I am a committed reader of E.O. Wilson’s writings although I have yet to get through the entirety of his over 30 published works. A couple days after closing the cover on “Naturalist,” his splendidly written autobiography published by Island Press in 1994, I learned of his passing. What a life he led, what a world of knowledge he contributed to the benefit of all life on earth. I am sad, but as not to be wasteful of what I have learned from him, want to instead find ways to help his legacy live on in the place I call home.
I live on an 85-acre organic farm on the Delmarva Peninsula in an area rich in natural beauty including the Chesapeake Bay, 1.7 million acres of wetlands, 450,000 acres of forests and 3.2 million acres of grassland, pasture and farm fields. A place where an initiative inspired by E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth concept, Delmarva Oasis, seeks to protect 50% of the peninsula by 2030. I sit on the steering committee on behalf of American Farmland Trust. American Farmland Trust is a non-profit organization focused on preserving farmland by the acre and by the inch, caring for the land, the soil and its stewards, the farmers. And by doing so, making sure our open, rural, natural, working lands remain home — to use the title of another of E.O.’s books — “The Diversity of Life.”
My farm is permanently protected under an agricultural conservation easement, and it will remain a part of the natural landscape forever. Working lands are natural lands. My small farm, tiny in comparison to most agricultural operations, bursts with life. From large to small, to microscopic, life that slithers, crawls, flies (both birds and bugs), swims (fish, yes, but mammals too, think beavers and muskrats), gallops, prowls, stocks, struts (wild turkeys), honks and quacks. That’s just the fauna or some of it. And, then there is the flora, old growth woodlands, wetlands, grassland, pollinator habitat that I have not planted, plants that grow regardless, flowering, putting out seeds, creating nesting and sheltering locations and yes, there is the cropland which provides travel pathways for wildlife, crop residues that feed the over wintering waterfowl and the microbial life that inhabits the soil. There are more microbes per handful of well cared for farmland soils than there are people on Earth.
What can I do beyond preserving it? I can give some back. While all cropland offers benefits to wildlife, for farming not all cropland is created equal. There are pieces and parts that are better used as purely natural habitat. You may have heard the term, rewilding. Rewilding makes sense for some parts of my farm. What are we doing to rewild? We are following the recommendations of a licensed forester — let it go. Don’t touch it, don’t plant it, don’t mow it. Let nature do what it does best.
So, we start 2022 doing what we can in the place we call home.
There is so much more to E.O. then Half Earth, but I find it to be one of his most embraceable gifts to the planet — simple, easy to picture, actionable and measurable. It can be applied no matter where you live. It can be applied on a block, community, town, city, county, state, country or continent level. It must be applied on a planetary level.
E.O. Wilson passed away on Dec. 26, 2021: His legacy will live on if humankind chooses to embrace his simplest suggestion and commit half of planet earth to nature.
Lori Sallet, Chestertown
The writer is media relations director at American Farmland Trust.
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