Stop Cutting Down Trees! L.A. Needs Shade And Birds to Eat Bugs that Transmit Disease

First, a basic truth: Our City has nature.  “We have this idea that there’s the urban world and there’s nature. We’re the only species that looks at landscape that way,” says Dr. Eric Strauss, executive director for the Center for Urban Resilience at Loyola Marymount University-Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is a naturally remarkable living landscape.  It’s old and rich.  It’s living because no glaciers made their way into the terrain here and left the bedrock lifeless upon their retreat.  That gave the plants and animals a long time to differentiate into an astonishing array of species.  The movement provided by earthquakes created hills, valleys and creeks that enabled plants and animals to move around into newly created niches allowing more diversity than almost any other place on earth.  These are the reasons places like Iowa have no species found only in Iowa and California has over 2,100 species found only here.  This is the reason our region is considered a global hotspot of biodiversity, a place rich in species but also threatened by development, pesticides and bad landscaping. Scientists assure us that there is no other region of comparable size in the nation that has greater biodiversity (aka nature) than we have right here.

Sharing our city blocks with trees and birds and animals is a good thing. Urban wildlife helps control the spread of diseases typically passed from animals to humans.  As our city urbanizes, top-order predators like mountain lions are pushed out, creating a pressure release on middle-sized predators like coyotes. These predators play a really important role in urban areas, helping reduce the reproductive success of rodents and feral cats, which in turn allows bird populations to recover. And birds, as we know, eat the insects that tend to transmit diseases like the West Nile virus to humans. When you have an intact animal diversity, you control those diseases without having to use toxic pesticides.

More significantly, perhaps, are the socio-spiritual advantages that come to humans from urban wildlife.  Listening to the soft chirping of a group of sparrows or spotting a scrubjay out the back window brings joy and perspective to urban-dwellers. For our elderly homebound neighbor, feeding the birds off his side patio provides some connection to the outdoors and a daily purpose.

In most cases, the loss of our nature is not happening in large tracts, but in bite-sized chunks.  A few trees here, a woodland there. What ends up happening is death by a thousand cuts.  Green space disappears, threatening the more fragile species like the western screech-owl.  When those habitats are carved up to make way for a development and backyard living rooms, owls and other species may disappear from our city altogether.  As you begin to disrupt more and more and more, you get down to less and less wildlife.

So, where will the wildlife that’s been living here for decades go?

“People often imagine that wildlife at a development or disturbed site will simply move to a new area after development but this is not true”, says Dr. Travis Longcore of The Urban Wildlands Group; “any suitable habitat surrounding will already be occupied and the wildlife numbers are reduced each time habitat is lost.”

Solutions are possible.  A handful of landscapers in Los Angeles garden for wildlife in private residential yards where 90% of the urban forest exists.  Wildlife yards could dramatically increase L.A.’s green space—and, presumably, its urban wildlife population. Conservation now often means modifying private yards to do double-duty as wildlife habitat — or, more accurately, to continue functioning for wildlife even as Angelenos colonize them for their homes.  There is simply no place else for animals to live.

How do you destroy a native ecosystem (aka nature)?