Balancing Progress and Preservation
A bulldozer clearing forested land
Today, I find myself grappling with a story that intertwines the pursuit of livelihood with the undeniable consequences it bears on our delicate ecosystems. As a wildlife photographer who has spent countless hours capturing the beauty of the Boreal Forest in Northern Alberta, I witnessed with a heavy heart but also an understanding of the reasons, a recent development in my area. In the heart of the Boreal Forest, close to my home, a quarter section of land a once important habitat area has undergone a significant transformation. The dense thicket of trees and the large willow patch that used to be a haven for local moose and countless deer, a family of coyotes, and a variety of majestic birds of prey has been cleared to make way for agricultural purposes.
A young moose enjoying willow on the land before it was cleared
Coming from a family of farmers, I understand why the land was cultivated, one’s livelihood hinges on maximizing the land for crop production or pasture for livestock. I am sure the decision wasn't made lightly, and it reflects the ever-present challenges faced by those who rely on the land for sustenance and survival. The pressing need for agricultural expansion in the face of a growing population is a reality that cannot be ignored.
The male coyote from the family who denned on the property stretching on the gravel road in front of the quarter section
However, the consequences of this development are stark and impossible to overlook. The moose, once frequent visitors to the large willow patch, now find themselves searching for alternative habitats especially with the onset of winter and their once reliable food source now gone. The family of coyotes, whose den provided a safe haven for raising their young, is now displaced. The hawks and owls, which graced the skies above the forest as they hunted for prey, must now adapt to the changes in their hunting grounds. And let us not forget the countless smaller mammals, weasels, squirrels and voles who would have scrambled to get out of the way of the bulldozer as it plowed through the small spaces within this forested area that has been the only home they have ever known.
A great gray owl hunting in the evening on the property before it was cleared
This made me reflect on a timeless struggle – the delicate balance between human progress and the preservation of our natural world. It prompted me to reflect on the choices we make and the impact they have on the biodiversity that makes our planet so rich and vibrant. As a wildlife photographer, I find myself saddened by the heart-wrenching scenes of displacement and loss of these animals I have watched grow and flourish on this land. I wonder what they felt when they came back to this spot and encountered it so radically changed. How did it impact their daily struggle for survival, how will they adapt? I will watch now this evolving landscape, capturing the new life that will undoubtedly emerge from the freshly tilled soil and be reminded of the lingering echoes of what once was. I will look to find that coyote family, the moose, and the hawks when they return and see where they go and how they adjust to the changes.
A video of a roughed legged hawk as it watches over this spot looking for prey
It is my hope that sharing this story prompts us to think about sustainable practices, responsible land management, and the importance of finding common ground that benefits both humans and the creatures we share this planet with. I do not begrudge the farmer, but I hope we can use our knowledge as a society and all our technological advances to minimize our disruption to the delicate balance of the ecosystems we inhabit. We must navigate the complexities of progress and preservation, seeking solutions that harmonize the needs of all species, human and wildlife alike that call the Boreal Forest home if we are to preserve this last great forest on Earth. Together, there is no other way forward.