Would you care to try on my rose-colored glasses for a while? I promise they’ll make you feel better about the world. I’m going to talk about a few local environmental problems, and at first, this might make you feel nervous. Stick with me for a minute, though, because I’ve got some simple solutions as well that I think you might want to take part in.
First, here’s the bad news. One-third of North American bird species are at risk of extinction. Monarch butterfly populations have declined by 75% since 1985 and experts from the Xerces Society worry that the species could go extinct within 20 years. We’re also seeing drastic population declines in other pollinators in the U.S., including honeybees and native bees. In addition, almost half – 40% – of all the lakes, rivers and streams that have been tested in Minnesota and other states do not meet water quality standards for fishing, swimming, recreation, and supporting aquatic life.
Now, here is the upside. Because all of these problems share a common underlying cause – loss of natural habitat – they also share a common solution. Quite simply, we need to restore and recreate habitat wherever it is possible. This means returning to a simpler way of farming, common fifty years ago, where steep hills, soggy bottoms, and the edges of rivers and streams are left natural for the birds and the bees. It also means recognizing our own yards as part of a larger landscape and restoring habitat there as well.
We can be part of the solution.
Since your own lawn is small, you might be surprised to learn that turf grass covers more acres of land in the U.S. than the eight largest agricultural crops combined (Science Line, 2011). There is more lawn than corn, alfalfa, soybeans, orchards, cotton, pastureland, wheat and hay! Imagine what a difference it would make if all of us converted ¼ of our lawn to native plantings that provide habitat for pollinators, birds and wildlife. Additionally, if we focus on creating habitat on steep hills, streams banks, lakeshores, drainage ways, and other places prone to erosion, we could dramatically reduce runoff water pollution as well.
Local nonprofit groups and government entities have many resources to help you go native in your own backyard. Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water offers an on-line plant selector tool, as well as links to local retailers and landscaping professionals specializing in native plants. The partnership’s newest campaign, “Pledge to Plant for Pollinators and Clean Water,” seeks to inspire 10,000 new native plantings in Minnesota by the year 2020. Wild Ones, a nonprofit organization that focuses on native plants and natural landscapes, has several chapters in Minnesota that hold regular meetings with informative presentations and tours. In Washington County, the Washington Conservation District, a local unit of government, provides free site visits and advice to homeowners, farmers, businesses and other landowners in Washington County that are interested in creating native habitat and fixing erosion and drainage concerns. Ramsey Conservation District provides similar assistance in Ramsey County. There is also the Pollinator Friendly Alliance, a newly formed non-profit group that is working to protect pollinators in order to improve the environment and sustain our food supply. On their website , you can find information about issues affecting pollinators, as well as instructions for planting bee-friendly lawns and native gardens.
Going native can make life more fun. Not only do native flowers bring natural beauty to your yard, but also, gardening helps to reduce stress and keep you healthy. Watching the birds and butterflies that eventually come to your yard is sure to make you happy as well.
Even if you don’t have a yard of your own, you can still be part of the solution (and have fun) by going to the PoliNATION “Party with a Purpose” on Sunday, Sept. 11, 12-6pm in Stillwater Twp. The event is a fundraiser for Pollinator Friendly Alliance and will feature music by Rogue Valley, Trapper Schoepp & the Shades, Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland, and Javier and the Wayback. There will also be food trucks, beer, bee science, art interactives, and games. Tickets are $18 for adults, $12 for ages 12-17, and free for kids under 12; purchase on-line at http://pollination.bpt.me. The party will be held at Kissing Birch Farm, 10020 Norell Avenue North in Stillwater Twp.
Create habitat, protect water, and have fun. Join the PolliNATION.