Last week, Bringing Nature Home author Doug Tallamy spoke at Maine Audubon. His message was simple and straightforward. Each of us has an opportunity to improve habitat for wildlife, beginning in the back yard. Tallamy showed how removing non-native and restoring native vegetation can pay huge dividends for wildlife. No one who attended his talk could have been anything other than inspired. I wanted to jump on my tractor and begin waging war on the honeysuckle, barberry and bittersweet that have invaded parts of my farm.
Native animals and plants — as well as the insects that so many animals consume and that play crucial roles as pollinators — evolved together, forming intricate food webs that non-native plants have disrupted. Where habitat is concerned, those food webs really matter. Tallamy showed us some (actually scores of) rather dramatic examples of the differences between the biodiversity present on land with native vegetation and that present where non-native vegetation has become established.
One of Tallamy’s main points can be summarized in two four-letter words: Less Lawn. Native Maine didn’t have lawn; it had plants that filled the spaces between the big trees in the forest and transition zones that welcomed migrating birds and allowed our terrestrial wildlife to move in accordance with their ancient, seasonal patterns of habitat use for foraging, breeding, and refuge.
Tallamy’s studies show that even modest increases in the native plant cover on suburban properties significantly increase the number and species of breeding birds, including birds of conservation concern. His marching orders to us were clear: “As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered to help save biodiversity from extinction, and the need to do so has never been so great. All we need to do is plant native plants!”
Chief among Maine Audubon’s new strategic goals is to increase the number of people who are working for wildlife. If we want to increase the ranks of people who are working for wildlife, there is no better place to begin than in encouraging Maine people to garden for wildlife. Fortunately, one of our most generous donors has given us some working capital to build a program around sustaining wildlife with native plants. So, in the coming months, look for lot more on this subject from Maine Audubon. In the meantime, think Less Lawn.
Charles Gauvin started at Maine Audubon in 2014. Gauvin brings more than 25 years of experience in conservation leadership, much of it as the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, the nation’s leading river and fish conservation organization.Gauvin most recently served as Chief Development Officer at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. He collaborated with Carnegie scholars worldwide to develop program strategies and support in the United States, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Asia and South Asia.