The Ecosystem Engineer
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

November 1, 2017

Earlier this summer I went on a camping trip with my family. We drove up from New Mexico to Silverton Colorado and took the steam train down towards Durango. A ways down the canyon on the Animas River, we got off and spent two days camping along the river. It was quiet and peaceful with the sound of the rumbling water only occasionally pierced by the whistle of a steam train beckoning of a historic past and slower times.

I explored the water with fly rod in hand, casting a fly here and there. I would lay the fly on top of a pool, watching it swirl into an eddy and hoping the surface would pop with the flash of a fish. Making my way back to camp one afternoon, I came across numerous saplings, all felled by the tall tell sign of a beaver; wood chips strewn about, pointed stumps sticking up like a defensive parameter; and saplings lying all about. I was impressed by its work in the clearing as it had busied itself with engineering its ecosystem, creating a dam for future ponds and lakes and a new habitat to call home. Beavers are some of the most well-known and effective ecosystem engineers in the world. The largest dam in the world was found to be over 2,790 ft. long in Alberta Canada and could be seen from space at the time.

Walking through these felled trees got me thinking of just how big an impact one animal can have and how that impact can create an entirely new habitat or potentially destroy one? Of course humans are the top ecosystem engineers as we increasingly realize we are not only engineering our towns and cities but our climate on a global scale. What I find most interesting is that the human as an individual can engineer their immediate and intimate environment with such purpose. I for example have about a dozen plants in my house, compost in the yard, garden, and a fruit tree at present; my very own ecosystem. A little more abstract is my drive to consume less to no meat which reduces the market demand slightly and maybe over the course of my life time a few cows will not have been raised, a lot of hay not grown, and water will have flowed onward to other communities or even the sea.

As a human, every action we do will engineer our ecosystem in some way, shape, or form. We can grow beautiful gardens for birds and insects and we can go without the latest I-phone making that cobalt mine in far off Congo just a bit smaller. Like a game or hobby, every one of us will craft a canvass on this planet; a piece of art that takes more shape each and every day with every action we take. So, as an ecosystem engineer… what is your legacy going to be? What will your canvass look like? Realized or not, your contribution carries on.

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