Message from Doug / February 23, 2021

Message from Doug / February 23, 2021

I thought I would open this, our first newsletter, with a reiteration of what Homegrown National Park™ is all about, and why it and other conservation efforts around the world are so urgently needed today.   There have been 5 great extinction events in the history of life on earth; each one came close to eliminating life altogether and after each one, it took many millions of years for life to rebound in the form of new species.

We are now in the midst of the 6th great extinction event but this is the first to be caused by a living species rather than a drastic geophysical event or collision with an asteroid. That species is us. Because we are what now threatens so many of earth’s species, it is our responsibility to solve this crisis. And solve it we must!

For most of us, hearing about the extinction of species triggers a passing sadness, but few people feel personally threatened by the loss of biodiversity. But we all should. Biodiversity losses are a clear sign that our own life-support systems are failing. The ecosystems that determine the earth’s ability to support us are run by the plants and animals around us. It is plants that generate oxygen and clean water, that create topsoil out of rock, and that buffer extreme weather events like droughts and floods. It is insect decomposers that drive the nutrient cycles on earth, allowing each new generation of plants and animals to exist.  It is pollinators that are essential to the continued existence of 80 % of all plants and 90% of all flowering plants, and it is birds and mammals that disperse the seeds of those plants and provide them with pest control services.

And now, with human-induced climate change threatening the planet, it is plants that will suck much of that excess carbon out of the air, build their tissues with it, and pump the surplus into the soil for long-term storage - if we would only put them back into our landscapes. Humans cannot live as the only species on this planet because it is other species that create the livable environment we all need. Every time we force a species to extinction, we are encouraging our own demise. Despite the indifference with which we have treated it in the past, biodiversity is not optional. The good news is that extinction takes a while, so if we start sharing our landscapes with other living things, we will be able to save much of the biodiversity that still exists.

And that is what Homegrown National Park is all about. It is high time we gave up the tired old notion that humans and nature cannot coexist - -in the same place, at the same time - -and embrace the fact that we humans are products of nature and totally dependent upon it. We cannot live without it and we will all be better off if we live with it.

What will it take to give our local animals what they need to survive and reproduce on our properties? Native plants - and lots of them. This is a scientific fact deduced from thousands of studies about how energy moves through food webs. The general reasoning goes something like this; all animals get their energy directly from plants, or by eating something that has already eaten a plant. The group of animals most responsible for passing energy from plants to the animals that can’t eat plants is insects. This is what makes insects such vital components of healthy ecosystems. So many animals depend on insects for food (e.g., spiders, reptiles and amphibians, rodents, 96% of all terrestrial birds) that removing insects from a food web spells its doom.  A world without insects is a world without biodiversity, and E. O. Wilson told us decades ago that a world without biodiversity is a world without humans!

Homegrown National Park is a grass-roots solution to a serious global problem. It is nothing more than basic earth stewardship, but it is stewardship that empowers us all to become forces in conservation. Somewhere along the line we assigned earth stewardship to just a few specialists: a few ecologists and conservation biologists. The rest of us have had cultural permission to destroy the natural world whenever and wherever we wanted, using oxymoronic words like ‘development’ and ‘progress’ as rationalizations. This makes no sense; every human being on earth depends entirely on the quality of earth’s ecosystems, so why wouldn’t every one of us bear the responsibility of good earth stewardship?

Today’s environmental challenges are so enormous, it is easy to feel helpless, as if one person can’t make a difference - despite the cliché that suggests you can. In this case, however, the cliché is right on. Each of us has the power - and we clearly have the responsibility - to enhance the ecological value of local landscapes – to Start a new HABITAT™. Whether we decide to do so will determine nature’s fate and, ultimately, our own.  In that sense, we all are nature’s best hope!

Doug Tallamy
Co-founder, Homegrown National Park

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