Brunswick is dedicated to repairing one small link in a broken environmental
chain that has left the United States with only about half of the number of
songbirds it had just 50 years ago. Part of the reason for the decline is the
loss of habitat. Deforestation in Central and South America has affected
migratory species that spend half the year south of the equator. But here in
the United States, changing agricultural practices and increasing levels of
forest fragmentation are also to blame. As once large blocks of unbroken
suburban forest are carved into smaller and smaller fragments, predators like
raccoons, crows and feral cats can more easily raid once-secure nests. And as
swamps and marshes are drained and filled for farms or housing developments, birds
that need wetlands to survive are driven away. Sam Hendren has the story of Ken
Brunswick and his work to save the marsh that is home to the birds he loves.
When Ken Brunswick was a kid, he wanted to study birds. Brunswick grew up near
the western Ohio town of St. Henry in the 1950s. He says it didn't take long to
read all the books about birds in the local library.
knew exactly where all the bird books were, because at that time, that's what I
had my heart set on, being an ornithologist," Brunswick says.
of the books that inspired Brunswick was written by Gene Stratton-Porter.She was a popular novelist in the early
1900s. Stratton-Porter was best known for her fictional accounts set in and
around an Indiana swamp called the Limberlost. She was also an amateur
naturalist and wrote several books about birds.
"I was in the eighth grade in that little two-room schoolhouse reading
'What I Have Done With Birds' by Gene Stratton-Porter, and the teacher walked
up to see what book I was reading, and looked at it and the teacher said, 'You
know that place isn't very far from here.' And I didn't know what she was talking
The Limberlost actually
was only a few miles west across the state line. Stratton-Porter moved to the
area in 1888. But to the locals, the trees were valuable lumber and the swamp
was a waste of land. Stratton-Porter wrote that commerce attacked the
Limberlost and began, she said, its usual process of devastation. By 1910, two
decades of destruction were complete.
Loblolly Marsh was what I consider the heart of the Limberlost area and this
marsh was actually the last thing that was drained in this area so the farmers
could start farming it," says Brunswick.
became a farmer himself. He started a dairy only a mile from Loblolly
Marsh. Through the years he learned more about the swamp and the birds that
he formed the Limberlost Remembered project. The group's mission: to bring
Loblolly Marsh back to life. And they've made a lot of headway.
who's 63, is retired from farming. He's now an ecologist for the Indiana
Department of Natural Resources. Its Division of Nature Preserves oversees the Limberlost restoration.
path near the edge of the marsh is thick with prairie cord grass, switch grass
and blue stem. Some of the grasses have been planted here; the seeds of other
plants have lain dormant for decades and are now reclaiming the ground on their
in the marsh the water is a gentle sea of green, and wildflowers abound around
the edges. And the birds are coming back. Brunswick is thrilled to see them
returning to their marsh home.
"This is the area where we see American Bittern once in a while," he
says, pointing across the water. "There's been Virginia rail; we hear Sora
rail in here also. Sora is just a real little bird that has just the dandiest
sound when it makes its call."
birds and others like them are in trouble. Most of the wetlands and prairies
where birds once thrived have disappeared.
dream of becoming an ornithologist never happened. But his work to save the
Limberlost has been his way of doing something for the birds he loves.
when I think about this work I'm doing it takes me back to that dream I had
when I was a kid in that two room schoolhouse. That dream of being an
ornithologist was taken away and here, about 30 years later, seeing this land
flooding, I'm seeing birds that, some of them, I never saw before."
the work of an old farmer has restored the wetlands and natural areas that
farmers before him destroyed.
for the Environment Report comes from the Park Foundation, the USDA's
Cooperative Extension Service and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.
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