In a community of 4.3 million people, Yale University wildlife biologist Nyeema Harris ventures into the remote forests to study the most critical inhabitants of the city of Detroit in the United States – coyotes, coyotes, foxes and squirrels among them.
Harris and colleagues have installed tree-edge cameras in 25 city parks over the past five years. He has captured many images of the animals that often come out at night to roam and feed, showing a side of the wild that most locals don’t know about.
“We’re dealing with a lot of urban wildlife,” Harris said as he looked at the equipment, attached to trees with metal cables. “As we’re changing their habitat, as we’re increasing urbanization…we’re going to encounter them more and more.”
Species of animals and plants are dying at an alarming rate, and up to one million people are at risk of extinction, according to a 2019 United Nations report. Their challenge is to “rehabilitate” the places they once lived until they were driven out by development, pollution and climate change.
These threats are at their peak this week as the UN begins its COP15 Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, Canada on Wednesday, December 7. Scientists, advocates and delegates from more than 200 countries will meet to discuss the “unprecedented” decline in global biodiversity. .
The head of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, recently said that people’s enthusiasm for economic growth has become “a weapon of mass destruction”. In the face of that challenge, replication seeks to live in harmony with nature.
Restoration means reviving natural systems in damaged areas – sometimes with treatment. This could mean removing dams, building canals to reconnect migration routes that have been cut off by roads, or reintroducing predators such as wolves to help manage ecosystems.
The concept may seem appropriate for remote areas where nature is free to heal without being disturbed. But regeneration is also happening in major cities around the world, as people find beneficial ways to coexist with nature.
The US Forest Service estimates 2,428 hectares (6,000 acres) of open land is lost every day as cities and rural areas expand. More than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, the UN says.
“Climate change is coming, and we are facing a major biodiversity crisis,” said Nathalie Pettorelli, chief scientist at the Zoological Society of London. “There is no better place for people to do these things than in cities.”
In a September report, the group noted changes in cities such as Singapore, where a 2.7-kilometer (1.7-mile) stretch of the Kallang River has been converted from a concrete path to a meandering path lined with plants and rocks. and parkland.
The German cities of Hanover, Frankfurt and Dessau-Rosslau chose vacant lots, parks, lawns and urban waterways where nature could take over. When wildflowers bloom, they attract birds, butterflies and bees, even hedgehogs.
Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and the nonprofit Urban Rivers are establishing “floating wetlands” on one side of the Chicago River to provide fish breeding grounds, bird and pollinator habitat, and roots that clean polluted water.
Urban renewal can’t return a place to its original state and isn’t trying, said Marie Law Adams, an associate professor of architecture at Northeastern University.
Instead, the goal may be to promote natural processes that serve people and wildlife by increasing tree cover to reduce summer heat, conserve air and keep more animals alive. Or installing bioswales that filter rainwater from parking lots instead of allowing it to pollute rivers.
“We have to learn from the mistakes of the middle of the 20th century – fixing everything, building everything with storage facilities” like dams and pipelines, Adams said.
Greater metro Detroit shows how people’s actions can contribute to revitalization, whether intentional or not.
Hundreds of homes and buildings were abandoned as the struggling city’s population dropped more than 60 percent from its peak of 1.8 million in the 1950s. Many were razed, leaving vacant tracts inhabited by plants and animals. Non-profit groups planted trees, community gardens and pollinating shrubs.
Conservation efforts also brought back ospreys and peregrine falcons. Black eagles also found a way back when the ban on DDT and other pesticides helped to increase their numbers across the country. Pollution control laws and state-sponsored cleanups made nearby streams hospitable to sturgeon, whitefish, beavers and wild plants, such as wild celery.
“Detroit is a classic example of urban renewal,” said John Hartig, a marine scientist at the University of Windsor near Ontario, Canada and former director of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. “It’s more organic than method. We created the conditions, things improved in places, and the local species came back.”
For Harris — a Yale biologist, formerly of the University of Michigan — Detroit provides a unique foundation for studying urban wildlife.
Unlike many big cities, the population is declining, although its roads, buildings and other infrastructure remain. And there are different places. Landscapes range from large lakes and rivers to neighborhoods – some inhabited, some abandoned – and quiet places “you don’t know you’re in the city”, Harris said as he changed camera batteries and took notes in the wooded area. Pictures of O’Hair Park.
His group’s photographs have produced published research on how mammals interact with each other, and with people, in urban areas.
The project connects them with local residents, some excited about the coyotes and raccoons in the neighborhood, others afraid of disease or harm to their pets.
It’s a learning opportunity, Harris said — about proper waste disposal, resisting the temptation to feed wildlife and the importance of healthy and diverse ecosystems.
Harris, a native of Philadelphia, was a child who was happy to see the occasional squirrel or deer. “Now that’s not the case. Like it or not, reform will happen. The question is, how can we prepare communities and places and groups to expect the presence of more and more wild animals?