Isolation comes with consequences and building connections is our bridge to the future are some truths brought home during this pandemic. As we take stock of our lives during these uncertain times, I’d like to recommend a book for your summer reading list from someone I admire tremendously that’s especially relevant now.
Doug Tallamy is a professor in the department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware and a widely respected authority on the environment. Tallamy’s latest book, “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard,” explores these topics and delivers a manifesto that gives each of us a relatively painless way to better our worlds.
In a nutshell, Tallamy’s message is this: Instead of spending time and $$$ mowing huge lawns, simply join forces with our neighbors and turn part of our yards (and decks) into a ”Homegrown National Park,” with low-maintenance native plantings that encourage biodiversity and provide habitat for many species, instead of just a few.
These days we’ve found ourselves changing the way we conduct business, shop, learn, access healthcare, and much more. According to Tallamy, it’s time that we make a few changes to our lawns. His advice:
“What if each American landowner made it a goal to convert half of his or her lawn to productive native plant communities? . . . If half of American lawns were replaced with native plants, we would create the equivalent of a 20 million acre national park – nine times bigger than Yellowstone, or 100 times bigger than Shenandoah National Park.”
Why does this matter?
There have been articles written about how, as a result of the pandemic, people are enjoying tweets (no, not Twitter) and they’re bird-watching. Yet North America has lost approximately 3 billion birds in last 50 years; more than 1 in 4 birds in the U.S. and Canada have disappeared, according to a study, published in the journal Science. Monarch butterfly populations are in serious decline as well, and I could cite many more examples, but the stats are alarming.
Isolation amongst living species is harmful. In a healthy ecosystem, insects, birds, butterflies, reptiles and other wildlife connect with one another within a natural habitat. Practicing conservation in our system of national and local parks is admirable, yet Tallamy points out that our parks and preserves are fragmented and aren’t large enough to do the job alone. Instead, Tallamy advocates a grassroots approach to conservation — The Homegrown National Park.
How does this work and what can each of us do? Glad you asked!
Instead of going to the garden center and simply loading your cart with eye-catching plants, why not introduce native plants that support a functioning ecosystem to your home and business landscape? By practicing conservation where we live and work, we build biological corridors that connect habitat fragments with one another and help our environment.
The following list isn’t inclusive, but here are a few steps Tallamy suggests:
#1: Shrink the lawn. Turf serves an environmental purpose. It helps to clean the air, reduce erosion and lower temperatures, plus it’s great to walk on or kick a ball around. But maybe we don’t need quite so much of it. In the 2015 book “Planting in a Post-Wild World,” Thomas Ranier and Claudia West advise that our lawns should be area rugs, not wall-to-wall carpeting.
#2: Avoid invasive species. If you’ve ever dealt with English ivy, you know what this means. Invasive plants, no matter how attractive, can take over a landscape and smother out plantings that local wildlife need for sustenance.
#3: Plant a variety of natives. Native plants work. Already adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, they naturally support the native wildlife. Also, cultivate multiple varieties of native plants. Instead of planting one tree, plant several as they occur in nature; not just one sunflower, but five. Another truism: Monocultures benefit from diversity.
For planting suggestions for your area, check out the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Database or your regional Native Plant Society. Another factor to keep in mind is that studies such as this one raise flags about the harmful impact insecticides such as neonicotinoids have on pollinators that visit the landscape.Tallamy cautions putting up bird feeders isn’t the answer since most birds rear their young on insects, not seeds or berries.
A treasure trove of great information, “Nature’s Best Hope” is definitely a book for the top of a summer reading list.
Finally, for your viewing pleasure (and something to think about when the gas-powered lawn mowers are blasting on Saturday morning- hopefully Elon Musk or someone else is working on an alternative ), here’s a parody video courtesy of an awesome park ranger at Samuel S Lewis State Park: “Let It Grow!” Inspired by Disney’s “Let It Go” from Frozen.