Energy supplies and biodiversity

May 12, 2010

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The recent oil spill is expensive in monetary terms, but also in terms of habitat destruction and the loss of biodiversity. An estimated 200,000 gallons of oil per day is welling up into the Gulf of Mexico. Some fear that destruction could reach far beyond the Gulf.

Many forms of wildlife are threatened. Nesting and migrating shorebirds that feed on oil-soaked invertebrates are vulnerable. Migrating songbirds will suffer from the loss of shoreline habitat or from smoke from the fires set in an attempt to lessen the volume of oil. Pelicans, sea turtles, whales, dolphins, manatees, fish and shellfish are among those that could suffer adverse consequences.

The dramatic oil release is another incident in the ongoing loss of global biodiversity. In a sense, biodiversity is nature’s and humanity’s insurance policy for planetary health. It provides stability, assuring that ecological services are still provided, even when a specific species declines. Loss of species diversity is accelerating: it is estimated that current extinction levels are 100 to 1,000 times greater than what would be occurring without human intervention, making this an era of mass destruction.

While the oil spill is distant from us, the use of oil is integral to the existing structure of our economy. The leak is a grim reminder of the need to conserve energy, use it efficiently and redesign our communities to lessen our energy consumption.

We can also join local efforts to protect habitats and preserve biodiversity. Preserving prairie remnants and planting prairies on public and private lands has gained popularity over the years, and helps to spread native seeds throughout our communities. The efforts are expanding to include the management of woodlots to preserve biodiversity.

Many natural area restorationists strive to protect and restore pre-settlement vegetation. Such habitats represent existing conditions at the time white settlers arrived. The historic records provide a convenient goal for preserving native spring flora.

For years, we have been reducing the presence of invasive species such as garlic mustard, multiflora rose, buckthorn, russian olive and honeysuckle in our woods. Through a combination of pulling, burning and selective application of herbicides, we have prevented invasive species from overpowering native spring flora.

The first native species to respond to our effort in a dramatic way was an explosion of wild geraniums—they carpeted the woods. A second dramatic recovery was that of dutchman’s breeches covering the north-facing slopes of our woodland. Dense carpets of another ephemeral, trout lily, covered the low, wet ground. Colonies of bellflowers slowly spread through the woods. Wood anemones increased from three plants to dozens of patches. Wild leeks also increased from two or three plants to several clusters.

Similar efforts are occurring on other sites such as the Byron Forest Preserve and Nachusa Grasslands. The results of such efforts can be readily seen off south Lowden Road and along the east side of River Road just south of Route 72 on Byron Forest Preserve land.

Plan to attend this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 7-8. There will be presentations about responding to peak oil, energy efficiency and restoring native ecosystems.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

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