Thursday, December 15, 2011

Journey into Poetry

Most lives are not linear. We all take side trips. For example, from 2003 through 2007, while continuing my work in Conservation Biology, I also served as Poetry Editor for Rapid River Arts and Culture Magazine published in Asheville, North Carolina (  During that time, with the support of the editorial staff, I encouraged previously unpublished poets to find their voice and publish their works.  Many of those who published in the journal's poetry pages were people searching for new purpose and direction in their lives and many of those were women.

My own 'green' poetry has appeared in Wildflower, Rosebud Journal , Quaker Life, Simple Things, North Carolina Woman, and Talking Leaves, among others. For additional information search the WEB using baugh and rapid river editor. The poem that follows was published in Rapid River Art Magazine.

The Time of Man

Over 14 billion years ago it began
and has gone on since then.

From brutal rock on an airless world,
to the slime from which life uncurled,
through the gradual greening of the world.

And then they crawled on to the land,
floppy things struggled upon the sand,
the ancestors of what one day would be called ‘man.’

Gray mists rose from swampy pans,
flowing out over the land,
and great lizards took their stand.

But even these giants surrendered their place,
to small furry things
of another race.

The air grew sweet,
the skies turned blue,
and the heavens were filled with life that flew.

And so the days went on,
following Earth’s evolving song
under the yellow, warming sun.

Mastodons and mammoths passed this way,
and people like us but strange in some ways,
and then it became the time of modern man.

Great glaciers began to melt,
rivers once clear turned brown,
and poisons seeped out over the ground.

Over 14 billion years ago it began,
and it has gone on since then,
until now,
until the time of modern man.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nature and Human Settlements - Part II

(Continued from the preceding post.)

Much has been accomplished since The Granite Garden was written. For example, in 1990 Black Rose published David Gordon’s book Green Cities dealing with ecologically sound approaches to the use and management of urban space.  In 1994 Platt, Rowntree, and others published a book titled The Ecological City focusing on preserving and restoring urban biodiversity.  In 2001 Richard Register, with the urban ecology group in the Berkeley/Oakland area of California and leader in the Ecocities movement, published Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature, and then, in 2006, revised it and reissued it as Ecocities: REbuilding Cities in Balance with Nature.

From all of this theory and professional practice has developed an evolving movement that is making inroads, some small, and some very large, into the ‘greening’ of human settlements.  Early on, the American Forestry Society turned its attention to urban forest cover and developed guidelines for the reforestation of urban areas. Green roofs are another technique used to reduce the urban heat island effect and increase urban wildlife habitat. Roofing materials have been developed that reflect light and thus heat from rooftops, rather than absorb heat and require air conditioning. Construction techniques are now being used in buildings and other places in our settlements to reduce environmental impacts.  For example, porous concrete is used to replace asphalt in order to make more efficient and environmentally sound use of the rainwater that falls on the thousands of acres of urban hard surface.

In order to move all of this forward and put all of it into practice, Urban Ecology study centers have been established at a number of places and the United Nations has a sustainable cities initiative.

Government is also involved in the greening of our settlements, sometimes through planning, ordinances, laws, and even funding. In number of areas we see nonprofit consultative groups, that concentrate a substantial amount of professional skills, focused on greening the built environment. A lot of this energy and movement is reflected in literally thousands of organizations in communities, cities, and towns across the world.  These organizations often take on the role of advocates, and sometimes as consultants.

Much of the greening movement within communities has centered on the stabilization and restoration of streams and, where they exist, rivers.  These projects have ranged from removing trash from streams, to planting vegetation or placing structures to slow or stop erosion, to the restoration of special wetland communities, to 'day-lighting' streams that were covered over in the past.

Other work has been undertaken to establish corridors of habitat along which wildlife can move with some freedom and safety.  Still other efforts include general protection, conservation, and restoration of existing patches of forest or desert or shrub-land habitat, depending on where the city or urban center is located.

The urban restoration movement seems to have merged, to a great degree with the broader sustainability movement, and to some extent with the community gardening and permaculture movement, and now we talk about ‘sustainable ecocities.’  In fact, the first International EcoCities Conference was held in 2000 and there have been others since. An increasing number of very fine colleges and universities now offer training in the field of Urban Ecology. 

Living in community requires that we reach agreement about how to proceed on the greening of our settlements.  There are other factors stirring out there, however, that will affect any decisions we make concerning the nature of our settlements, our place in them, and the place of other species.  Not the least of these are the costs and availability of energy, the costs and decreasing availability of water, and the inconvenient but undeniable truth of global climate change and its impacts.

On the morning of December 13, 2000 I was cochairing a regional committee of a US federal initiative. One of the young staffers, who had flown down from Washington to be with us, excused himself to take an urgent call.  When he reentered the room he asked for a moment to make an announcement.  We all knew what was coming. US Vice President Al Gore, following a decision of the US Supreme Court, had conceded the election to George W. Bush and our urban greening initiative had been dissolved by the incoming administration. Several months later buildings in American cities would be under attacks from the air and bombs would fall on Baghdad. The world had changed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nature and Human Settlements Part I

During the latter part of the 1990's I had the opportunity to work on a number of projects intended to restore some environmental health to the built towns, cities, and other concentrations of humanity. This was especially rewarding work. I also had the opportunity to reflect on the 'greening effort' of human settlements in presentations and publications.  Nature and Human Settlements is the title of one of those reflections.

Nature and Human Settlements - Part I

The year 2007 was a special year, a landmark year in human history. This was not the year during which war was abolished. This was also not the year when hunger and crushing poverty were vanquished, more’s the pity. No, 2007 was the year of Urban Humanity.  This was the year when over half of humanity came to live in what we call urban settlements. Well over three and a quarter billion people came reside in the cities, towns of Earth.

One would think that after all of these centuries…millennia, in fact…in response to this great migration of the human tribes…our settlements would be places of choice by virtue of the quality of life and environments they provide.  But this is not the case. The air in most of our larger and many of our smaller settlements is foul and transportation is abysmal.

It was while living in Atlanta a few years back that I learned some of the more unique aspects of human settlements.  I learned, for example of what is called the ‘heat island effect.’  Because of the exhaust of heat as a waste product of the human enterprise, many of our larger settlements are warmer than the surrounding countryside.  They are covered in a bubble of essentially waste energy and gases. In some cases, these bubbles are so dense that they create their own weather…within and outside of the bubbles. The heat island can have an impact even on the weather of the surrounding countryside.

The very structure of so many of our communities mitigates against good health practices. We drive everywhere, we walk nowhere, obesity has become the rule, and a major health crisis. I learned about something else in Atlanta.  I learned about what happens when the integrity of rivers and streams are not honored.  If you put a map of Atlanta (and many other cities) on a flat surface and look at the streams that flow into it…those streams vanish as they enter the city.  They don’t actually vanish they go under the ground, under the cities.

I learned some other things during my urban years, however.  I learned how wonderful it is when citizens band together with a dream. While serving on an interagency initiative, I remember visiting with a group of people who wanted to create a little niche park in their community. And when I say little, that is just what I mean.  A very old house in one of the then more challenged sections of Atlanta, with a stone basement cut into the side of a hill, had decayed and collapsed into its basement.  Over the decades an oak had grown from the stone wall.  When I visited the site, I saw a mess but the citizens saw a small, pocket park.  We gave them the funds and a little technical expertise, they cleaned the site, put in a small path, some flowerbeds, and a couple of benches and had a park.

As an ecologist I have stood looking out over literally thousands of acres of wildflowers after the rains of spring and a bit of snow had moistened the earth just enough for one of those infrequent and incredible desert wildflower blooms.  I have floated over a hundred feet below the surface alongside a massive wall of corals, a thousand feet above the bottom of the Caribbean Sea.  These are wonderful experiences for someone with my background and interests.  But I have also experienced the great pleasure of seeing the first river otter return to a clean and stable urban stream whose rehabilitation I had a small something to do with. I have been part of the day-lighting and rehabilitating of streams that had been buried under a city for decades, and I’ve had the joy of helping link previously detached patches of seriously degraded urban ‘wildlands’ into corridors that allowed the movement of native animal and plant populations.

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned is the power of people when they decide they are just ‘not going to take it anymore’ and begin to green and replant their communities.  In each generation there have been those who look upon the city…the town, the built environment…as the center for the intellectual and spiritual enrichment of the human experience. The urban ecology movement has been part of that.  In a way, it has been around as long as there have been those sensitive to what it means to gather together in human settlements.

In the mid-1980’s, while still wandering the deserts of the Southwestern US, I came upon Anne Winston Spirn’s book ‘The Granite Garden’ in which she discusses the cities from the perspectives of nature and human design. I bought that book and have had it all of these years, never thinking, when I made the purchase, that I would have a small part in the contemporary movement to reinvent that which we call ‘urban.’  In the opening words from the Granite Garden…Anne says, “Nature pervades the city, forging bonds between the city and the air, earth, water, and living organisms within and around it.”  That was her vision and it’s a good vision.

For additional material on this subject search the WEB using the terms baugh with urban residential wildlife or urban ecology or urban resources.

(Continued in the next post.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Heart of the Journey

Conservation Biology

If there is one theme that runs through most of my professional and personal life it is the protection of plants and animals and the habitats that support them. We increasingly use the term Conservation Biology to describe such work.  Conservation Biology is one of those integrative terms that can describe what is often an interdisciplinary effort to protect biological diversity. There is no question that humanity is primarily responsible for placing life on Earth on the raw edge of what may be the greatest extinction of species ever to happen.  

Although I'm not an organization man, I did most of my biodiversity protection and enhancement work while employed or engaged by two federal agencies, one state agency, and a university. Prior to the 1980's I published extensively of natural history subjects for the popular press. Although that work continues to a lesser extent today, in the early 1980's I began to publish in the scientific literature (search for baugh daily yearly).

In my work, I have helped protect and nurture small fish found in the western deserts of the US, manatees in the lagoons of Florida, and plants in the wetlands of western North Carolina. To gain some small idea of the nature of these efforts search the WEB using the keyword baugh followed by pupfish or spartina or restoration.

Over the decades, I have served on committees and working groups with several governmental organizations. During the Clinton Presidency I was Co-Chair of the Chattahoochee River Working Group of the American Heritage Rivers Initiative and represented my employing agency to the Urban Resources Partnership in the Atlanta area where our focus was the 'greening' of the built environment. 

I am currently involved with nongovernmental organizations including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) where I spent a term as Vice Chair for IUCN's Commission on  Ecosystem Management for North America and the Caribbean. I have recently been appointed to IUCN's Commission on Environment, Economics, and Social Policy. I am the founding member and now President Emeritus of the Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group of the Society for Conservation Biology.

Over the decades my work in Conservation Biology has evolved from restrictive, task-oriented efforts on a very local level to increasingly inclusive, interdisciplinary attempts with region-wide implications...each project a step along the way toward a transdisciplinary perspective.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Journey

With my artist wife Penny Baugh, I live at Hidden Springs, our home in the mountains of Western North Carolina. We share our neighborhood with bear, bobcat, foxes and coyotes, and a number of species of fascinating bats, birds, and bugs and tolerant human neighbors.

At Hidden Springs we work with dedication to lessen our impact on Earth, each year reducing our draw on the grid and the water supply, replacing exotic plants with species native to our region, and converting vegetable 'waste' into compost and mulch.

I am an Ecologist with 40-plus years experience in various aspects of conservation biology.  My professional work is built on a fascination with life on Earth, the places we find life, and our human interactions with other life. I have hovered above the oceanic abyss, explored flooded caves, wandered deep into interior and coastal wetlands, and climbed high along the ridges of the newest and oldest mountains in North America.  My reports, papers, and lectures have taken me from class rooms to meeting rooms to lecture halls and, very often find their way into magazines and journals. 
My work has not been limited to the physical world but has also delved deeply into aspects of the social sciences and the humanities.  Over the years I have moved away from strict adherence to the 'ologies,' choosing instead to explore interdisciplinary possibilities such as conservation biology, and always moving toward a transdisciplinary perspective.    
                    TIME TRAVEL

I have read that travel into the future is impossible,
but I know that this must be wrong,
for each day, I visit a dozen possible futures.

I taste each one of them as if they were the real stuff of now,
they are the real stuff of now that may happen tomorrow,
I live fully today in anxious and eager anticipation of those possible tomorrows.