Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy
A Book Review
by Victoria Quesada
Sounds optimistic—and it is. In this time of isolation, Nature’s Best Hope offers a message of hope. Indeed, its ideas are a shift of the conservation movement from someone else’s responsibility to our own backyards. It is a science-based idea that simply requires making different choices of what you plant in your yard. The author of Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard is Dr. Douglas Tallamy, a professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware for over 40 years and a renowned author. He refers to the backyards of America as the “Homeland National Park.”
E.O. Wilson pointed out that insects are “the little things that run the world.” The website of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/
pollinate/), notes that “Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce....Some scientists estimate that one out of every three foods we eat exists because of some animal pollinators, like bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and beetles and other insects.” The site admits that “bees are disappearing and bats are dying.” It notes that pollinators face many challenges in the modern world, including habitat loss, disease, and environmental contaminants. To those, Dr. Tallamy adds light pollution. The NRCS also recommends backyard conservation and has handy lists of pollinator friendly trees, shrubs and flowers.
Dr. Tallamy does have a message of hope. Nature is all about relationships. There are certain native trees, shrubs, and flowers that provide the best food for insects and other wildlife in your area. Tear out the invasives in your yard and gradually add the natives. He recommends reducing the amount of your lawn and adding a pollinator garden, and if you have space, native trees that are environmental all-stars. He says your choices in trees, shrubs, and flowers count as food for wildlife. Human survival depends on wildlife. There are 20 million acres of backyards in America. Insects need undisturbed areas, decay, and leaf litter for homes and to complete their life cycle. So don’t be a total neat freak. If a tree is stuck in a lawn and the ground around it is densely compacted and devoid of plant matter, insects cannot complete their life cycle. Plant wildflowers around the base of your native trees instead. Create little mini habitats where you can observe birds, butterflies, and caterpillars. You are improving your soil and water as well. Dr. Tallamay sees this as a nationwide movement, so he is not telling you what is native to your area, but rather points you to resources like the National Wildlife Federation (www.nwf.org). Another resource is the chapter of Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes in Central New York: www.hgcny.org.
Here is an excerpt from Nature’s Best Hope:
“In the world I envision, landscaping practices will no longer degrade local ecosystems; landscaping will become synonymous with ecological restoration. We will not be living with less; we will be enriching our lives with more — more pollination services; more free pest control; more carbon safely tucked away in the soil; more rainwater held on and within land for our use in a clean and fresh state; more bluebirds, orioles, and pileated woodpeckers in our yards; more swallowtails and monarchs sipping nectar from our flowers. Indeed, more species of all kinds will inhabit our landscapes, increasing the stability and productivity of our ecosystems. This proactive approach to earth stewardship will no longer be the unfulfilled dream of a few environmentalists, but a culturally embraced imperative, not only because we have no other choice, but because it works. It is nature’s, and thus humanity’s, best hope.”
—Dr. Douglas Tallamy