Saturday, June 25, 2016

Climate Change Visitors?

The first time I saw a deer in my in-town garden was in 2012.  I stepped out onto the back porch early one morning and there she was, a young doe, slip-sliding around on the boards of the catwalk running house and shop.  She looked to be clearly confused by her surroundings, just as I was surprised to see her that far down out of the South hills.  She ambled off...didn't seem to really want to be there.

That was the first time since 1997 when I move into the house.  Granted, our lots are likely much more inviting to deer now that the grass is all gone and there is an abundance of food as well as cover, but now that these deer are showing up with increasing frequency and not just in our garden but all up and down the street, it seems that some larger pattern shift is occurring.

Last year two strapping bucks with full racks wreaked havoc on our bean patch for about six weeks, on at least one occasion driving Kristin out into the night in her pajamas wielding a kayak paddle to instruct them on some of the finer points of trespass.  The deer were not impressed and only stamped at her and more or less refused to yield.  I think she was lucky to present herself so ridiculously what with the paddle and nightwear and all. Had the deer taken her more seriously as an antagonist, things could have gone badly.

For a while I plotted deer murder, doubling down on my efforts each time I went out to pick beans only to find the entire top layer of the plants neatly sheared off and no beans below.  Bow? Snare? Crossbow? Souped up pellet gun?  The farthest I got was to plink one of them on the backside with a BB around dawn one day.  The result was completely disappointing....a minor "huff" from the deer who then continued to munch apples before moving toward me to begin a next course of semi-ripe plums.  Insulting.

This year they are back again, once more a couple of bucks.  They are beginning to make a dent and once more we find our evening conversations turning to cervine skulduggery.  Pragmatically speaking, simply offing these deer (even if we could do so without winding up in jail) seems like it would be a temporary solution at best.  Next year other deer would show up and continue the marauding.  If this is the pattern it seems to be--rather than a problem with a particular non-human neighbor--we need a different approach.

All of this has led me to ponder the origins of the pattern.  Here in Western Oregon we've had several dry years now, though the current year has been more normal.  That dry weather means less forage outside of town where watering does not occur.  Our in-town gardens where we use quite a bit of water, must certainly look good to the deer by comparison.  Kayak paddle wielding women notwithstanding, town is also probably much safer place to be if you're a deer.

It's hard to talk about climate change meaningfully in its connections to specific events and problems like deer showing up in your garden or even a run of dry years, but by the same token it seems even more foolish and stubborn to simply deny any connection whatsoever.  Fly over Western Oregon and you'll see a slow but steady drying out of the land as you get south past about Roseburg.  Decades of aggressive cutting practices have impacted the land differently depending on factors like soil quality and annual rainfall. The north recovers relatively quickly (meaning within a few decades), but the south has been pushed past recoverability in many parts.  Forests have given way to savanna. Species are on the move, some out and others in.  It's no longer the temperate rain forest it used to be.

My deer are species on the move.  I would like them to keep moving...nothing to see here.  But I think that even if they take that option, the pattern so far suggests that I will have to wait another decade and donate another dozen or so bean crops to see them gone.

My garden--though it provides at least half of the food we eat each year--is still frankly a luxury item for us.  We eat marvelously well as a result of it, but could eat well otherwise.  That's certainly not the case for most of the planet.  Everyone who cares understands that water scarcity is coming quickly on a global scale.  What we grow now will likely not grow well in the same places in the future.  Species will move in and some will move out as this happens.  We will move them ourselves, aggressively in some cases if past behavior is any predictor at all.

The prospects for tackling these changes by focusing on individual species (like my deer) seem dodgy at best.  Very smart people doubt very much that bio-engineering our way out of this is going to work.

These are very big genies that we've let out of the bottle...and I don't think they have manifested in order to grant wishes.  My sense is that whatever successes we have in these challenging new circumstances will come because we pay close attention at a very local level and adapt quickly and creatively and collaboratively and pragmatically to keep beans on the stalk, bees in the hive, etc.