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You Can't Go Back

From introduced species to us new arrival humans, you can't turn back the clock on change.


I'm a constant student of the Good Book; I read and search its pages daily to find new gems of wisdom. In Genesis, the very first book of the voluminous epic, there is the account of the early Hebrews and God's deliverance of them from the land of Egypt, and their subsequent 40-year pilgrimage though the desert to the Promised Land.

There are quite a few lessons to be gleaned from this story, but there is one that seems basic to them all, at least in my humble opinion, and that is: You cannot go back to what once was, at least not without suffering dire consequences of one sort or another.

Let me give you an example. J.D. and I were settin' on the front porch the other day and cogitatin' on this and that from such subjects as cattle to hunting to the drought to the environment. J.D. happens to be one of those rare birds called a native New Mexican, born and reared somewhere down Deming way on a ranch. One of his many pursuits nowadays is a little spread out near Gila where he tries to run Angus cattle on patented land, not the public's domain.

Anyway, our jaw-jackin' evolved (remember that word later, please) to the current condition of the local environment hereabouts and how it got to be in the condition that it's in. I postulated to him, and he thoughtfully agreed with my impressions. Here's the gist of it, and I'm afraid a passel of you may or may not agree:

Nearly all of us aren't native-born here in this fair state; we are exotics of one form or another and were introduced to these parts one way or the other.

In fact, if you begin to go back in history from today, imagine what it would be like if the current natives had kept us all out for their own reasons. Then imagine if the Hispanic peoples had kept out all of the current natives, and then go back before them and figure out what it would be like if the Native Americans (I still call them Indians, without any malice whatsoever) had kept out or killed all of the Hispanics. Now, go back one more step, if you will, and cogitate on what it would be like if the Indians had been culled from the land by the "Old Ones"? Do you get the drift of where I'm going? Not too many diverse folks would live around here, if any at all, for that matter.

Now let's get back to J.D. and me. I pointed to my bird feeder where a Eurasian Collared dove sat; J.D. had never seen one.

I explained that the bird didn't exist in New Mexico as near as six years ago and didn't even exist in the USA until about 20 or 30 years ago when the species was introduced as a cage bird in Florida. From there they spread until they are quite common in these parts; I can claim about 30 of the doves right here on my property. I further postulated that these doves are now native to New Mexico, since they were all born here, just like good ol' J.D.

Did you know that the ever-present chaparral brush (also known as creosote bush or greasewood) of the Southwest was introduced to the land via horse apples when the Spanish came here back 400 years ago?

Now stay with me here—that brings up the subject once again of "we can't go back to Egypt." We have new species of plants and animals being introduced constantly, some of which are the results of man. Many have reproduced and gained quite a foothold here.

Take the salt cedar and Chinese elm, for instance. The former is found along many stream bottoms, and the latter is prolific in towns and along roadways and everywhere in between. They both love and flourish in arid environs.

To me, their coming is part of the evolutionary process, just like man is as he came to these parts. In other words, if it is born here, it is now native!

Many of us now realize that "Smokey the Bear" was a very bad idea, and the attendant fire-suppression efforts of mankind did not do good things to this environment. Because of 60-plus years of such action the grasslands disappeared and the juniper and oak trees took over along with pinons.

Why is it we only see the negative aspect of such changes in vegetation occupation? Yes, they drink water, and yes, they inhibit grass growth, but there are positive results as well. Many animal species rely on these herbaceous interlopers. Coues whitetail, black bear, turkeys and jay-birds are just a fraction of the species that eat the fruit of all of these trees, and the juniper tree is a major food factor for critters when drought is upon the land.

I have observed all manner of wildlife seeking shelter in dense stands of salt cedar where it exists in plenty. And who can deny that Chinese elm make great fast-growing shade trees that take precious little water? Plus they will grow anywhere!

Find any tree or plant that is shaded and has some growth to it; they don't wither and die, but instead bend and adapt to seek the sunlight.

Why is it then that certain peoples can't adapt to our changing environment and accept the changes that are occurring? Isn't that what evolution is all about?

I don't figger that we can or should try to make our ecology back to the way it used to be a hundred years past. Everything evolves and our thinking must, too; we don't and shouldn't go back to Egypt.

Instead we need to find the positive in the new changes and bend and adapt just like those shaded plants do, or as the ubiquitous coyote constantly does despite man's many encroachments on its domain.

What are the benefits verses the detriments to each species that is new? Can we use those benefits to our and wildlife's advantage?

I enjoy seeing Eurasian Collared Doves, as well as the prolific, tiny, brilliantly colored house sparrow (yeah, it was introduced to New York as a cage bird in the 19th century). I enjoy driving through White Sands and spying oryx and climbing the Floridas to see ibex.

You see, we all, wildlife, plants and us, now call New Mexico "our home." Why, that has a nice ring to it!

As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you out there.


Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors
exclusively for Desert Exposure.

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