Douglas W. Tallamy: “Bringing Nature Home”
The keynote speaker was Dr. Douglas Tallamy, professor and Chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, and author of the wonderful book “Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens.”
In his book, Professor Tallamy reviews how the plant world is the crucial base that converts the sun’s energy into food energy and how plant diversity supports insect diversity, which in turn supports the diversity of bird and other animal species.
We all know that bird food comes in bags and is cracked corn and sunflower seeds, right? You may have a different view if you treat yourself to reading Dr. Tallamy’s book. The chapter that is titled “What Does Bird Food Look Like?” contains photo after photo of amazing native insects and their sometimes disgusting eggs and larvae. Those insects, he says, are crucial food for our native songbirds.
He studies the ability of insects to propagate on and to eat native and nonnative plants and explains why our important native insect species usually are not able to thrive (or even to survive) on nonnative plants. His tenet is that development, along with the common landscaping trap of pristine lawn plus ornamental shrubs, is destroying crucial habitat for insects. He argues that we must protect habitat and actively choose to landscape our yards with native plants that will sustain and save our insects, our birds, and our planet. Then, he provides helpful native plant lists for our region.
More information about his work can be found at his website, Homegrown National Park
President’s 2012 Annual Report
Our Annual Meeting in May was truly memorable. The keynote speaker, Professor Douglas Tallamy, had a very important message, which affected many in the audience. His message was this: “Because we humans have disrupted natural ecosystems in so many ways and in so many places, the future of our nation’s biodiversity is dim unless we start to share our landscapes with the plants and animals that evolved there.” He asks us to take a look at our own yards and gardens and ask ourselves what the connection is between our own plants and the larger ecosystem. He tells us that the trees and plants that host our native caterpillars are most important because they are the most valuable food source for species of concern, like migratory birds. He has provided a list of plants and their relative value for hosting caterpillars to help us make choices.
I had been generally aware of the importance of native plants before Professor Tallamy’s talk, but I, like many in the audience, wasn’t fully aware of why native plants are so important. Not only are the hostas we love so much not supporting the caterpillars and insects our birds need, but other plants we use widely in our Newton gardens, like Japanese Spirea, do the additional damage of taking over and outcompeting native plants. These non-native plants are popular because they tend to look good throughout the growing season, unlike many natives, which often bloom in the spring leaving holes in the garden in the middle of summer. The lesson I took away was not to judge your garden by how good it always looks but by the extent to which it supports the surrounding natural environment. And if you want it to always look good, with a little more thought and planning, you can find native plants that have appeal all summer long.
After the speech I nearly did myself in taking out some particularly invasive non native plants and replanting natives. My hat goes off to Professor Tallamy-it’s not easy to get people to change their ways. I urge all our members to give thought to these issues and to try to educate others, including local landscapers, who often suggest showy non natives they believe will make their customers happy. For more information about plants that provide good food for birds and insects, read Beth Shroeder’s article in this edition of our newsletter.
At the meeting we also had fun honoring our awardees, the Charles River Watershed Association for their 46 years of successful work making the Charles the cleanest urban river in the nation; State Representative Kay Khan and The Bicycle Pedestrian Task Force for their restoration of the Newton Lower Falls bridge, and former President Eric Reenstierna for his years of work on the Conservators’ board. We in Newton have benefitted enormously from these efforts, and were very happy to be able to express our gratitude.
On a slightly less upbeat note, it is regrettable that the Newton Parks and Recreation Commission decided at its May meeting to allow the West Newton Little League to build a permanent building for a concession stand, toilet and storage area at Lyons Field in Auburndale Park. The City will own the building. Once again the City is allowing a permanent structure in a park that has no general park purpose and will be the City’s ultimate responsibility to maintain. The City owns at least two other buildings in other parks-Nahanton Park and Kennard Park-one used by the building department, the other used by a school-related nonprofit entity, which have no connection to those parks. This misuse brings City trucks and unnecessary trash into Nahanton Park and extra cars and inappropriate signage into Kennard Park. Although the City has agreed to try to find park-related uses for these buildings, that is a difficult thing to do. Moreover, the City cannot afford to maintain these buildings, and they are in horrible disrepair. Now the Parks and Recreation Commission is allowing the City to own yet another permanent structure that has no general park purpose and that ultimately it will likely be unable to maintain properly. We urged the Commission not to do this, and they chose to ignore our concerns entirely. Kids can play Little League without permanent buildings. This was a regrettable, short sighted decision.
I hope you all have a lovely summer, and we hope to see you at some of our events and activities.
Jane Sender, President
Environmentalists of the Year: Charles River Watershed Association
For their work to bring CRWA to the national forefront of urban river restoration.
Executive Director Bob Zimmerman and Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel Margaret Van Deusen are a formidable team, and have brought CRWA to the national forefront of urban river restoration. In fact, the EPA considers the Charles River now to be the cleanest urban river in the nation. The strength of the team, which also includes Kate Bowditch and Julie Wood, is that they have brought a rigorous, science-based approach to their public and legal advocacy. It has taken enormous hard work to build the organization to the point of being able to bring these resources to bear identifying the river’s problems and working toward solutions.
While they have achieved international and national recognition, we as the local folks benefit the most from their hard work. The watershed is habitat to hundreds of species of fish, birds, mammals, and insects. The river provides recreational opportunities to thousands of people as well. On behalf of all who benefit from your work as stewards of one of the oldest watershed associations in the country – at 46 CRWA is just a few years younger than the Newton Conservators, at 51 – we thank you.
This was the 31st Environmentalist of the Year Award presented by the Newton Conservators to an individual or group who has made a distinguished environmental contribution to our community.
Charles Johnson Maynard Award: State Representative Kay Khan and George Kirby and Sean Roche of the Newton Bicycle Pedestrian Task Force
The Charles Johnson Maynard Award is given each year to recognize efforts “to improve biodiversity, habitat reclamation, and natural resource protection.”
This group led the effort to turn an unused and dangerous old railroad bridge into a lovely, pedestrian friendly green space, restoring the banks along the river, connecting Newton and Wellesley, and providing access to trails on DCR land along the Charles River.
It was not at all easy to achieve this. The project started thanks to the State’s Accelerated Bridge Program in 2008, and came into being with the leadership and hard work of Rep. Khan, George Kirby, and Sean Roche, working with the Newton Conservators, the Wellesley Natural Resources Committee, CRWA, and DCR. It was finally completed in 2011. If you haven’t been there – it is off Concord Street in Newton and off Rt. 16 where the old Grossmans was in Wellesley, it is definitely worth a trip.
Sean and George work extremely hard week in and week out, year after year, to get people to drive less and bike and walk more. This is complicated, important work touching on many issues, and not as easy as it should be. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on May 8th, 2012.
Directors’ Award: Eric Reenstierna
The Conservators gave Eric Reenstierna a Directors’ Award for his commitment to open space protection in Newton.
Eric served on the Newton Conservators board from 2001 to 2011, was president in 2003 and 2004. He is now a Newton Conservators advisor. Eric was the sparkplug behind our Land Acquisition Committee. It was during Eric’s tenure that Newton adopted the Community Preservation Act, making public funds available for open space land acquisitions.
Eric’s background as a land appraiser has been invaluable to the Conservators, as property valuation is a key component in CPA deals. Eric’s skills and expertise were crucial to the success of the Dolan Pond-76 Webster Park project as well the successful Kesseler Woods and Newton Community Farm projects.