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Wind, Wood Ticks and Poison Ivy

What do wind, wood ticks and poison ivy have in common? They are all becoming more common and more dangerous. As the climate changes, these three things are picking up speed and gaining ground.

According to researchers, higher ocean temperatures and shifting ocean circulation patterns have increased wind speeds over the last decade. Increasing wind speed isn’t all a bad thing. It could help us generate more renewable energy. However, if the winds are high enough, and recently they have often been more than high enough, they can do a lot of damage to our properties and to our trees. Storms have become more powerful and many of us can point to the stumps of the trees that were brought down in recent weather events. Even if we aren’t talking about storm force winds, windy days are just a lot less pleasant for those of us who enjoy the outdoors.

Another thing spoiling the outdoors are ticks. Ticks are expanding their range thanks to climate change and this increases the likelihood of contracting a tick-borne disease. Warmer weather means better conditions for the survival and reproduction of ticks. When you get home from a hike or even after enjoying your back yard, you have to check for these nasty hitchhikers. If you miss one and it manages to imbed, you should call the doctor to find out if she recommends antibiotics against the possibility of Lyme disease. Some people are so afraid of ticks and the diseases they carry, they completely avoid any slightly wild spaces during the height of tick season - which is most of the year except for the dead of winter when it is bound to be very windy.

And if the wind and the ticks aren’t enough to put you off your dreams of hiking trails and forest bathing, consider the poison ivy. It’s doing just fine with all this extra C02 and heat. In fact it’s growing in leaps and bounds and becoming more potent too. Not only are people finding poison ivy where it wasn’t growing before, they are also discovering that the plant is pumping out higher levels of urushiol, the oil that causes the chemical burns. All plants grow faster with increasing levels of C02, but not necessarily as fast as vines like poison ivy which don’t waste energy growing thick trunks and branches; they just climb the nearest tree. Our warmer winters also mean that it isn’t being subdued by long periods of sub-zero temperatures. Besides the incredibly painful rash this plant causes on humans (and apes), it is also a threat to forests because it can choke out other species. However, before you don your hazmat suit and yank it all out in a therapeutic fit of frustration over rising C02 levels, consider the fact that it also provides food for animals like whitetail deer, cedar waxwings and the Northern Flicker, to name but a few.

The point is, our climate is changing and we are the cause. We can mitigate the change and we can adapt. We might even be able to roll back some of the changes as scientists continue their work with geo-engineering. But we can’t afford to wait for the technology and we can’t expect it to be a complete fix. To adapt, we need to keep checking carefully for ticks (and not let them keep us from enjoying the natural world). We also need to build wind breaks and wind resistant structures. To mitigate, we need to let the natural world protect us by allowing it the space it needs to thrive. At Robin Hoodies that is our goal - to set aside spaces for wildlife - even poison ivy.

Don't let a fear of wood ticks or poison ivy prevent you from capturing moments like this in the woods. Photo taken July 21, 2020 at Robin Hoodies in southwest Nova Scotia.

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