I'm not a glass is half full kind of guy -- if you've been visiting me here for a while you've figured that out. I know I'm fighting a tide that will overwhelm and consume me. The push for more ethanol, the high commodity prices, the farm subsidies, the nation of lawns... I know we're losing biodiversity at a pace that will mean we wake up one day and a switch has been flipped in our evolutionarily-unique brains: "How'd that happen? Boy, I wish I had something to eat, or at least clean water." Some believe that switch flipping will happen before 2040, when we add another 2 billion humans (see the link in the third paragraph below).
I am a firm believer that our home landscapes can radically stall the tide, maybe help us transition into the new world we're creating -- this switch is already being seen in public landscape architecture. Native plants instead of lawn mean insects. Insects mean more plants. More plants mean more mammals and birds and other species. More other species means higher quality of life for humans because the miracle of our environmental diversity to this point has, to some degree, been a spring cushioning this 6th great extinction event now in motion (you can read E.O. Wilson for more on that topic).
So when Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch, speaks to the above so candidly, I hear the connection I want ALL of us to have -- because we all have the potential to create wildlife refuges three feet out the front door and do something massive quite easily (and cheaply if you use seeds):
"It is very clear that the monarch population is declining. It's declining very, very rapidly and that decline is statistically significant and it's associated with the loss of milkweed in corn and soybean fields. I'm really concerned about what's happening in the United States because to lose monarch means that we are losing habitats that are shared by a large number of other organisms. To lose monarchs means we are losing a lot of other species and the species we are losing are predominately the ones that are doing the pollinating.
...pollinators keep the system together. They provide transfer of pollen for about 70% of the vegetation out there. If we don't have pollinators, we're going to lose a lot of the plants. If you don't have the plants, you don't have the products that pollination. You don't have fruits, nuts, berries, seeds and foliage everything else feeds on. So, you don't have your small mammals. You don't have your ground-nesting birds and you don't have much of anything. We're already moving into that condition in several states in this country where we really have huge areas where agriculture is so intense that there isn't much in the way of wildlife or pollinators. That's to our peril, I believe."
So I started a website and Facebook community called Milk the Weed -- in less than two weeks 250 people on Facebook have pledged to do something. The hope is to get folks planting milkweed native to their area (maps and plant lists are on the website), and once they do this they'll get hooked. The insects that nectar on milkweed, the monarchs that feed on its leaves -- hey, milkweed is a gateway drug to gardening with native plants for wildlife. It sure was for me.