Forecaster Forum: Falmouth land stewards: Leave your dog at home

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It’s finally spring. The peepers are singing and the call to get outside is growing stronger by the ever-lengthening day.

Spring is a busy time for birds, insects, plants, and land that Falmouth, the Falmouth Land Trust, Biodiversity Research Institute, and other local stakeholders work hard year-round to maintain, protect, and conserve for the future.

This season is critical to the life cycles of these creatures, whose continued existence hinges on the integrity of their habitats and ecosystems. To ensure continued access to, and conservation of, our public lands, we need to remember that we are visitors to these diverse, vibrant, and often fragile open spaces.

In particular, we ought to be considerate of the fragility of the River Point Conservation Area.

River Point is attractive to us and our canine friends because of its romp-able fields and riverside trails. But it is exactly these qualities that make it both valuable and vulnerable as a wildlife conservation and study area. We encourage trail users to respect the River Point Conservation Area’s prohibition on dogs, on or off leash. As a town we are lucky to have numerous other open spaces which welcome canine visitors. Unfortunately, bringing them to River Point risks future access for all users.

Many of the plants and animals found in River Point are particularly rare or delicate: joe-pye weed and shagbark hickory, both uncommon in the state, are present, as are tree swallows, part of a group of birds whose overall populations have seen a nearly 60 percent decline over the last several decades. Wood ducks nest along the river, and woodcock, ruffed grouse, veeries, and other ground- or near-ground-nesting birds also make River Point home year after year. This unique area is home to monarch butterflies, garter snakes, and numerous other creatures that indicate a healthy landscape.

When people, dogs, and other ecosystem non-members visit this property, we risk disturbing the homes and habitats of our native biota. In particular, the presence of dogs, often perceived as predators by wildlife, poses a threat to birds. Controlled studies suggest that in the habitual presence of dogs, songbird diversity decreases by 35 percent and population sizes decrease by 41 percent. Ground-dwelling bird populations decrease by up to 75 percent.

It’s not just about displacing a few woodcock: with decreased biodiversity, the balance of the ecosystem unravels. One sign of this is the abundance of unwanted insects, such as mosquitoes, and a reduction in the numbers of natural predators, such as foxes.

Beyond being a home for bluebirds and butterflies and a research site for the Biodiversity Research Institute, an organization invited by the town to engage the community about wildlife research and conservation, the River Point Conservation Area is a special and valuable property.

It represents a confluence of rivers, wetland, and species diversity; a field trip destination for students and an educational tool for promoting stewardship among residents, young and old; an archaeological and historic site, and the only option for Falmouth trail users who’d simply rather not confront a dog

Falmouth is an extremely desirable place to live thanks in part to its large quantity and high quality of public lands easily accessible via an extensive trail system. The density of native wildlife greatly contributes to the quality of these lands. But negative impacts of non-native predators, like dogs, will eventually devalue our open spaces and reduce the presence of local fauna. Without local flora and fauna, it will become more difficult and less worthwhile to protect our open spaces, negatively impacting the value of our community.

At River Point, the silence is most notable by its absence. A pleasant cacophony of birdsong and avian chatter provides a persuasive backdrop for this conversation: without these birds and their music, there is no River Point. We can stand still and enjoy the peace and tranquility that bird song provides, yet our dogs hear only the promise of the hunt. In the interest of self-preservation, the birds go silent. Leave your dog at home the next time you visit River Point, and you will be rewarded with these extraordinary sights and sounds.

Join the Biodiversity Research Institute to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day on May 12 at River Point, and leave your dog at home.

Audrey Farber is a volunteer for the Falmouth Land Trust and serves on the Falmouth Land Management and Acquisition Committee.

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