Sigh…this is getting old. I went out this morning to do a bit of birding, and thought I’d try “Ditch Road” north of Sioux Falls. It’s a spot I like to go to in the mornings. Ditch road has a ditch that often holds water, with thick trees and shrubs on either side. The stretch I like to bird is on the west side of the road, so there’s some nice light as I drive it in the morning.
As soon as I turned the corner on to Ditch Road, my heart fell. Yet another of my favorite birding habitats in the area has fallen prey to the South Dakota Tree Nazis. If you haven’t heard of the group, they’re an evil underground effort to ensure that all of South Dakota is homogeneous corn and soybeans, and that every little bit of remaining bird habitat is removed. “Spook Road”, another favorite birding spot just east of my home town of Brandon, has also fallen prey to the Tree Nazis.
In both cases, thick shrubs and trees lining the road have been completely removed. From the rumors I’ve heard, it’s local and county government efforts to satisfy new insurance requirements. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I had heard that due to an accident involving someone becoming injured or killed in a vehicle strike on roadside woody vegetation, insurance companies pressured local governments to remove woody vegetation that’s anywhere close to a roadway.
Trees aren’t exactly widespread on the South Dakota plains. Urban areas certainly have plenty of trees, but otherwise they are typically restricted to riparian areas and fencelines. In the case of the aforementioned Spook Road, there’s about a 3 mile stretch where a small creek intermittently crosses the road, and it’s the thick riparian/roadside trees and shrubs that were removed. In the case of Ditch Road, it truly is a very thin strip of tree and shrub habitat, perhaps 30 yards wide in total, but it’s always been a very productive birding location for me, particularly in spring when migrant passerines move through.
And now, like many of my other favorite birding locations, the Tree Nazis have destroyed it. As the photo above shows, ALL vegetation on the side of the ditch closest to the road has been removed. I guess I should be thankful the Tree Nazis were feeling gracious, and left the vegetation on the far side of the ditch. It’s a far too common site though in the area, with trees along fencelines, shelter belts, and other roadside trees being removed at an incredible rate.
The South Dakota Tree Nazis have many splinter groups operating in the state as well, including the South Dakota Wetland Destroyers who have been incredibly active in the last couple of years, drain-tiling and destroying every tiny remaining spot of wetland in the area. For an area that historically was chock-full of little wetlands, I now have to drive a ways to find a functional wetland with any kind of decent birding.
I’ve got a LOT of photos on my main website that were taken on Ditch Road. After what I saw today, all of those photos may now just be a remembrance of a time when Ditch Road had decent birding, before the Tree Nazis did their work…