Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Threat of Non-Natives To Sense of Place

My three-tenths of an acre lot, where two forested ridges intersect just south of downtown Durham, North Carolina, is three-quarters natural area, accented by the little more than ten percent that is covered by four strips and two patches of lawn.

This tiny area is protected by more than a hundred trees including an over-story of equal parts towering hardwoods and pines and just more than ten under-story trees including two just-planted Dogwoods.

All of the leaves have dropped now except for several stubborn Red Oaks, but several times a day during his nature breaks, Mugsy, my English bulldog and I find ourselves staring up in awe.

Except for three Crepe Myrtles down along the city right-of-way of my street, all but one of the trees are native.  However, the natural area under the trees is also covered by a hundred shrubs of different varieties, all but three evergreen and also including a handful of non-native species.

I’ve only recently been introduced to the differences between native and non-native species and have come to understand why the latter are especially important while reading the informative 2007 book by Dr. Doug Tallamy entitled Bringing Nature Home which has now been updated and expanded.

Tallamy is currently chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the 269-year-old University of Delaware.  At his personal website, the professor makes it easy to identify the plants that are native to various regions of the US such as ones found for North Carolina, where I live, when you click on that area of the map shown.

He also lists as resources the native plant websites specific to each state, such as the one for where I live and a series of academic studies on the subject.

When I read Maggie Koerth-Baker’s Eureka column in the New York Times a few days ago entitled Bloom Town, I was reminded of the science Dr. Tallamy cites about the importance of biodiversity such as that found in my yard, most of it naturally derived.

MKB is also the science editor at Boing Boing, a magazine turned group blog.  She notes [paragraphing inserted for ease of online reading] that:

“Over the course of the last century, we’ve developed those preferences and started applying them to a wide variety of natural landscapes, shifting all places — whether desert, forest or prairie — closer to the norm.

Since the 1950s, for example, Phoenix has been remade into a much wetter place that more closely resembles the pond-dotted ecosystem of the Northeast. Sharon Hall, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, said, ‘The Phoenix metro area contains on the order of 1,000 lakes today, when previously there were none.’

Meanwhile, naturally moist Minneapolis is becoming drier as developers fill in wetlands.”

One take-away is that our settlements are not just being homogenized architecturally and culturally but also naturally.  Devoid of place-based assets, far too many locales are losing their distinctiveness and unique sense of place, making them less interesting as places to visit, work or live.

My former colleagues in community-destination marketing should seek to understand the importance of native vs. non-native species and be just as concerned about the 80% that remains natural, on average, as they are the 20% that is impervious.

In addition to educating governing boards, they would be well-advised to make sure those who steward their cities, counties and states are equally aware.

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