Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Joe Neal reports from Kessler Mountain: Save the habitat now

Last night I was up on Kessler Mountain, in southwest Fayetteville, in a spring rain, with Mitchell Pruitt, he of 311 Arkansas bird species in one year, now UA-Fayetteville freshman. We were not birding. We were looking for spotted salamanders.

We found them, plus a bonus:  a robust Greek chorus of spring peepers. Did anyone mention it was January 29th?

There is an effort to save at least 400 acres of rugged, rocky top Kessler as park and natural area. Part of the mountain holds an old growth forest of chestnut oak. On top there is an elfin forest of stunted post oaks and a shale glade with native grasses.

Fayetteville is growing up the slopes and beyond. In terms of habitat protection, it is now or never. The efforts to protect Kessler are headed up by my old friend Frank Sharp, he of the famous Ozark Mountain Smokehouse.

Come spring, Neotropical migrants will dominate the rocky slopes. Based upon birding over the years, it will be Summer Tanagers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Yellow-throated Vireos, Black-and-white Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Great Crested Flycatchers, White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, probably Wood Thrushes, and the like.

This list will swell temporarily as Neotropical migratory songbirds pass through Fayetteville for nesting elsewhere: Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler, Hooded Warbler.

Mitchell and I had Kessler more or less to ourselves last night. Actually, Kessler belonged to spotted salamanders and peepers. Neotropical songbirds lie in the immediate future. We got to enjoy an ancient rite.

Portland, Oregon, where my daughter Ariel lives, saved a 5,000 acre forest years ago. This expansive green space is an internationally renowned springboard for making Portland one of the most livable cities in the world.

Yes, cities need businesses, jobs, and neighborhoods. Cities that work also require expansive green as an essential raw material fueling productivity. Otherwise, they are vast prisons shackling our genius and spirit.  

So about the future: based upon what we do and how well we understand our self-interest as a community, Kessler can be where salamanders walk to ephemeral pools after heavy rains and where Neotropical songbirds continue ancient Ozark Mountains ways. And also where common folks like you and I enjoy them.

In this process, we refresh our spirits. That’s what I hear in that Greek chorus of peepers.

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