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Are You Nature's Best Hope?

Michele MacKinnon

“…conservation is everyone’s responsibility—not just those few who make it their profession.”  ~ Professor Doug Tallamy


“I loved it! I’m going to see him again and bring some friends and family.” That was my companion’s enthusiastic response to Professor Doug Tallamy’s recent New Canaan appearance. Tallamy is the author of the newly published book, “Nature’s Best Hope.”


The book’s release coincides with Earth Day's 50th anniversary on April 22nd. Another book, released in 1962, may have given rise to the first Earth Day. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” led to an outcry for change when readers learned the harmful effects of pesticide use on birds and other species. Were Carson alive today she’d find a kindred spirit in Professor Tallamy. His persuasive, collegial arguments backed by scientific research echoes Carson’s approach and earns the same positive response.


Strength in Numbers

In “Nature’s Best Hope,” Tallamy proposes a “new conservation toolbox.” The toolbox is equipped with ten ideas ordinary citizens can attempt without special training or undue expense. He sees untapped opportunity when he notes 85% of the land east of the Mississippi River is privately owned. These private citizens could form a powerful coalition when this new toolbox is put to use.

Simple Changes Yield Real Results

One place to start is the lawn. Convert a turf area into a garden, selecting “keystone” species of native plants, such as oak trees, when possible. Just five percent of these plants nourish 75% of the caterpillars needed by other wildlife to thrive. The Native Plant Finder tool identifies keystone species native to your zip code. When space allows, choose those that support the highest number of caterpillars. Tallamy doesn’t let us off the hook. He says if you don’t have room for an oak tree, maybe your neighbor does. You could add smaller trees or shrubs instead. Thus, both properties form a biological corridor, bragging rights the rest of the neighborhood won’t have. Stop raking and blowing away the debris underneath trees and shrubs. Most caterpillars complete their lifecycles on the ground and in leaf litter. Blowing it away blows away an entire generation of moth and butterflies. I don’t think any of us want to be guilty of that crime. Keep outdoor lights off at night, or use a yellow bug light with an automatic sensor. Most moths are nocturnal and they usually die after repeated contact with typical outdoor lights. 


Tallamy is a gifted storyteller, winning over skeptics with remarkable examples. For 25 years a Chicago woman added native plants to a postage stamp garden. Her choices now benefit 103 bird species. They reward her with visits and nesting activity, in a most unlikely location, bordering O’Hare airport.


Next Steps

This Earth Day, if each Connecticut land owner or household commits to one technique from Tallamy’s toolbox, we’ll have much to celebrate next Earth Day. One thing is sure: if we do nothing, nothing will change.

More Information

Hear Tallamy’s ideas in interviews here, here and here

Watch his New Canaan presentation.

Is there reason to be concerned: Yes or No?

Positive news from Sierra Club: here, here and here


Michele MacKinnon is a Sierra Club member, UCONN-Certified Advanced Master Gardener, garden educator, and speaker. Contact Michele MacKinnon for information or questions.

Info for Photo:

Photo: Monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed leaves.

Photo credit: Michele MacKinnon

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