National parks have been getting a lot of love since the pandemic, so much so that this summer you need reservations at many places. For example, you need to make a reservation just to drive Montana’s legendary Going-To-The-Sun route in Glacier National Park, and passes can sell out within hours of being released.
It’s better than stalking parking lots before sunrise and finding trails turning into conga lines, but it makes me all the more interested in a new national park in the works. It’s even closer to home than I thought possible.
It’s also closer to home. “Homegrown National Park” is the brainchild of Doug Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware and author of “Nature’s Best Hope.” His speech: We have biological problems, and it has to do with things we often take for granted: the basics like soil and water, and pollinators for most of the crops we eat, without which we two-legged people could quickly disappear ourselves. . Half a century after DDT was banned, we’re still losing 60 million birds a year, and it’s not just their pretty song that’s at stake.
You might thank a yellow warbler, for example, for the coffee you drink, which could have been ruined in Costa Rica if it weren’t for the birds battling the plantation pests. As for those beams supporting the roof above your head? It was birds like the chickadee that helped protect this Doug Fir from the spruce budworm in the forest.
When it comes to the food chain, those of us at the top would do well to understand what’s at the bottom, and here’s the rub: it’s not enough to save trees. We also need birds and insects, and not all of them can live in national parks.
Despite the wealth of our public lands, most of the country is under private ownership. Tallamy’s idea is to leverage that with a slew of small projects — as small as an urban lot in the old railroad town of Livingston, Montana, or even a corner of your own front yard.
So this is my garden, and maybe yours. They don’t have to be ecologically pristine to have biological value, and you don’t have to dig up the whole lawn to make a difference. But if we build it, who will come? Even a few square feet of native plants can bring an extinct species home.
In Livingston, after Beth Madden planted her “postage stamp” lawn with native shrubs and wildflowers, the variety of visiting birds grew from seven species – mostly non-native starlings, pigeons, etc. – over 50. She saw flocks of warblers. feasting for hours on tiny insects to fuel their migration and a giant hawkmoth pollinating the new balm of bees.
In Bozeman, a resident who started out with a typical lawn found herself in the middle of a “pollinator wasteland,” despite being right across from a park of mowed grass and a few trees. Using thick layers of mulch and water-loving native plants, she transformed a warm, south-facing part of her yard into a haven for bees, moths and, soon, butterflies. As noted by conservationist Paulette Epple, “the last plant to bloom in the fall is the smooth aster and it’s always teeming with bees.”
Another bird lover tried for years to attract hummingbirds to her feeders, with no success. But after replacing her petunias and marigolds with more bird-friendly plantings, she was rewarded with her first calliope hummingbird.
Even in downtown New York, along reclaimed High Line Park, Doug Tallamy found native plants growing on “gravel”, as well as four species of native bees and two monarch butterflies feeding – all 30 feet above city traffic. My own yard is a study in benign neglect, but last spring my neighbor and I decided to put up a “friendship hedge” along our property line. Together we planted two types of native black currant bushes, and the pollinators were on them before we even put the tools away. In the fall, the bushes with the most berries turned out to be – surprise, surprise – the same variety as a wild currant that was already growing just up the hill.
You won’t find it in a travel brochure, but Homegrown National Park is open year-round. No crowds, no queues and no reservations required.
Asta Bowen contributes to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to stimulating lively conversation about the West. She writes in Montana.