We've been inundated with bad news these last few years—the pandemic, climate change, racial injustice, the threat of massive species extinction and now military invasion. It gets overwhelming—these problems feel too big to tackle. But with biodiversity, there is something we can do—you and me, right in our own backyards.
Why Take Action?
First, the bad news. If we continue on our current path, nearly 1 million species face extinction in the next 20 years. Why does this matter? Professor Doug Tallamy put it very succinctly in his recent talk Bringing Nature Home. First, without pollinators, the flowering plants die. That’s all our fruits and vegetables. Without flowering plants, there’s a radical change in land habitats. This causes a collapse of food webs. At that point, the biosphere rots. We humans will literally have nothing to eat, not to mention air that’s difficult to breathe.
So, what do we do about it? So far, we’ve been focusing our conservation efforts on saving the last remaining wild spaces. But only 5% of the land in the lower 48 states is close to its original natural state. The rest has been developed for agriculture, for cities, for people. Worse yet, this 5% of natural land is broken up across the continent. These patches are too small and too scattered to sustain the ecosystems that these species (and we, ourselves) depend on. We simply need more land for habitat.
How do we do that? We rebuild nature where the people are—in our developed areas, on our campuses, in our own backyards.
The key is to focus on leverage points where small changes can have a big impact. If we plant native shrubs, trees and flowering plants in our yards, we attract native bees and caterpillars. These are the keystone species, the ones that lead to thriving habitats. The bees pollinate the flowering plants, allowing them to reproduce and thrive. The caterpillars restore the food webs, since they are essential food for the vertebrates, particularly birds.
What are the native plants in your region? Check out the National Wildlife Federation’s Plant Finder.
In what other arena can you help solve a massive global problem by planting a few plants in your yard? And taking action actually enhances our own lives. We get to experience nature in our own neighborhoods. With more native trees and bushes, we have less lawn to maintain, saving gasoline and lawn care costs. And we get to be a part of something greater than ourselves.
There’s actually a movement to create the HomeGrown National Park, where landowners across the country are restoring nature on their own property. If we each plant even a small patch of native species, we start to stitch back together our natural areas and provide safe habitat and travel paths for birds and animals to thrive.
Restoring nature in our own yards also yields unexpected perks. Last spring a couple caterpillars built their cocoons on our window screen. For weeks we watched to see what would happen. It was an exciting day when the cocoons split open and these beautiful pale green butterflies emerged and flew off into the garden.
A friend told me about a pair of robins who built a nest in the bush right outside her living room window. Imagine having a window (literally) into the lives of birds and watching them build their nest and hatch their chicks. We begin to realize we are a part of this wondrous, magical cycle of life, not separate from it.
Make an Impact
So check out Professor Tallamy’s video. He’s an engaging and inspiring speaker. Find out what plant species are native to your area and start building habitat for those beautiful bees and caterpillars.
Professor Doug Tallamy’s talk: Bringing Nature Home: The Importance of Native Plants.
Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard, book by Professor Doug Tallamy.
National Wildlife Federation’s Plant Finder – Find native plants for your area.
More resources for working with native plants.
HomeGrown National Park – Log your native plantings and be part of a national movement.