Mini-Rewilding Your Space

An easy, pivotal step to help biodiversity, plus the week's nature news, the 30 by 30, our little house, and a really big smile

Holy wombat poo! It’s been a week of incredible promise with Biden’s bountiful bundle of executive orders aimed at the climate crisis, capped by his pledge to do something about global warming’s lopsided impacts on people of color in the U.S. His goals are unparalleled in politics vs. nature.

What a difference in our quality of life when there are hopeful headlines every day! Speaking of headlines, wombat poo was in them this week as well, as the great mystery of how wombats make cubical poop was finally unraveled.

In his orders, Biden also snuck in a massive chunk of good intention toward our other, equally pressing yet less publicized existential trouble, biodiversity loss. I wish there was another word for biodiversity. It’s an overly long, drab term for a colorful and intriguing problem — a problem that is, theoretically, easier to solve than climate change.

Biodiversity Explained in 136 Words

Biodiversity is all of the bottle-nosed dolphins, crested porcupines, yellow-throated sparrows, flying squirrels, swamp oak trees, prairie sunflowers, rusty patched bumble bees, morel mushrooms, giraffe weevils, magnificent frigatebirds, dinoflagellates, bifidobacteria, and millions of other species and lifeforms that have evolved to fill particular roles on this planet.

Collectively, our diversity of species acts as a life-support system for Earth, giving us clean water, breathable air, tolerable temperatures, and food. The greater the variety, the greater the safety net. Think of a field that has one kind of grass versus a meadow that has dozens of grasses. If there is a bad drought, or an infestation, it might kill a few species, but the meadow will survive. A field with all of its grass in one basket is a much riskier place to be.

Bio-un-diversity & Biden

We have recently realized, thanks to a whole shittonne (I think it sounds more lovely spelled in the Queen’s English, n'est-ce pas?) of research scientists studying life forms and ecosystems around the planet, that we have entered into a self-induced 6th mass extinction event. The last one was in the Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago, caused by that pesky meteorite. As we diminish population sizes and all-out lose some species of birds, insects, plants, amphibians, crustaceans, mammals, and fish, our safety net gets more holes. Right now it’s pretty tattered from an array of human-caused problems like habitat loss from farming and sprawl, obliterated forests, overfishing, hunting and poaching, climate change, pollution, and invasive species. We are set to lose a million species in the coming years.

Biden’s answer to this mess is an executive order mandating that 30 percent of U.S. land and coastal seas be protected by 2030. Doing so would not just conserve species, but also protect and restore ecosystems that store carbon. Environmentalists call this the 30 by 30, and it mirrors a global movement, rooted in solid science, that calls for 30 percent of the planet to be sustainably managed or preserved by 2030, and 50 percent by 2050.

This is a ridiculously lofty, but necessary goal. Currently about 26 percent of coastal waters in the U.S. and 12 percent of land fall into this category. To reach 30 percent on land means conserving an area the size of two Texases, Since the federal government owns just 28 percent of our land, much of which is habitat-compromised by leases for fossil fuel extraction and grazing, a great majority of new conservation will have to happen on private land. Which is where us little folks come in.

One Small Step — Mini-Rewilding

For those of us fortunate enough to have a yard, or some sort of say over an outside area through our homes, jobs, city planning, or homeowners’ associations, there are a lot of ways we can help the 30 by 30 goal — like actually making our space into at least 30 percent habitat.

For the lazy, broke, or busy, this is easy. Just stop mowing and weeding everything except invasive species. Let nature run its course. If the neighbors complain, put in a bird bath, a little winding path of paver stones through the disorder of plants, and get it certified as a wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. (This isn’t a Karuna fun fact, I was actually told this was a proper strategy by a city liaison in Florida.)

If you have some time and money, then you can really get creative. Plant some native trees, plants, flowers, ground cover, vegetables, grasses, and hedgerows — try the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder or Audubon’s Native Plants Database — and make sure to let them go to seed. Birds like bugs and seeds, bugs like plants, and plants like birds and bugs. Nature can really get on a roll if just has a bit of an ecosystem.

Invite nature with nest boxes for birds, bats, and mason bees. Leave leaf piles and underclutter. Don’t use pesticides (bugs are the foundation of your new ecosystem). Put in a few water sources and native trees. Don’t mow over flowers and grasses, so the bees, butterflies, wasps, and beetles have enough food. Build a pollinator garden with pollinator-friendly native plants from your area, and don’t forget to plant caterpillar host plants. Don’t be daunted, just do a little bit at a time, and start planning now so you can be ready when spring arrives.

I won’t go into more detail here, as there are a buzz-illion ideas on the internet for this, except to say that one of the best things you can do is ditch the notion of a fence-to-fence manicured lawn. You’ve been had by a faux-American dream.

It’s nice to keep a patch of grass here and there, but a manicured, monoculture grass lawn is not habitat. Some scientists I know say they are nearly as bad as cement, worse if you use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Besides destroying habitat, en masse they use two-thirds as much water as all of America’s farmlands, ten times more fertilizer than those crops, and I’m not even going to get into the climate disaster of lawnmowers right now.

For the meticulous and nostalgic, it might be hard to embrace unruly wilds. But once you come to understand how harmful that shinny green carpet we’ve been trained to obey actually is for nature and your family, it might not look so beautiful anymore. Note: Lawns will be one of my deep-dive stories, so look for that if you want more on this.

A note about rewilding: in its strictest definition, the term applies to larger spaces where we let nature reestablish itself. But it’s okay to apply this concept to our yards, or even our windowsills. With our monumental biodiversity problems, every inch of conservation counts.

Nature News Roundup for the Week

Historic Awesomeness: Biden had a massive climate day on Wednesday, including declaring climate change a national security priority, with an admirable environmental justice push. He received some colorful applause from former California Gov. Jerry Brown, who had a good answer for those who worry about job loss (that part starts at 3:15). U.S. climate envoy John Kerry also pointed out that it costs more to not do anything about climate change, noting that we spent 265 billion just on the three climate-supercharged hurricanes of 2017 (Harvey, Maria, and Irma). Oh, Irma. Steve and I had the delight of living at ground zero for the arrival of that 130-m.p.h. category 4 doozy, though from a devastated people standpoint, it was minnows compared with the other two.

But There’s Haters: Biden’s nature-saving path is setting the stage for an intense showdown. The good ol’ boys in fossil fuels, who have held us back from healthy change for decades — not just climate, there’s the rise of plastics, and remember the leaded gas coverup — don’t like to be told what to do. In this battle, increasingly reminiscent of the one with Mordor (as one side seems hellbent on forcing a dark, destructive era), lawsuits are the first arrows flying, and the Republican (Attorneys) Generals are polishing their swords. The more concerning foe, however, might be from within. As the New York Times points out, “An evenly divided Senate has given enormous power to any single senator, and one in particular, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who will lead the Senate Energy Committee and who came to the Senate as a defender of his state’s coal industry.” To illustrate the potential conflict, Manchin once shot a climate bill with a rifle for a TV campaign ad.

Rising Seas: Regardless of what the head-in-the-sanders argue, climate change pushes on with new surprises. It turns out that sea level may rise twice as fast as scientists thought, according to a new study, because of previously undocumented glacial undercutting.

Speak Up: If you read the deep dive on climate article from a few days ago, then you know that telling your politicians what you think about nature issues is a big thing you can do. Introduce yourself to your representatives through this page from Earthjustice. And, to find out your congressperson’s voting record on climate, and therefore hold them accountable, try this climate scorecard. If you live in West Virginia, PLEASE let Joe Manchin know what you think!

Mixed Motors: General Motors will stop selling gas-powered cars and SUVs by 2035, which sets a great example for others to follow, but the change doesn’t cover medium and heavy duty trucks, and given their polluting track record, many think this gesture comes with a healthy dose of greenwashing.

The Good Kind of Being Buffaloed: Meanwhile, there’s good news on the wild animal and Indigenous front. After 113 years, 18,800 acres of the National Bison Range and its herd is being returned to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana. The High Country News tells the story of the maze of hateful stereotypes and systemic racism the tribes had to negotiate to get this vital piece of their heritage and culture back. It’s going to be pretty amazing to see what our first Native American Interior Secretary can accomplish. Go Deb Haaland!

Giving Cruelty the Bird: Germany will become the first country to ban mass killing of male chicks, which are routinely gassed or shredded worldwide in the poultry industry since they don’t make eggs and aren’t as meaty as the girls.

Extinction Reprieves: In other bird news, the most endangered bird in the continental U.S., the tiny and adorable Florida grasshopper sparrow, can take a breath, thanks to a monumental captive breeding program. On the other side of the planet, one of the last remaining Swinhoe’s softshell turtles now may have a mate. Though revered by the Vietnamese — through the legend of their 15th century king who gave the magical sword he used to defeat the Ming dynasty to the turtle god — the 370-pound reptiles were hunted and killed through habitat destruction to the point that today there are only two (or maybe four) alive today.

And finally, our little house in the valley

For those following the saga of Steve and my bringing an abandoned house back to life in a rural Colorado… This has been a week filled with dust, pry-bars, sub-zero temps, and progress on gutting the walls.

So far, we are still happy with our choice to take on this project, especially because we’re getting to know the outside here. The San Luis Valley has been showing us her many moods, like this cloud avalanche over 14,344-foot Blanca Peak.

A parting thought.

We got this text from a friend, with the caption, “Hope you’re having this kind of day.”

Yes, I hope you are!

Note: I wasn’t able to determine the photographer, so apologies in advance for not giving them credit or asking permission for use, but it seems to be shared all over the web. I hope the smile it brings people will offset any copyright skirmishes.

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