Donna Quinn, our Habitat Herald coordinator, also writes articles for her community newsletter. Here she shares some wonderful insights between us and the insects around us. Please do not spray pesticides in your yard – they’re not good for you, not good for the environment in which we live and that we rely upon.
Today in our super-sized lives, bigger is often considered better — and more is even better than that. But in the natural world, the smallest things can have the biggest impact. Small matters, too!
One of the most important tasks required to make the food we eat is undertaken by the smallest creatures: pollination. Bees, butterflies and other insects, and animals such as birds and bats, pollinate nearly $20 billion worth of products annually in the U.S. alone. Apples, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, pumpkins, melons, broccoli, corn, peppers, cucumbers, almonds and chocolate are just some of the fruits, vegetables and nuts pollinators help produce. We need these small critters in a big way.
The scary news is many pollinator populations are in steep decline. We’ve learned bees are disappearing and Monarch populations are at all time low. Many bird species also show a steady decline in numbers. There are numerous reasons. Increased use of pesticides at home is an obvious one. When we spray our lawns and gardens with chemicals, we kill pollinators in addition to the intended target. The propagation of genetically modified crops (GMOs) has also had a tremendous effect on pollinators. GMOs enable growers to spray crops with pesticides and herbicides that can kill everything except for the GMO crop, thereby eliminating insect populations and beneficial farm companion plants such as milkweed. Pesticides aren’t good for humans, either, and it is best to avoid direct as well as indirect (through eating chemically-treated food products and GMO crops) exposure.
Another threat to our pollinators is the loss of their native host plants. Many insects are dependent on a specific plant or group of plants for reproduction. A vivid example of this is the Monarch butterfly which lays eggs exclusively on milkweed. Monarchs must have milkweed to reproduce; if we remove milkweed from our landscapes, we will no longer have Monarch butterflies. Native plants such as milkweed are critical to the survival of pollinators and critical to the local food chain. Here too, you can make a difference. Just a small number of native plants in your garden can mean a lot to pollinators and other helpful insects and animals.
Buying foods from local farms that avoid using pesticides and support biodiversity also helps our pollinators. Get to know your local farmers and learn about their farming practices. In addition to helping pollinators, you will be amazed at the taste difference when you eat locally grown foods. And here’s more food for thought – if each household in Loudoun County spent just $10 of their weekly food dollars on locally grown agricultural products, it could bring $58 million into the county economy each year. Small changes bring big benefits!
Even if you aren’t very fond of bugs, there are also some basic dollars and sense reasons to care about small insects and the animals they support. Texas Tech University scientists examined the link between green spaces, wildlife, and home prices. Their study revealed that residential housing lots that hosted at least two less common bird species could be worth $32,000 more than the average lot. Small matters! It appears that by planting native plants, eliminating pesticides and encouraging biodiversity, you can make a big difference in your pocket book and the environment.
In addition to appreciating their critical role in our food and ecosystems, a bit of tolerance is necessary to save our pollinators. Welcome a few tattered leaves in your garden as signs that something vital is happening in your backyard. You’ve provided a home and food for a something small that matters very much.