Give back to nature this holiday season

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It’s that time of year when all is merry and bright and the fast pace of the world we live in slows down just enough to catch a few moments with family and friends. It’s that time when we pluck wishes off giving trees to make another’s season brighter. It’s that time of year to be grateful and to give something back.

As I was driving around doing some Christmas shopping the other day, I started thinking about the different ways we give — whether it be gifts, time, offerings or donations. As I looked through the windshield at the winter landscape in front of me, I also started thinking like the conservationist I am: soil, water, air, plants, animals, minerals … we gain a tremendous amount from these resources, but what are we really giving back?

Hitting home

My uncle, who lives in Arizona, stopped in for a holiday visit and this was part of our conversation: When it came time for he and his girls to make the Italian sausage our family makes each Christmas, bulk pork cost him nearly $8 a pound. It was still 80 degrees and very dry there in November. Their family has to be very conscious of water conservation all year around.

My point is, most of us know that nothing is infinite when it comes to natural resources, but it is hard to stay grounded in that knowledge when we live in a state that has such abundance. We can get very caught up in the fast pace of living and getting ahead, so I thought that this time of year, when we are each having those moments of thoughtfulness and generosity, it might be a perfect time to pause and take a look at some of our local natural resources.

Soil

There is an classroom program where an apple is used to demonstrate the amount of productive agricultural land on the earth. The apple represents the earth, and little by little, slices are cut away, each one representing land that is unsuitable for agricultural production — oceans, deserts, swamps, mountains, rocky soils, etc.

What is left at the end of the demonstration is the peel from 1/32 of the original apple. This peel represents the soil we depend on for food production worldwide. And when you really think about it, where is a significant amount of that usable soil found in the world? Literally right in our backyards.

But for some reason, instead of nurturing it, we gratefully take its gifts and well … take it for granted.

One place we can easily identify this is to take a look at Ohio’s streams after a heavy rain — a significant amount of this resource that so many are dependent on erodes from our land and is washed away.

Another way we take soil for granted is to rob it of nutrients and structure, both of which are needed to maintain healthy soil ecosystems for optimal plant and microorganism growth.

How many hayfields can you think of that have had hay removed repeatedly and the nutrients never put back? How much exposed soil is heading into winter right now compacted and without any type of vegetative cover? Start giving back by following soil test recommendations to restore nutrient-parched soils (using the 4R method, of course!), and use cover crops and conservation tillage to build soil structure and health.

Water

We learned in grade school that the earth is made up of mostly water. But somewhere in the mix, we forgot that most of it is unusable in its current state. 97 percent of earth’s water is contained in our oceans as salt water. A mere 3 percent is fresh water. About 2 percent of that is tied up in glaciers and icecaps.

That leaves 1 percent of the water on earth available as fresh water from groundwater, lakes, and streams. And where again is most of that fresh water? We know the answer to that — right in our backyards.

But when we are inundated with rain or up to our eyeballs in mud, we lose sight of the big picture. That important fraction of fresh water becomes polluted with our failing septic systems, or floods our cropfields, grabbing various ‘cides and fertilizers and recedes, and we don’t even care because, well to be honest, we just want it to stop causing us a problem!

We can give back by taking steps to protect the water resources we have.

Plants

We also expect a lot out of our plant resources, from agricultural production and wood products to backyard shade.

According to the publication Ohio — the Many Sides of the Forest Economy, Ohio was once 95 percent forested — a number that dipped to a meager 10 percent by 1910.

In the last 100 years, we have climbed back up to 30 percent. How did we get here? By giving back.

If it wasn’t working as cropland, it was converted it back. If it was bare, it was covered with seedlings or managed in a way that allowed nature a chance to work its magic.

The next time a tree has to be cut down in your yard, don’t scoff at the thought of planting a new one. The years it takes a tree to grow may seem too long to wait in a world impatient and primed for instant gratification. But a child today will appreciate it as an adult tomorrow. I know I do.

I encourage to give a different kind of gift his year — the kind that brings the peace of knowing that we are taking our blessings and giving back, so that in the next 100 years, Ohio is as beautiful and bountiful as it is right now.

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Wendee Zadanski has been the natural resources specialist for the Jefferson Soil & Water Conservation District since 2001. She has a bachelor’s degree in natural resources conservation from Kent State University. She can be reached at 740-264-9790 or wzadanski@jeffersoncountyoh.com.

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