.

In the 70 years of pipeline use, there have been several leaks and spills, but according to government statistics, it is still the safest way to transport crude oil. It is for this reason that the Standing Rock Sioux are protesting the placement of the Dakota Access Pipeline. While the pipeline is not technically on Sioux land, it is positioned where it could pose a future threat to their drinking water if the pipeline leaks or malfunctions in the future.

Although the company building the pipeline is fully legal and has obtained all necessary permits, the concern by the Sioux is equally legitimate in wanting to protect their water and land for future generations. As the pipeline ages, it will be more prone to structural failure and any leak could contaminate water and land. Since the 30-foot Dakota Access Pipeline will transport roughly 470,000+ barrels a day, it could present a significant threat to future generations should there be an unfortunate leak.

While the Dakota pipeline is considered the safest and best-designed pipeline, one day it, too, will be obsolete and a potential risk. A leak from a pipeline of this significance could damage much of the Sioux land and drinking water.

Sioux Concern for Tribal Land

Native Americans have had this land ceded to them in perpetuity and they are concerned that if any accident with the pipeline occurs, their land and water could be adversely impacted. This installation of a pipeline near their land is of considerable concern because past treaties or promises have been either broken or ignored.

The Sioux believe the presence of this pipeline is an infringement on their right to peaceful living on the land ceded to them. The oil company has gone through all the government requirements and has obtained the right of way legally, and hence believes it, too, has every right to proceed with its pipeline. Herein lays the conundrum where two rights should not equal one wrong.

Who the Protesters Are

The past broken treaties with Native Americans has created a long-standing condition of distrust that now leads to a pipeline. To deny past government transgressions and its influence on the present would be a further injustice to the Native American community. Thanks in large part to social media, the protest has drawn national attention and the Sioux are now aided by environmental groups and veterans groups of all ethnic persuasions including those that may seek a cause in which to demonstrate or protest.

Our culture today seems to cause two sides of any issue to quickly polarize views and, hence, any compromise is elusive, with each each side entrenched in their perceived rightness.

Police Tactics

The police who have been called in to assist the oil company have exceeded reasonable methods in trying to quell the protest and have further escalated the polarization, in my opinion. The tactics, and sometimes forcefulness, of the police in full riot gear has not improved the situation. Meeting a peaceful protest with a large armed force in full riot gear does not facilitate the groundwork for negotiations or peace.

Two Sides Polarized

Human abuses are filtering out of these clashes between the two factions, and this keeps fueling the protest on to new heights. Those who have subsequently joined the initial protest may have their own agendas and may be hindering, rather than helping, the situation. I call this the “washing-machine effect," because when you lift the lid, there is an agitator inside and that is the last thing the Sioux need in their protest.

Whether it is the media or those who hope to profit in some way from the protest, no good will come from an outsiders meddling with an otherwise peaceful demonstration. I am not sure this is presently happening within the protesters, but the protest keeps growing and escalating instead of moving toward resolution, so something has to be driving the protest. History will reveal who is right or wrong, but now as polarized as both sides seem to be, there appears to be no backing down by either party.

Where is the Federal Government?

Past broken promises and conduct by our government seem to have come full circle and are now directly focused upon an oil pipeline, where the oil company is legal and trying to proceed with construction but is finding itself in the middle of major controversy. In the meantime, the federal government appears to remain aloof and silent when it should, in my opinion, be taking a more active role in resolving this domestic dispute. While the government may not be held in high esteem by either party, they may be the entity best positioned with the power or authority to resolve this matter.

Show of Force vs Peaceful Protests

If our government can negotiate resolutions with other countries which despise us, then we should expect them to favorably resolve issues on our own soil of this magnitude. It seems to me that being legal may not always be right and to protest in order to obstruct outright also can be questioned. Meeting a peaceful protest with armored vehicles and fully equipped riot police does not appear, to me, to be conducive to resolving tensions or addressing the challenges faced by the Native community.

Heading Toward Serious Confrontation

What started as a peaceful protest has evolved into a growing protest that appears out of control and which could have serious consequences. This need not become a modern-day Sand Creek or Wounded Knee to further blemish our history with Native Americans. As of this writing, the protest seems to be escalating in the wrong direction with the protesters being now given a deadline to vacate the area or to be removed.

Hopefully, reasonable people will intervene and bring this to a favorable and peaceful resolution.

Resources

Dakota Access Pipeline facts

Broken treaties

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their mountain lifestyle living at 9,800 feet elevation with their four German Shepherd dogs in a small cabin go to www.BruceCarolCabin.Blogspot.com. Bruce is not an expert on Native American affairs nor pipelines but has followed this issue from the start and attempted to sort through the non-truths to report on this topic. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Why is the Calcium Carbonate Market Expected to Exceed $28.5 Billion by 2021?

 

Calcium carbonate, or CaCO3, is a common mineral that’s found in locations throughout the world.

In the wild, it appears as chalk and limestone, and is easily one of the most useful minerals that we’ve yet found. In addition to the applications you’re probably familiar with, like blackboard chalk in the classroom, calcium carbonate is used in a variety of industrial applications.

Projections for the Future of CaCO3

The CaCO3 industry is continuing to grow and thrive as new applications for the material are being discovered. According to a recent report, the CaCO3 market is expected to reach or exceed $28.5 billion by 2021. Industry professionals are expecting a 7% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) between 2017 and 2021.

This growth is expected to be attributed to higher demand from the plastic and paper industries, as well as a growing demand for building and industrial applications.

So why is this versatile mineral added to products like paper, plastic and even iron?

Applications for CaCO3

Calcium carbonate shows up in more places than you might think. If you look around your household, you might see it in the antacid tablets in your medicine cabinet, in the tube of toothpaste in your bathroom or the box of baking soda in your refrigerator.

CaCO3 is also used in places you might not expect, including as a filler agent for items like paper, plastics and sealants. It can also be used a filler agent for both prescription and over-the-counter medications.

This useful mineral also has industrial applications. It’s often used in the iron industry because it can be used to purify iron during processing. Additionally, it’s useful in the oil industry as part of their drilling fluids. Acidic soil or water could potentially contaminate the oil being drilled for, so calcium carbonate is added to the drilling fluid to neutralize any acidic compounds in the area.

For a common mineral that makes up around 4% of the planet’s crust, it’s easily one of the most versatile materials on the planet.

Concerns about CaCO3

While it’s a very easy mineral to acquire, the mining of CaCO3 does present some concerns. Of course, there are pros and cons to every situation. Mining CaCO3, in the form of chalk, marble or limestone, is a great way to create jobs and bolster local economies.

On the other hand, these quarries do produce pollution and leave open holes in the landscape where the CaCO3 has been extracted, which can damage the environment. This damage is often easy to reverse, though, and steps have been taken to reclaim these quarry sites after their resources have been depleted, changing them into everything from water parks to hotels, meaning we can continue to enjoy these sites long after the mining operations have ended.

Proper Uses for Calcium Carbonate

When a mineral like this is used in so many different products, there will always be someone who is concerned about the material itself — including how it’s being used and how it could affect the products or people it’s being applied to.

Calcium carbonate in and of itself is a very safe material to work with, for both humans and inanimate products. When working with CaCO3, it’s important to consider a number of variables, including product consistency and particle size.

Maintaining a consistent level of purity and particle size are two hallmarks of proper CaCO3 use. By utilizing these high levels of product quality, industries can continue to utilize CaCO3 as a filler and purifying agent.

Overall, it’s easy to see why the CaCO3 industry is growing so swiftly, in spite of its potential environmental impact. Calcium carbonate is easily one of the most versatile minerals on the planet, and much of the damage caused by the extraction of this mineral can be reversed with a little time and effort. It’s a fast-growing industry with amazing application potential, and it shows in the projections for future sales.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living and has an especially strong passion for helping others increase their mental health and happiness by improving their daily productivity and positivity. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on Productivity Theory. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Standing Rock Sioux Defend Right to Clean Water, Part 1

Earth’s Water

Seventy percent of the earth is covered in water but only 2.5 percent of that water is potable or usable for human survival. Of that 2.5 percent only 1 percent is accessible. In addition, there are five basic survival needs for human beings. Those needs are 1. Oxygen 2. Water 3. Food 4. Shelter 5. Sleep. All five are required for survival. Remove any one of the basic five needs, and we cease to survive.

Limited media coverage has been afforded to the protest of Standing Rock Sioux, but many who use social media have at least heard the term used. This protest, in essence, is to protect the drinking water of millions of people from potential future contamination by the Dakota Access Pipeline that is crossing the Missouri River in North Dakota.

Water as a Human Right

The pipeline, if it starts leaking or discharging raw crude, will directly impact the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and all those who rely on that water below the pipeline crossing. The Sioux, and protesters from all walks of life as well as members of other tribes, have joined together to protest this pipeline. In 2010, the United Nations, through resolution 64/292, explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation, and acknowledged that clean water and sanitation are essential rights for all human beings.

This post is part of a three-part series regarding the protest at Standing Rock over that right. I am going to collaborate with my long-time and close friend Sakoieta Widrick of the Mohawk tribe because, although this can be understood in many cultures, it is only from the Native American perspective that it can be realistically told. Sakoieta teaches at Brock University in Canada, and I have come to value his wisdom and insight over the years that we have been friends. I can think of no one better to collaborate with that would be objective and still informative on such a controversial topic. Following are the comments from Sakoieta in italics.

Native American Perspective

It is taught to us from childhood as Indigenous people that each day we rise we give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength and cleansing. Water is life. We know its power in many forms‐beautiful waterfalls and precious rain, mists and bubbling streams, flowing rivers and huge powerful oceans. With one mind, we join our thoughts with the people of the world and we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water. Now our minds are one.

Our Creator made those rivers and lakes and he said whenever you're dry and thirsty, go there, any river, any stream, and it will quench your thirst, for that is the way I make the world." However, the responsibilities of the Waters are much more than this. We say that the Waters are the bloodlines of our Mother Earth. As such, they have important responsibilities to carry sustenance to the rest of Creation. We know how important water is to our gardens, to the plant life that needs a constant source of water to grow. The Thanksgiving Address reminds us that it is our responsibility to take care of all life, including the waters.

We recognize that all life is interrelated. If the Waters are to fulfill their responsibilities, then we must ensure that they have the opportunity to do so. This is what is meant by us keeping them clean so that a “heart attack” does not one day come to our Mother Earth. If our blood becomes contaminated, it will spread throughout our bodies and reach our heart, killing us.

We must view the Waters of the world the same way and ensure the health of our Mother Earth. It has always been our sacred duty to stand for the protection of the Earth, Plants, waters, wildlife, winds to insure they will continue to be clean and continue to take care of us as we take care of them, not only for us at this time on the earth but always in our thoughts, the future generations not yet born of all people, all races, all colors.

To approach our water sources with anything but reverence is foolish. It is that 1 percent that is keeping us all alive. Without it, we die. This may not be a good analogy but consider for a moment that some company decided to put a drop forge right next to your home. The pounding and noise would keep you awake and it wouldn’t take long to become sleep-deprived and ultimately, you would weaken and die. Those who work in shifts at the drop forge can go to their homes for quiet and rest, but you would hear it 24/7, banging away. It is the same with putting our water source at risk. Sooner or later, the pipeline will leak and contaminate the water. Then, it is too late to use the water for its life-giving purpose and the 1 percent is further diminished.

Resource Contamination Affects Us All

The Sioux are facing the same situation and they are enduring abuse while peacefully protesting its location in proximity to their valuable water source. We should all be protesting putting any crude-oil pipeline where it can contaminate a water source. The Sioux protesters are taking their responsibility seriously and so should all of us. We all suffer from depletion of one of our survival needs.

As my friend Sakoieta frequently says, “The best chief is not the one who persuades people to his point of view. It is instead the one in whose presence most people find it easiest to arrive at the truth."

While we all will benefit from the protest against the pipeline by the Sioux, it seems to me that it would benefit us all to stand in solidarity with them in support of our universal right to clean water. It is through their presence and peaceful protest that we will find and recognize the truth.

Part 2 will cover pipeline leaks more generally and the hazards they potentially can pose to water sources.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog site: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com. They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce's remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Manifesting Rituals with Nature and Intention

Darkness1

At each year’s end for the past decade or so, I have led a service at my church called Out of the Darkness. We gather together in the warmth of the sanctuary for a calling back of the sun. After a bit of preparation and welcome, we calm into a moment of silence in the darkened room.

'Out of the Darkness' Ceremony

Part of the preparation includes writing down the things we wish to leave behind from the past year — regrets, sorrows, heaviness, anything we want to let go into the distance. The bowl (pictured below, an arted gourd from my garden) is passed around by one of our youth for collection of the slips of paper everyone has written upon. Other youth members deliver noisemakers to every congregant who wants one.

Once we’re in the dark (after our moment of silence), our drum leader starts with a slow, heartbeat-like drumming. The pre-selected youth simultaneously begin to light our immense table of candles. The rest of the congregation slowly joins the drumming as they strengthen their resolve to leave their regrets in the past as I burn each piece of paper. With the candlelight brightening the room, the drumming and music-making grows in volume.

Once the burning of papers is complete, I use sage to help the regrets and sorrows exit the room. Each part of this ritual is practiced with great intention and this piece is no different. With every wave of the sage, I urge the heaviness to leave the room and our lives. I then burn sweetgrass (from my garden) while welcoming in positive energies and light to settle in among us all.

As I finish up with my smudging, the congregants usually slow their drumming and noise-making to a trickle and then stop. I say usually because this is a communal performance and it’s never predictable or consistent. Sometimes it sounds more like purely raucous chaos, but mostly it sounds heartfelt and sincere. On occasion, it is good music. It is always cathartic and an awesome communal shift toward the lightness of hope!

Darkness2

The one amusement that I usually remind the group about is that each year, even though we always use the same paper and writing instruments, some of the regrets burn so quickly that I fight not to set myself afire while others I have to relight them. The only variant (shared with a raised eyebrow) is the intention behind what was written.

Once in awhile, someone brings their papers with them — and even those burn differently. I told a member one year that I’d noticed one of hers was particularly stubborn and had to be relit three different times. She said she knew exactly which one it was as she had used it for the past two years. We agreed to believe this would be her “three times lucky” year.

After our burning, we sit in the candle-lit darkness and share quotes and hopeful prose for the coming year. Then we finish the service by singing “Here Comes the Sun” with the Beatles. After all is said and done, we break for warm treats and visiting. I take the ashes out to the land around the church and put them in a few specially selected areas.

Making Manifestation Bowls

This year is going to be a little different in that I’m adding another level of intention. A good friend asked if I was making any manifestation bowls. I told her that I hadn’t been working in clay this year but would think about it. Once my mind wandered around to our annual service — and feeling the need to add a mood elevator for some of the hopelessness and depression flowing around — I found the perfect motivation to make some bowls (photo above).

I’m calling this new part Manifesting Our Own Destiny (MOOD). I think it will further cement the hopefulness. We will be finishing up by writing down what we want to manifest in the coming year— positive things only. I will collect these in the manifestation bowls, do a small ritual later at home by myself, then will add both some of the ashes and all of the manifestation papers to my compost. I love the image of the ashes of regrets and my own compostables becoming one with those hopes so they can spring to life with my garden come spring.

While this is a powerful service when celebrated in numbers, rituals can have similarly strong outcomes when performed alone or in small groups. I have been practicing a ritual of holding the Water Protectors in my Circle for the past month or so. On Thanksgiving day, I sent out a specially concerted wave of energy during a half-hour long ceremony—sending them support, loving intention, and protection.

Whether working up a group ritual or setting aside time for thoughtful intention, focusing energy for good can be mood-shifting, hope-filled, and life-altering as it helps us connect more deeply with our choices, decisions and intentional living.

Darkness3

Photos by Khymba Pelham-Bush and Blythe Pelham

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Farming is a Community Affair: No Farm is an Island

I want to tell you a story, a true story that has taken place here on a Maine farm. It happened this past spring and early summer. This is a farm that raises heritage goats and sheep on several large pastures, most often quite remote from their farmhouse, and is surrounded by undeveloped land of sprawling forests.

 

Heritage sheep.

But like any other farm or ranch, it is not an island. Whatever happens around their farm can have serious affects on their farm. And so it was for them. In the state of Maine our coyotes are heavily persecuted since they are given no protection by our laws.  And what happens to our coyotes, affects our farmers deeply.

In the spring of this year, individuals killed many of the coyotes in the town near this farm. As we know from our science, this killing causes chaos in their highly complex social structure. The only way I can describe what they experience is to compare it to the experience of the many people who are now fleeing the violence in their own countries.

 

Photo by Steve Stockton

When coyotes flee from the violence, they leave their very familiar territory and travel into areas that are unfamiliar to them, where they cannot as easily find their wild prey. As a result, they are starving, not just starving, but starving to death. In the case of very young coyotes, who are not even a year old, and whose parents have been killed, their situation is even more dire. They have not had the opportunity to learn from their parents to be effective hunters of their wild prey, and so starvation is their constant companion as they flee.

In time these fleeing coyotes came upon this farm where they observed sheep and goats, not protected by guardian animals or electric fencing. For these coyotes, it was either kill and eat the sheep, or die of starvation. And so it happened. When coyotes are faced by starvation they are forced to eat food they never have eaten before. And we as humans have done the same in dire circumstances, as we all know.

It is so interesting that this farmer understood the whole scenario. They understood that the killing of the coyotes caused the death of their sheep. Their farm is not an island. The behavior of those who cause such chaos and suffering in the lives of our fellow carnivores also cause so much tragedy and economic loss for our farmers. This farmer now knows that guardian animals and electric fencing is a must for them. They know that as long as this human behavior toward our coyotes continues, these precautions have become a necessity.

No farm is an island. Our farms are a community affair.

So how do we change this scenario?

Do we begin by teaching each other in our communities?

Do we begin by speaking up for the wild beings that live in our communities?

Geri Vistein is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on carnivores and our human relationships with them. In addition to research and collaboration with fellow biologists in Maine, she educates communities about carnivores and how we can coexist with them. You can find her at Coyote Lives in Maine, and read all of Geri's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Preparedness for Black Bear Encounters on Remote Properties

Remote Homestead Bear Proofing

It was a starry night in chilly Bethlehem, N.H. I had just finished plumbing the water supply lines in our off-grid cabin and decided it was time for a well deserved dinner from our local market. They had recently started making their own bread, and visions of grinder sandwiches danced in my head.

I couldn't wait to fire the wood stove in the tiny house, kick back with a few ambient air temperature brews, and put on my stylish flannel PJ's.

As I drove down the "road" to the cabin, I noticed a pair of eyes in the distance. Was it our resident fox? Our eyes locked and as I drove closer it was clear: A large black bear was just chillin' there, eating the wild blackberries on the side of the road like it was his job

I quickly drew from my outdoor professional database with wildlife, and mashed my gas pedal to the floor. Our resident bear "Mr. Fluffers" quickly turned and barreled through the brush.

With a 300-pound+ wild bear snooping around for food, you start to wonder if the ¼-inch plywood door you installed on your tiny house is bear proof. The answer to that question is a firm “no”.

If Mr. Fluffers decided he wanted to come in for a snuggle, I doubt a firm "Bad Mr. Fluffers" would sway him away. In all reality, Mr. Fluffers the black bear is a like a honey badger — he does what he wants.

I like to think that someday Mr. Fluffers could come over for a late night movie with his pic-a-nic basket and have a few cold beers. After a little while, he would invite over his bear cousin, Terry, and the party would really get started. We would all share some marmalade sandwiches and discuss the intricacies of the latest Sundance nominee.

What to Do When You Encounter a Black Bear

The harsh reality is Mr. Fluffers the bear is a dangerous, wild animal. So what do you do if you run into a black bear in the brush?

A post from The New York Department of Environmental Conservation says that with a black bear, you stand your ground. Don't run or climb a tree. If they charge you, speak in low tone, be assertive, and don't beat feet. Make yourself seem big by raising your hands, and slowly back away.

As crazy as it sounds to not run from a 300-pound wild animal, the pros say that running could make you a bear snack. Those suckers can run 30 miles per hour and climb way better than all but the best of the Granite State's rock climbers.

If your sweet new bear-avoidance skills don't work, fight back. Strike them in the head and nose with whatever you can. The good news is very few bear encounters lead to death.

Be Prepared for Predators

So now what should you do?  Get yourself some bear spray, and educate yourself in bear country. Word on the street (and actual data) is that bear spray is a better defense then the finest 12 gauge, double-barreled shotgun.

An article in the March 2012 issue of The Journal of Wildlife Management by Tom Smith and Stephen Herroro, "Efficiency of firearms for bear deterrence in Alaska", will give you a good idea on the benefits of bear spray vs. firearms.

I must say that after locking eyes with this majestic animal, the mere thought of gunning him and his pic-a-nic basket down, would just break my off-grid heart. Learning how to live with bears is something all mountain folks will need to do. So take the time to learn about wildlife in your area — it just may save both you, and Mr. Fluffer’s, lives.

Jamie Leahy is founding mountaineer at North Ridge Mountain Guides. After a few years commuting to the White Mountains, Jamie and his girlfriend, Becky, decided it was time to move to New Hampshire’s White Mountains and follow their dream of building an off-grid, mini-homestead debt free. Follow him at White Mountains Off-Grid.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Planting Living Fencerows for 'Linear Forest' Habitat

black raspberry fencerow

The last ice age left our part of Ohio flat and covered with beautiful topsoil. In the last few decades, this combination has resulted in individual farmers planting thousands of acres with ever-larger farm equipment. Decades ago our rural county was known for having many pheasants and songbirds, but now wildlife is as scarce as the remaining fencerows which previously provided habitat. Fences and their greenery have been removed to make room for maneuvering huge farm equipment.

Farmers actually consider themselves “bad farmers” if there are still “messy” fencerows on their land. There are immense consequences to losing these fencerows - to soil, water, crops and wildlife.

Fencerows and hedgerows were ubiquitous when farm equipment was small. They are still common where terrain is hilly and fields remain small. Fencerows were originally constructed to contain livestock or demark property boundaries. Hedgerows, which lack man-made fences, served similar purposes while being made up of shrubs and trees. As these living boundaries disappear, we become aware of the many other purposes they served.

Benefits of Fencerows for Habitat and Erosion Control

Fencerows provide wildlife with shelter and food as well as a corridor for travel. Diverse species of animals assist farmers with a degree of insect control that rivals today’s insecticides. A great variety of plants are fostered that lure and support pollinators.

Fencerows and hedgerows control erosion which helps prevent loss of topsoil and pollution of streams. On our farm, a ten foot-wide fencerow around the meadow also provides shade and a windbreak for the cows.

How We Created a Living Fencerow

This wide fencerow was created when my husband wanted to improve the deteriorating fence around our 10-acre pasture. By leaving the old fence standing and constructing a new fence further into the meadow, he saved work and also created habitat for other species. We’ve planted a variety of trees between these fences and call this 10-foot wide strip a “linear forest.”

Tom Shaw and living fence in cows meadow

Plant a Variety of Trees for Good Habitat

It was 11 years ago that we planted this linear forest with seedlings from our local County Extension Office. They are now ten to twenty feet tall and include wild cherry, crabapple, oak, white pine, persimmon, blue spruce, white ash, hawthorn and butternut. Birds and mammals have also contributed more variety such as black walnut, hickory and hazelnut. The fencerow and its underlying shrubbery now extend from one neighbor’s woods to the neighboring field on the other side of our meadow.

Besides the many advantages this fencerow provides to wildlife, the soil and our cows, it also delights us to have many other species join us on our farm. Although the number of songbirds has diminished in recent decades, we’ve seen or heard bobwhite, brown thrashers, cardinals, goldfinch, mocking birds, cat birds, bobolinks, and pheasants. It’s fun to see a box turtle emerge from the undergrowth and discover rabbit and vole tracks in the snow. We might not cherish the voles and mice if we didn’t also see hawks and owls that depend on these rodents for their food.

It’s true that our Dorking chickens and Narragansett turkeys don’t benefit from having more fox, mink, raccoon and opossums in the neighborhood. But we tuck the poultry in each evening and feel good about having habitat that makes it possible for other species to survive.

Living Fencerows Benefit Orchards and Gardens

Finally, our orchard and garden also benefit from having hazelnuts and blackberries along their fences. These plants provide habitat for songbirds which gather hundreds of harmful caterpillars to feed their offspring. That sure beats poisoning our food with insecticides and also provides us with close contact with these beautiful birds. I enjoyed being scolded by brown thrasher fledglings when picking blackberries last summer, and don’t mind sharing some fruit for the pleasure of their company.

We may not be able to influence large farmers to return to the benefits of fencerows and hedgerows, but that doesn’t stop each of us from planting along our backyard fences, pastures or fields. The surrounding soil, water, wildlife and we humans all benefit when we do.

Mary Lou Shaw is a retired family practitioner who emphasized preventive medicine, is now homesteading with her husband in Ohio. Besides growing their own food, the pair help preserve genetics and knowledge needed by others to foster rare breeds. They have a large garden and orchard, Dorking chickens, Narragansett turkeys, Dutch Belted cows and bees. Buy Mary Lou’s book, Growing Local Food, through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of Mary Lou's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.