Supporting nature through native plants
Development, agriculture and pesticides use have been the primary causes of habitat loss resulting in a dramatic decline in native species throughout California. Climate change, wildfires, and more severe drought are now putting added pressure on these populations. These issues are impacting how wildlife live, feed, and reproduce across the board resulting in unprecedented population declines.
Native insects, including pollinators, are among these threatened populations. Insects are the foundation of the food chain which serve as a food source for fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and many mammals. Approximately 96 percent of bird species feed their young with caterpillars.
Creating Homegrown Habitat is a way you can help!
It's Time for a Paradigm Shift
Homegrown Habitat Initiative
To help reverse the decline in wildlife populations, the El Dorado Chapter supports the Homegrown Habitat initiative to increase individual, community, and civic engagement in the effort to significantly increase numbers of native plants to support wildlife habitat and a healthy ecosystem.
Local Native Plants Are The Backbone of Ecosystems
Native plants have coevolved with a whole array of organisms and creatures in our region over millennia. The needs of these plants and animals are so interwoven that they need each other to survive and thrive. Introduced plants from other areas of the world do not provide local native wildlife with the resources they need.
What are California native plants?
All California native plants have the following in common:
- They grew here before Europeans arrived.
- They coevolved with the native animals, fungi, and microscopic life over millions of years.
- They have adapted to a region’s natural features, such as climate, soil, and availability of water.
- They are the building blocks of native ecosystems.
Some native plants are keystone plants, which means they are the backbone for an entire native habitat. Oak trees are a keystone species, and support more than 300 species of wildlife, including many pollinators, caterpillars and many species of beneficial insects.
Why California native plants?
Native plants provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for hundreds of wildlife species, including pollinators. Some native plants are the sole host plant for one species. One example is Monarch butterflies and milkweed. Milkweed is the host plant of the monarch butterfly. Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed and when the larvae hatch, they eat the plant before they metamorphose into adult monarchs.
Just like many of us are aware that healthy, fresh food supports a healthy gut microbiome (which supports a healthy us), native plants contribute to the health of organisms and wildlife that depend on them in the same way.
Key Reasons for Drastic Population Declines
Habitat Loss and Biodiversity
California has lost a large portion of its native landscape to development, agriculture, extreme drought, wildfire, and the spread of invasive species. All of these issues decimate native habitat, leaving wildlife with fewer places to feed, shelter and reproduce reducing biodiversity throughout the region.
A century of intensive logging, mining, railroad building, development, fire suppression followed by wildfires, and grazing by sheep and cattle have left only around 25 percent “intact” natural habitat in the Sierra Nevada. These practices have not only decimated populations of native plants and the wildlife dependent on them but has fragmented the habitat reducing its viability as well, making the populations in those areas more susceptible to smaller disturbances.
Use of Pesticides and Herbicides
Using pesticides and herbicides in our gardens to eliminate harmful insects and unwanted weeds has the side effect of also eliminating beneficial insects, including pollinators, that help keep the garden healthy and provide food for birds and other creatures. Native plants greatly increase the numbers and populations of beneficial insects in the garden, many of which are predatory and help control pests much like lady beetles do.
One of the most widely used groups of pesticides used today are neonicotinoids (also called neonics), They are neurotoxic insecticides designed to kill insects by attacking their nerve cells. They are non-discriminatory, killing good bugs as well as pests. Neonics persist in the soil and are taken up by new plants growing where other plants treated with them, killing more insects.
Because neonics are designed to kill insects, they kill pollinators – bees, butterflies, moths, etc. The use of neonics is proven to be a leading cause of the massive bee die-offs happening around the world that threaten our food security, agricultural economy, and environment.
How Can We Help?
While National and State parks and preserves play an important role in preserving habitat and the species they support, it is not enough. The important key to recovering and supporting our crucial biodiverse ecosystems is to increase native plant habitat in the landscapes of homes, businesses, and public spaces, thereby providing corridors and connection between existing natural areas. By simply by redesigning the landscapes in which we live, work, and play we can restore habitat everywhere; and by ceasing to use pesticides, we stop poisoning insects that wildlife depends on.
To accomplish this goal, there are three important steps we can take:
Protect native landscape
Support efforts to conserve remaining native habitat.
- Add more local native plants wherever possible
- Encourage park districts, water districts, and municipal governments to replace non-productive landscaping with native landscapes.
- Work to enact ordinances and planning guidelines that require native plants for all new development.
Do no harm
- Avoid using pesticides and herbicides.
- Learn about Integrated Pest Management to reduce the need to use chemicals in your landscape. (http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/menu.homegarden.html)