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  • Douglas W. Tallamy

Nature’s Best Hope

Doug Tallamy, renowned ecologist and entomologist, spoke at the CO Native Plant Society Conference last September. Here are some highlights from his talk. You can also find two of his full articles (Part One and Two), and several videos on YouTube.

Though we’ve treated it that way, nature isn’t optional! It’s necessary for our survival.

The reality of the problem… Only 5% of land in our upper 48 states is anything close to its original pristine state. We have logged it repeatedly, tilled it, mined it, paved it, drained it, grazed it. 770 million acres of rangeland in the US – 4.5X the size of Texas – is dedicated to cattle. We’ve polluted our skies and changed the climate for centuries to come. We’ve carved up our natural areas into tiny fragments, each too small and isolated to sustain nature and run the ecosystems we all depend on. We’ve lost 3 billion breeding birds - roughly 1/3 of the N American bird population - and are facing “Insect Armageddon” while life as we know it depends on insects.

Why? We probably thought our nest was so big that we could foul it forever without consequences.

But there is a cure! Change the way we landscape. Practice conservation outside of parks and preserves. Develop a land ethic where we live, work, farm because it’s the only viable option left to us. We have to find ways for nature to thrive in human-dominated landscapes and this means on private propert; 78% of the entire country and 85% east of the Mississippi is privately owned.

To rebuild ecosystems, focus on the most important species:

Plant choices matter when it comes to rebulding diversity.

  1. Flowering plants and the pollinators that allow them to reproduce

  2. Caterpillars, because they transfer more energy from plants to other animals than any other plant-eaters. Most birds feed their young caterpillars exclusively and it takes 6000-9000 to raise one clutch of baby birds. We need plants that feed caterpillars!

Keys to Success

  • Shrink the lawn. Nationwide we have 40 million acres in lawn – the size of new England. If everyone cut their lawn size in half we’d have 20 million acres for homegrown parks. (See

  • Introduce essential “Keystone” plants that provide the most for the ecosystem. The metric isn’t whether or not they’re native, but what they do for the ecosystem. Some natives support many more pollinators and caterpillars than others – like oaks, for example, and willows, cherries, asters, sunflowers, goldenrods.

  • Turn out the security lights! Light pollution at night kills massive numbers of insects. Use motion sensors and substitute yellow bulbs for white ones. Yellow LEDs are best.

  • Stop using insecticides, especially for mosquitos. Many say, “Pyrethrins are ok, they’re derived from chrysanthemums, they’re natural.” So is cyanide. They kill all insects, including monarchs, and only 10-50% of adult mosquitos. Safely, effectively & inexpensively target and kill mosquitos in the larva stage using Mosquito Dunks (Bacillus thuringiensis) which are widely available.

  • It’s not the presence of non-natives that destroys food webs, it’s the absence of native plants so simply increase your percentage of natives.

It was a mistake to leave the stewardship of the earth to a few specialists. If instead we see it as an inherent responsibility for every human being, the problem shrinks to something maneagable for all of us.

YOU are nature’s best hope!



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