Upper Park echo: ‘Silent spring’

Rachel Carson didn’t write about disc golf, but she might as well have …

Chico resident Karen Laslo writes poems and essays that “explore our human connection to the Earth and each other.”

I’ve spent years observing birds and was distressed to read the Audubon Society’s report that our native “common” birds are disappearing, their numbers rapidly declining primarily due to loss of habitat. We’ve taken the land for our own use, giving little thought to how our activities affect the other lives with which we share this Earth.

Even seemingly harmless invasions of habitat are disruptive, like the disc-golf course in Upper Bidwell Park. It’s just a few acres, so what’s the harm? The harm is that, little by little, we humans are whittling away at the places where birds and other creatures live.

The oak savannah woodland occupied by the disc-golf course is habitat for numerous species of tree-, ground- and shrub-nesting birds. I’ve observed players hunting for wayward discs in the very bushes where these species nest. These birds are now being driven from their native habitat. If the referendum succeeds, with the proposed course “improvements” and subsequent increase in golfers and spectators, the damage will only get worse.

The vulnerable, slow-growing blue oaks that many of our native birds depend on for survival suffer from the impact of discs on limbs, trunks and leaf tips, which, if continued, is potentially fatal to the trees’ resistance to disease. The thin soil under the oaks is trampled down to bare and hardened earth.

Among the larger birds present at the site is the endangered peregrine falcon, a pair of which has been frequently sighted at the cliff edge directly adjacent to the disc-golf course. Peregrines, particularly while mating and nesting, can be easily alarmed and potentially driven from the site. However, if a pair of falcons is allowed to exist in relative security and peace, they will faithfully return year after year until they are eventually replaced by their own offspring.

It’s important to protect the breeding activities of our native birds because we depend on them—not only as natural pest control, but also for distributing native plant seeds and for the sheer gift of their presence in our lives.

Many years ago, Rachel Carson wrote of a spring day grown silent. No early morning song of robins, finches or warbles could be heard. Back then, she warned that pesticides like DDT were killing our native birds. Today, we kill them by taking their homes away. If we do not stop, Rachel Carson’s lonely, soundless morning will finally come to pass.