Let's face it: when it comes to the environment, the news can be downright depressing. Climate change accelerating, animals becoming extinct, plastic pollution inundating us, and more. On top of that, the health statistics in the US are not encouraging either. Our planetary health is inextricably linked to our health. It can all feel completely overwhelming at times.
This is why we want to share a hopeful message with you. We all have more control then we might think. While we won't solve the big problems overnight, there are things that we can all start doing today that can make a real difference.
One of our central problems is a decline in wildlife habitat and resulting loss of biodiversity. Entomologist and Professor at the University of Delaware Douglas Tallamy warns on his website that "We have destroyed natural habitat in so many places that local extinction is rampant and global extinction accelerating. This is a growing problem for humanity because it is the plants and animals around us that produce the life support we all depend on. Every time a species is lost from an ecosystem, that ecosystem is less able to support us."
"More bad news!" you must be thinking. Yes, the situation is serious and we are close to a tipping point, but this problem is 100% reversible. This is within our control - we can fix this! And we can do it whether we own 100 acres, or live in a city.
We start by recognizing that we cannot live separately from nature, and that conservation areas and nature preserves are simply not enough to sustain our wildlife. Next, we must take the initiative to redesign our landscapes so that they can best support biodiversity, capture carbon, and keep our precious water resources clean. Putting this into practice is relatively straightforward. It revolves around restoring the native plants in our landscapes. These plants that were here before the first colonial settlers arrived, co-evolved with the insects, birds and other indigenous North American wildlife. Native trees, shrubs and flowers are the host plants to insects that are a key part of our food web.
For example, most people are familiar with milkweed being the only host plant for the monarch butterfly caterpillar.
It is the same with many other insects, butterflies and moths being a good example. They rely on their host plants to be able to lay their eggs. Nesting bird pairs rely on the caterpillars produced to feed their young. Did you know it takes 6000 to 9000 caterpillars to raise one clutch of chickadees?
By restoring the native plants in our landscapes, we can help increase the numbers of wildlife around us, protecting biodiversity, and preventing localized extinctions. By increasing the number of native plants in our yards, parks, and other public and private landscapes, we also help to store more carbon and cool rising temperatures. Plants and healthy soil filter our water, letting it percolate back into the earth replenishing groundwater.
The next time you are out in your community, take a look around at the way the landscapes are designed and being used. Do you see all the space that can be utilized to improve our environment, sustain pollinators and other wildlife and add beauty to our surroundings?
We already have a growing movement of people asking their cities, schools and HOAs to switch to organic land management practices. This by itself is a major step towards reversing our pressing environmental and human health issues, and a logical adjunct to these organic policies is a recognition and shift to prioritizing the use of native plants in our public and private landscapes. Native plant ordinances are a reasonable and achievable goal. They are also likely to be well received since they are a straightforward and simple way to make a big difference. Who doesn't like butterflies?
Find native plants suitable for your region.
See an example of a native plant ordinance here. This particular ordinance is designed to be a relief to people who are being challenged or prohibited by their HOAs from having native plantings and wildlife friendly landscapes. Ordinances can also be aimed at requiring the use of native plants in all new installations on public property.
Learn about other issues we can tackle to solve large problems locally and create a non toxic community.