Monday, June 20, 2016

Join the Butterfly Trail!

Discovery Day at the Carter Center

This past weekend my husband and I had the pleasure of attending the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail Discovery Day at the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta. The Butterfly Trail was established when former First Lady, Mrs. Carter became concerned after learning about the plight of the Monarch Butterfly and wanted to do something about it. She contacted Annette Wise, Program Director at the Jimmy Carter Education Program, who helped her start a butterfly garden at her home in Plains, Georgia to increase public awareness of the problem, especially for children, and to teach about the importance of planting milkweed. By creating her garden in Plains, Mrs. Carter inspired the creation of other butterfly gardens across the state and the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail began. Now the trail includes over 300 public, private and school gardens across the state of Georgia and the U.S. The pollinator garden at the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta is one of the gardens on the Butterfly Trail. Up until a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail, but now I know a lot more and have already added our garden to the trail map!

The Pollinator Garden at the Carter Center

Proclaiming Pollinator Week and Recognizing the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail

We spent a fun and informative morning learning about butterflies and their habitat. We listened to speakers, including Mrs. Carter (!) who talked about the project and the importance of butterfly conservation. We watched a fun children's play about monarchs and visited the discovery stations. The activities were geared to children and it was very exciting to see the enthusiasm of the next generation of conservationists! At the end of the morning we purchased some native butterfly host and nectar plants to bring home to our own garden. It was a wonderful and uplifting day.

Mrs. Carter Speaking About Monarchs

Discussion After the Children's Play

Educational Stations

Creating Seed Balls

Monarch Caterpillar on Milkweed

Male and Female Monarchs

Monarch Body Prints to Test for Presence of a Protozoan Parasite
To Learn More About Citizen Science Projects Like This, Click HERE

The Local North American Butterfly Association (NABA) Chapter Had an Activity Table
Find Your Local Chapter and Join HERE

Butterfly Host Plants Native to the Georgia Piedmont Region

The migration of millions of Monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico and back again every year is one of the world's natural wonders. But loss of habitat, development, the disappearance of milkweed (the Monarch caterpillar's host plant), pesticide use and other factors have all contributed to drastic declines in the population of the amazing Monarch Butterfly and threaten their existence. Monarchs are important pollinators and are wonderful and beautiful to look at. Their decline can be seen as an indicator of greater troubles in the world's ecosystems, and protecting them and their habitat will help other pollinators, as well as the creatures (like us) who depend on the pollinators. Learning about and protecting Monarchs and other butterflies and pollinators is an excellent way to teach people, young and old alike, about the interdependent web of life. Conservation efforts are already paying off and the numbers of Monarchs are on the rise again. You can be part of the solution! To learn more about the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail, click HERE. It is easy to add your garden to the list of stops along the trail. Celebrate National Pollinator week by joining in!

A Pollinator Visits the Garden

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

If You Build it, They Will Come. And Then What?

Once an Urban Habitat 
I recently learned that the yard at our old house in Florida is being re-landscaped, a year after we sold it. As is their right, the new owners are making the house their own, including the garden. We are doing the same with our new home. They may have plans for new flower patches, but for now the colorful array of native wildflowers and butterfly host plants that I put in over the span of 10 years has been removed and is being replaced with sod. I feel heartbroken about it, but I can also see that the yard as I left it took a certain amount of specific care (that I was willing to give) or it would quickly get out of hand. It was probably a lot crazier than many people are comfortable with. I was always on the lookout for sprouts from aggressive plants so I could pick them while they were small and easy to control. Because the yard was my baby, I knew what the weeds looked like and when to start yanking out spiderwort, pipevine, blue curls and goldenrod before they took over. The new owners may have initially intended to keep the garden but perhaps it just got to be too much work for them to keep up with. Or maybe they didn't like that kind of yard. I get that. A wildlife habitat yard is not for everyone. And it is their house, to do with what they choose. I wish that they weren't replacing the garden with sod, which is a terrible waste of water and has no wildlife value, but that is another story.

By Mid Summer, it Could Get Crazy

The thing that is nagging at me the most is the loss of habitat. We had created a wildlife sanctuary in an urban neighborhood, and now it is gone. There were a lot of beautiful and interesting native plants in our yard, some rare or endangered that I rescued and propagated. We rarely had to water and never used fertilizers or pesticides. We composted the fallen leaves in place as mulch. What is going to happen to the native bees and butterflies that used the nectar and host plants in the yard? Where will the tiny pinewoods snakes, glass lizards and southern toads hunt and hide? I planted foxtail grasses and berry bushes, and left the seed heads on flowers in the winter for the birds. Will they be expecting to find seeds in that space when they migrate next year? Where will the families of brown thrashers who tossed through the leaf mulch go for their bugs? What happens to wildlife when we create safe spaces for them, but then take it away? This must happen all the time. Homes switch owners. People move. Neighborhoods change. Yards are redone. Empty lots get developed. But what happens to the wildlife? I guess the creatures move on and adapt, if they can. If there are other suitable habitats nearby, which is not always the case, especially in the city. I know of only a handful of wild, native yards in our former neighborhood, so I worry. I tend to anthropomorphize, and I keep imagining bewildered pipevine swallowtails, bees and baltimore orioles trying to find their way back to a home that is no longer there. But short of some sort of homeowner's covenant that requires nature friendly landscapes, you can't force future owners of property to carry on the plans of the past inhabitants. So what can you do? Is creating a backyard nature habitat ultimately futile? I would like to think not. In the end, I would venture that, to mangle Tennyson, "'tis better to have created a garden and lost it than to never have created one at all". We made a difference, if only for a few years. One thing that could help would be to make sure that the wildlife garden you create is not the only one in your vicinity. If you are going to create a backyard nature habitat, encourage your neighbors to plant at least a little patch of sanctuary in their yard, too, so that the loss of one habitat won't be catastrophic.

Brown Thrasher Feeding Chick

Woodland Poppymallow (Callirhoe papaver), Endangered and Rescued

Glass Lizard on the Front Porch

Pipevine Swallowtail Eggs in the Front Yard

But the question remains--what happens to the wild places after they have been preserved? What happens when the next generation does not share the conservation ethic of its predecessors? Can any place be preserved forever? This is playing out all over the country. Our national program of wilderness preservation in National and State Parks and public land, "the best idea America ever had", is being viewed with new sets of eyes. These eyes do not see wild majesty that should be left alone to protect it for the future, as President Theodore Roosevelt did when he dedicated the Grand Canyon as a National Monument, saying "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it; not a bit. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see. Keep the Grand Canyon as it is." These new eyes don't see the point. They see instead vast tracts of wasted opportunity. Empty land for off-road recreation or new sub-divisions, untapped resources to be exploited, money to be made. Anti-government activists in the West occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon for weeks in a violent takeover, claiming that the land belonged "to the people", not to the government. My beloved Paynes Prairie State Park Preserve, as well as other state parks in Florida, is being seriously examined by the Governor and the aptly named Department of Natural Resources as a potential source of grazing, logging and hunting fees. Oil derricks pump and chug across the beautiful and remote high desert of Utah. It is so discouraging. Personally, I think we should be preserving more, not less of our land, and am intrigued by the idea proposed by biologist E. O. Wilson who believes that we should set aside half of the earth, free from people, to protect our planet's biodiversity. Our fragile interdependent web of life is at risk from human activity and we are all going to suffer if we don't act to protect as many of the earth's biological systems as we can. We humans are not alone on this planet.

Somewhere in Desolation Canyon, Utah

On a happier note, we have a new wildlife garden in the early stages at our new home in Georgia. It is still very new and young, and we had a native plant landscaper start the planting for us this time so it wouldn't take 10 years. Soon it will be humming and buzzing and alive with wildlife. And at least 3 other houses on our street have similar gardens, so we have strength in numbers. But someday someone else will move into our house or our neighbors' houses and they may want a new garden. And then what will happen to the wild places when we are gone?

Starting Again