by Youth Ocean Advocate Abby S.
There are very few places tundra wolves and mountain goats can live together sans casualties, but one of them is Northwest Trek, a wildlife preserve and zoo located in Eatonville, Washington. Through an hour-long tram ride through the preserve’s birch, Western hemlock, Western red cedar forests and grassy fields, you see herbivores like elk, moose, and bison, while the carnivores and omnivores—barn owls, raccoons, and coyotes, to name a few—can be found in a leisurely stroll around the zoo. The paths are lined with waxy salal bushes, tiny magenta Robert geraniums, and other plants native to the Pacific Northwest.
Amidst this overwhelming diversity, one of the few certainties is that every single one of these organisms depends on water, and the quality of the water and aquatic life depends on them as well. Mallards dig up food in the muddy soil of ponds and black-tailed deer depend on clean creeks for their water source. Conversely, too many mallards (likely caused by a decrease of predators in the area) pollute the water with manure and too many black-tailed deer can eat so much undergrowth that hillsides have no erosion prevention.
This interaction is not limited to freshwater, either. Bear species in the northwest prey upon salmon swimming upstream and in spawning areas in freshwater, but they’re traveling in from the sea. If salmon populations suffer a decrease in the sea, it will also affect the bears inland, and an increase in bears will cause a decline in the salmon population as well. When watersheds—the land by lakes, rivers or streams— are polluted, or the water is contaminated directly, the pollution will run into the ocean as well.
While fluctuations in population occur naturally, human actions can exacerbate those occurrences and cause imbalances in the environment that lead to pollution implicitly. Hypothetically, if people decide to take down a wolf population in one area, there would be virtually no predators to control the elk in the same area. That would not only harm the nearby vegetation and the other animals that live off it, but the quality of the water due to siltation from erosion. Though pollution often seems contained to one area, pollution in watershed areas can devastate the waters and organisms downriver, downstream, and consequently, the ocean.
Because of the often unforeseen consequences of our actions, we need to remember how our actions on land hurt more than just the organisms around us, but networks of other organisms that dwell anywhere from streams to the ocean. Make sure you watch what farming methods you support and how you garden for a few ways to contribute to our environment’s overall wellbeing.