Other Environmental Themes

Backyard Pollinators

People concerned about the environment are often at a loss about what to do, apart from sending money to some organization in the hopes it will advance their cause of choice. While most of us are dismayed upon learning of ecological devastation in Madagascar, a "biodiversity hotspot," or concerned about the plight of the northern right whale, problems like this can seem rather remote. The decline of pollinators is another story, because these animals are all around us, even for those living in densely-populated areas. It's easy to help pollinators, at least on a small scale, and the pooling of modest efforts could make a noticeable difference for the creatures upon whom we depend so heavily.

The choices begin in our backyards. "When constructing a new home or landscaping an old one, many people rip a site of native vegetation," notes Edward Ross, an entomologist with the California Academy of Sciences. They cover the ground with homogenous lawns and, in the margins, establish gardens that replace butterfly-rich indigeneous plants with a "hodgepodge" of exotic varieties.There is, of course, another approach, says Ross: creating gardens "rich in biological theater, abounding with butterflies and other creatures dependent on native plants." Nature, in this case, is "the groundskeeper."

Those seeking to make an impact in this way should plant native species, choosing a mix of flowers, diverse in color and shape, that bloom throughout the growing season. Ideally, they'll practice organic gardening methods, avoiding the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides. Going further, one could provide food sources for young pollinators in a corner of the yard devoted to wild grasses, weeds, and flowers, and even build habitat for bees, bats, and other pollinators.

But it's not essential to have a big yard, or even a garden, to make a contribution. Just a few flower pots could help, especially if neighbors work in concert. A community-wide network of gardens, window boxes, and sidewalk planters could, as Ross puts it, "form a biotic bridge to outlying natural plant communities." An exercise like this can help people appreciate their connections to nature, while realizing that solutions may lie closer to home than they think.