We tend to see national parks as important cornerstones of nature conservation, and they are. But what if there was a way for people like you and me to work together to conserve the country’s largest national park? What if by doing this we could take an important step towards protecting the natural world? That’s exactly what a new effort, called Homegrown National Park, aims to do, and it starts right outside your door.
Lynn Wild, a 65-year-old woman living in Montpellier, is about to join the effort, along with her husband, Ron. They only own 0.8 acres a few blocks from downtown, but with this small lot they have produced top results.
Wild’s yard, which only has two small beds between his house and the street and a long strip of garden to the side of the house, is tiny in every way. But the number of native plants on these small plots is significant: there are around 20 species, including milkweed, Queen Anne’s lace, St. John’s Wort and a towering poplar. Plus, there are foods in the mix, like seven blueberries, cranberries, lingonberries, raspberries, asparagus, and hazelnuts.
Wild has also worked with his neighbors to add more trees to their street. After a potluck dinner at the local church, they laid the groundwork for planting two red oaks, four pear trees, several hazelnuts, a sycamore, two plum trees and a locust tree. This is in addition to several large, healthy maples that have been around for decades.
âIt makes the street more passable,â she says of the added greenery. “And he’s building a community around the trees.” He’s also brought new birds to the neighborhood, including a Cooper’s Hawk. Wild and its neighbors improve soil health and plant diversity and, ultimately, their own health, as well as that of the local ecosystem.
Wild’s work in His Backyard and Street fits perfectly with the thinking of Homegrown National Park creator, entomologist and author Doug Tallamy of Maryland. He came to Vermont on August 26 to speak to a packed house of 150 people at Lareau Farm in Waitsfield, an event sponsored by Lareau Farm and American Flatbread, Vermont Alliance for Half-Earth and Vermont Natural Resources Council. Her message: Nature is all around us, we are an integral part of it and although, yes, it is seriously endangered, there is something that each of us can do to help.
âAnd we have to do it for ourselves, it’s a selfish act,â he joked. But in all truth, he continued: “Yes, it will save nature too, but we are part of nature and we are not going to be here without it.”
Tallamy’s talk focused on the specialized relationships that exist between certain insect species and specific plants, such as the acorn weevil, which can only complete its life cycle in the presence of oaks and their acorns. And, although it may seem trivial, those species that we walk around every day without realizing it are critically important to sustaining entire food webs. For the âtoo long time, I haven’t readâ version: Without native plants, there are no insects; without insects, there is no functioning of the ecosystem; and without a functioning ecosystem, there are no humans.
As you may have guessed, and as is always the case with the news in the natural world these days, these specialized relationships are in jeopardy.
âThey have problems,â Tallamy said during his speech. “They are on the ropes.”
But the solution, he points out, lies in your garden, regardless of its size. And if you don’t own land, no problem: help someone who does, he says, whether it’s your neighbor or a local conservation group.
This decline in the functioning of the natural ecosystem has been exacerbated by what Tallamy calls âsome misstepsâ in previous conservation efforts. The misstep he returned to repeatedly throughout his speech was the way we have historically thought of the relationship between humans and conservation.
He explained: In the past, environmentalists worked where there were not many people. Influential environmentalists, like Aldo Leopold who wrote “Sand County Almanac” in 1949, based their work on the idea that humans and nature cannot coexist, and that the mentality is often still embedded in conservation work. today.
But, he said, we have to reverse that. âNow we have to conserve nature, we have to rebuild it where there are a lot of people because it is almost everywhere. In other words, we need to find ways for nature to flourish in man-dominated landscapes. Don’t hang on to a thread, prosper.
And what better place to do it than in our own backyards? In fact, Tallamy did some math: If we could convert half of the area currently sown in the United States – that’s 40 million acres of mostly ecologically dead land – into native plantations where the processes are sustained, we would retain the tremendous value of healthy and functioning ecosystems in a national park. This national park would be larger than the Adirondacks, plus Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Tetons, Canyonlands, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Badlands, Olympic, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Denali, and Great Smoky Mountains national parks combined.
Fortunately, a yard doesn’t have to be big to have a big impact. The Cour de Wild in Montpellier is a wonderful example. And Tallamy gave three more examples in his speech, including his own typical suburban yard, as well as the 0.6 acres owned by a Missouri couple. They have removed some existing invasive plants, added native plants and a water feature, and have counted 149 species of birds visiting their garden so far. Or another example, just 0.01 acre in Chicago, a stone’s throw from one of the runways at O’Hare International Airport, where the owner did the same and counted 120 species of birds in her yard. , including a woodcock, in the middle of an urban setting.
Tallamy’s talk site served as another example. Although there is an expanse of lawn and many perennial plantings at the Lareau Farm, owner George Schenk has carefully considered how his land use supports the natural world. His land includes a large vegetable garden that produces food for his wood-fired pizzeria, as well as pigs, chickens and a few rows of corn planted by a neighboring farmer.
âWhat we eat and how we grow our food is very important,â Schenk said of his farming philosophy.
He said his garden can be “a fountain of wild animals”, providing the food and shelter necessary for the microorganisms, macroorganisms and small animals that use the space, and then work together to create productive soil for cultivation. food and a healthy ecosystem, directly at Ferme Lareau. He compared the effect to how national parks, like Yellowstone, provide food and habitat for plants and animals that then extend beyond the park’s borders.
âIn a small example, this can happen in your garden,â says Schenk.
It’s a sentiment similar to one of Tallamy’s closing points: We should no longer leave Earth conservation to a few professional scientists, he suggests. On the contrary, it should be up to each of us.
âThis doesn’t mean you have to save biodiversity to make a living, but you can save it where you live,â says Tallamy. âAnd if you do, it gives you power. Right now people feel helpless. Earth’s problems are so huge, what can a person do? “
His list of things a person can do is long: shrink your lawn, put in a pollinator garden, use native plants, eliminate invasive species. These are all things, he says, that revitalize the ecosystem, starting right in our own backyards, so that we can improve the local ecosystem instead of continuing to degrade it.
Tallamy concluded, âIt reduces the problem to something that is manageable for each of us. Do not think about the problems of the whole planet, you will get depressed. Only worry about the small piece of Earth that you can influence.
For more information, visit the Homegrown National Park website at homegrownnationalpark.org and see Doug Tallamy’s books âBringing Nature Homeâ (2007), âThe Living Landscapeâ co-authored with Rick Darke (2014), âNature’s Best Hopeâ (2020) and âThe Nature of Oaksâ (2021).