Creating a lawn and killing off the flora once there, places the responsibility of caring for the animals that relied on those plants on you. It can be easy to look over the swath of land you cleared and forget about the many beings that resided and passed through there, especially since many of these critters are impossible to spot from afar. Furthermore, is it that big of a deal if you lay down some turfgrass on your small lawn? We already conserve millions of acres across the country and world, so it doesn’t make a difference if one more lawn is added to the ecological equation, right?
The error American culture has made by normalizing a love for lawns and ornamental, non-native plants is forgetting that our decorative lawn and garden choices are shared by hundreds of millions of other people around the country. You want to put down some turfgrass to make your lawn look well-kept? You are not alone. Addressing the issue of destructive lawn practices in his 2019 novel Nature’s Best Hope, ecologist, conservationist, and author Doug Tallamy writes, “Turfgrass has replaced diverse native plant communities across the country in more than 40 million acres, an area the size of New England (Tallamy, 2019). Thinking the one patch of invasive Japanese Knotwood in your yard is too small to make an impact on the national scale? Now there are 3,300 invasive species in the U.S (Tallamy, 2019). Do you let your house cat roam free in your neighborhood? Our country’s house cats kill four billion birds annually (Tallamy, 2019). Do you love to spend afternoons weeding your lawns? The attempt by Americans to remove milkweed from our properties is a major reason behind Monarch butterfly populations being down to 3.6% of their population in 1976 (Tallamy, 2019). These butterflies are important pollinators, and their eradication would result in massive die-offs for a wide variety of plant species.
But, while the point being made here is obvious, its comprehension is essential. The way we treat our property’s natural areas acts as a grim predictor of greater nature’s future. The United States’ national parks are both majestic and crucial to maintaining some semblance of biodiversity, but the belief that conservation only has to be achieved in the far west or global south allows for unsustainability to wreak havoc everywhere else. Conserving vast swaths of land that are isolated from one another, while helpful, does not do enough to address the fact that most species migrate and move far outside of protected areas for a myriad of reasons. Biological corridors are required if we want to recover a high interaction diversity, the best indicator of ecosystem health, in our struggling environments. Again, 82% of American citizens live in cities with artificial environments, so most of us have the option to turn a blind eye to our country’s environmental degradation.
Luckily, hope is not lost, and even those that live in midtown Manhattan can make a difference in their living spaces. Start researching and planting today, you do not need to have any gardening experience or a degree in conservation biology. Follow this link to find out which plants are native to your area, and start digging. Do not use any pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Instead, use compost if possible, remove invasive species, and wait. Wendell Berry, a prominent environmental activist and author, said, “there is no distinction between the fate of the land and the fate of the people. When one is abused, the other suffers”. On the bright side, the opposite is true as well. Once your plants begin to grow, your own little private zoo will come to fruition.
Tallamy, Douglas W. Nature's Best Hope a New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard. Timber Press, 2020.
Dell, Jane E. “Interaction Diversity Maintains Resiliency in a Frequently Disturbed Ecosystem.” Frontiersin.org, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 1 May 2019, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fevo.2019.00145/full#:~:text=As%20such%2C%20quantification%20of%20response,et%20al.%2C%202010).