Choices: Wise Land Use

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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When we purchased our land it was a jumble of trees, undergrowth, and in short so much a mess it was hard to walk through it very far. As we looked it over the amount of work was somewhat staggering. Down trees don’t decay as fast in the mountains as they do in more humid/wet locations so we had a lot of work ahead of us. We had choices to make about how we wanted to approach improving our property. The first choice we made was to leave our property natural and only tidy up the accumulated jumble of trees and not try to improve on what nature had already accomplished.

 One thing we were sure we wanted was to properly manage the wood on our lot. Therefore we did not cut more trees than we needed, but at the same time we cut those which would afford nearby trees a better chance at survival. We removed weak and dead trees and trimmed limbs of the remaining trees to a height of 20’ for wildfire protection. Each of these choices was an important choice as it gave direction to how we would keep the land natural and still be able to enjoy its use. Clearing and trimming provided more sunlight to the floor of our forest and native grasses and wildflowers now abound. Each spring when the wildflowers bloom our property is a carpet of colorful beauty. Our grasses are native and do not require fertilization, mowing, trimming and so forth, and could not be more attractive. The official Colorado wildflower, Columbine now grow where they were absent before.

 We decided we did not want to cut any live aspen tree and let nature continue to take its course with that species of trees. We cut the dead ones only. We had noted that these trees live as a family in groups sharing a common root system. We had also noted that when there is a stress element like drought that some trees would drop their bottom leaves, and some top leaves would just dry up to preserve the entire family of trees. The small trees as they grow are stripped of leaves by deer and elk and are constantly striving to grow more leaves, therefore grow stronger the bigger they get. When observing the aspen tree it is a short course in nature functioning at its best.

Our next choice was to clear around the house the recommended distance for a wildfire break. Then we moved on to the more difficult areas one at a time. We had a few birds but no clear flight corridors or ideal water spots for them to fly through and be attracted to. We created flight corridors for birds to fly through, and therefore we attracted more insect eating birds. The local forester told us that birds would not eat the spruce bud worm which will slowly destroy spruce trees. Our observation revealed that the robin ate both the worm and moth in huge amounts and soon our spruce bud worm problem was eliminated as it was the habitat that kept the robin away not the food source. With nearby water and flight corridors the robin moved into our area in great numbers.

In our garden we used food grade diatomaceous earth to dust plants and protect against insects. That stuff is amazing and worth considering if you have never used it plus it is totally safe to use. So what we have done with our property is to manage it for wood, and at the same time keep it as close to what nature intended as possible plus preserve it. It was a choice we made and I’m glad we did. We did not strip land and plant exotic trees, shrubs or grasses not native to the area. We kept it natural and with indigenous species.

There is much to be learned in life and my good friend Sakoieta’ Mohawk Wolf, has over the years taught myself and many others much. More specifically his college students at the college he teaches at in Canada. His extremely wise words and counsel have helped me be more respectful of the land and others. I therefore ask him if he would write a short paragraph for this blog about respect and care for the land. Here is what he wrote: “To the Mohawk caring for the land which we call our Mother the Earth goes all the way back to the creation story we share. In our creation story there was a woman who gave birth to the two twins. One was the negative and the other the good twin, or the Creator. The good twin was born the natural way while the negative twin tried to be the first born by breaking out of his mother’s side under her armpit, thus killing her. She was buried and from her body grew beautiful luscious plants for our people to sustain themselves with. Corn, beans and squash as well as tobacco and potatoes grew from her body. These plants the corn, beans and squash are called our sustainers among the Mohawk. We were instructed every year to plant these plants so that our people will be able to live here on the earth in a good way and never go hungry as long as we remember to do this. We were placed in a beautiful garden and given the ability and responsibility to care for it and work with it. Not to change it or alter it. This responsibility we still carry to this day and each year as we plant our gardens and look to the earth for food, medicine, shelter and life itself.”

I believe we have fulfilled by choice the stewardship requirements of our land that Sakoieta’ tells us that has existed from time immortal with his people. As I look around and see what others do it is apparent that not all have learned to care for and respect the land which is why I asked him to share with us some of his culture. I hope that his words and how we have approached developing our land will inspire others to maybe reconsider their own land use. Life is full of choices and I hope readers will use our experience and consider Sakoieta’s words and therefore make good choices. 

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