Bringing Nature to DuPage County

October 14, 2012

Welcome to “Home Grown National Park”

Has it really been four years since author Doug Tallamy was on my show? He and I were both pretty flabbergasted when we realized that was indeed the case. Regardless of how long it’s been, I’m thrilled to have him back.

In fact, I might ask him to write me a check. That’s because Tallamy is the author of a book that I have been promoting ever since I got my hands on it: Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens. He is also Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware, where he has written more than 65 research articles and has taught insect taxonomy, behavioral ecology, and other subjects.

He will be in town next Saturday to speak to the Greater DuPage Chapter of Wild Ones. They teamed with the Illinois Native Plant Society, Forest Preserve District DuPage County, The Conservation Foundation, Sierra Club – River Prairie Group and Forest Preserve District of Will County to make this appearance happen. However, if you’re thinking about attending the talk, you can pretty much forget about it, because all of the seats have been reserved. If you feel like taking a chance, walk-ins will be seated without advanced reservation only if seats are available 15 minutes after the start of the event. It will be held at the Holiday Inn, 205 Remington Boulevard in Bolingbrook.

If you miss this event, never fear. If you’re near Bloomington, Illinois, tomorrow, October 15, he will be making a presentation for the Wild Ones Illinois Prairie Chapter. That will be at 7:00 pm at Heartland Community College, Astroth Community Education Center Auditorium. Professor Tallamy will also be appearing at the Wild Things 2013 Conference on Saturday, February 2, 2013 at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

So why is Tallamy’s book such a big deal and why has it sold more than 45,000 copies? (It was updated and expanded in 2009.) It’s because he offers an entirely new way of looking at why native plants are important. Tallamy explains in his book that when we use “alien” plants in our landscapes–that is to say, plants that come from other continents–we are failing to provide nourishment for our own native insects. Why? Because insects have spent tens of millions of years evolving with the plants around them and are either incapable of or not interested in consuming the alien species. As a result, birds, amphibians, lizards, fish and mammals who rely on insect populations to thrive have less food and see their populations decline.

Look at the landscapes around you and you might get some understanding of what I’m talking about. Plants like Norway Maples, Bradford Pears, privet, oriental bittersweet, burning bush, English ivy, Japanese maple and even daylilies are not native to North America, and are not valuable food sources for insects.

So individual land owners really play a huge role in maintaining insect populations. Tallamy says that the way you landcape your yard is going to determine how much life you have in your yard.

For instance, he has been studying Carolina chickadees on his own property as a way of determining how much food is needed to support certain foodwebs. From personal observation, he has determined that to feed a chickadee from hatching to the point where they can leave the nest, it takes 4800 caterpillars.

Should I let that sink in? 4800 caterpillars to bring one chickadee clutch (around six eggs) to independence–and a chickadee weighs 1/3 ounce! A chickadee takes about sixteen days to leave from the nest. If you do the math, that’s an average of 300 caterpillars per day, or one every three minutes! Not only that, but the chickadees generall forage within 50 meters of the nest (that’s about 164 feet, in case you don’t have your handy “convert meters to feet” tool handy).

The point here is that if you have a lawn–which some people consider a “biological desert”–you’re probably not providing enough habitat for even one chickadee chick to survive.

So Tallamy has hatched an idea called “Home Grown National Park.” He posits that if we all convereted 50% of our lawns to biological corridors, we would create 20,000,000 acres of viable habitat–more than three times the size of Denali National Park in Alaska. As you can see, he’s not talking about abandoning “traditional” landscaping altogether–just making room for wildlife other than your neighbor’s teenage son.

Meanwhile, Tallamy wants people to get on board with his citizen science project to determine exactly which birds are eating which insects. If you take photos of your prized backyard birds–especially if they’re in the process of eating insects–consider sending them to Doug Tallamy at dtallamy@udel.edu. Tallamy would like to establish a website based on those photos that would help entomologists determine the feeding habits of birds.

This week’s items of interest

  • Here’s a short note from friend of the show Jessica Rinks (a.k.a. SnappyJDog):

The Forest Park Community Garden (which I am involved in) is having a fundraiser on Sunday October 21st from 2 to 5pm. We’ve tried to think outside the box as far as fundraisers go so we’ll be having an apple pie bake-off being held at Molly Malone’s pub in Forest Park and will also include a silent auction (Troy-bilt snowblower, bulls opening game tickets, for example) and door / raffle prizes. We need pie baker contestants and we need people to buy tickets to attend the event (and we’re always delighted to accept more raffle/silent auction item donations). Proceeds from the event will go to help us pay for garden maintenance for 2013.

  • The City of Durango, Colorado is in the middle of a battle about using pesticides on its public lands. It led to parents canceling yesterday’s entire slate of youth soccer games because the playing fields had been sprayed with synthetic chemicals. You go, Durango!
  • Who likes organic and non-GMO foods? Rich and powerful people, that’s who.
  • Don’t forget that Green Town Highland Park, a zero waste, carbon neutral event, is later this week, October 18-19 at The Art Center in Downtown Highland Park, Illinois.
  • CitiesAlive: 10th Annual Green Roof and Wall Conference, is being held from October 17 to 20 in Chicago. And why not? The Windy City has more completed green roof projects than any North American city.
  • The Southeast Environmental Task Force and Friends of the Parks invite you to explore the Millennium Resrve/Calumet Core on their Open Spaces/Green Places Tour on Saturday, October 20.
  • Cermak Road in Chicago seems an unlikely place to show off green technology, yet Grist reports that the The Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Street Scape is blazing a green trail.
  • Hubboy, just when you thought it was safe to raise chickens in the city, there’s a new concern…lead in eggs.
  • Tweet of the week from @MaryAnn DeSantis. Who knew that LBJ was capable of such a statement?
  • And, for you astronomy fans, how about a planet that contains a thick layer of diamonds? You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Actually, you can but this appears to be the real deal.

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