Growing up in Southern California, I became accustomed to the mass biodiversity the geography of the area provides. From mountain forests to coastal scrubland, Southern California has some of the most beautiful natural areas in the United States. Unfortunately, if you go there today, much of the area has been developed and turned into vast metropolises or suburban sprawl. Although many of the state parks are in the area, one cannot help but feel, smell, and hear the effects of the bordering concrete jungles. Fortunately, Southern California can boast in a robust national forest and park system. As a young boy and teen, I learned to appreciate the remote, wild feel of the San Bernardino and Cleveland National Forests, as well as the Santa Rosa-San Jacinto Mountain National Monument. I will forever treasure fond memories traveling to various National Parks, particularly Redwoods, Sequoia, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone.
You can imagine my surprise when I came across the message from conservationist and biologist E.O. Wilson who said to save our world’s biodiversity we need to preserve half of it! Douglas Tallamy, in his book Nature’s Best Hope, states that 83% of the land in the United States is privately owned (2019, p. 47). Considering Americans contribute over $21.1 Billion (Molde and Smith, 2015, Table 1) towards conservation annually, I cannot help but pause and ask how effective are these conservation efforts? Douglas Tallamy proposes a practical solution: every landowner convert half of their existing lawn to native plants. He calls this idea the Homegrown National Park. If every landowner were to convert half of their lawns to native landscaping, this would effectively produce the largest national park in the United States.
If we are to be stewards of the earth, for the average U.S. homeowner, converting our lawns to native plants is the most practical means to supporting conservation efforts and restoring our natural spaces. Backyard conservation isn’t necessarily easy; however, starting with the lawn is the simplest place to start. My favorite method for lawn-to-native conversions is through killing the lawn in place, then planting native plants where the grass used to be. If one wants to be artistic, they can put a decorative border around their property line. Another fun way to support wildlife, particularly birds, is by planting a privacy hedge. A great way to support butterflies and moths is to plant natives around trees to create “soft landings” for caterpillars when they fall off trees to pupate.
Conservation often falls victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Many people don’t think conservation is needed because of park systems or preserved forests; however, conservationist are telling us more needs to be done to preserve the biodiversity of our ecosystems. We homeowners, as stewards of our own properties, are able to have a positive impact simply by how we maintain our backyards. Converting our existing landscaping to native plants is both practical, and effective.
I invite you to join our community as we convert our lawns to native plants and provide habitat, food, and water to local wildlife. In little time at all you will begin to notice more activity as birds come to your yard to eat and drink.