Conservation Comes Home

What you can do to defend invertebrates in your community

Even species we consider common may become increasingly at risk due to habitat loss and other factors. Photo: Justin Wheeler

If you are reading this, chances are you are aware of the many challenges facing invertebrates. Pollinators everywhere are suffering from loss of habitat and widespread use of pesticides. Monarchs have seen record population declines in recent years. Seven species of Hawaiian yellow faced bees were listed as endangered last fall and protection for the rusty patched bumble bee was announced but then delayed. Freshwater mussels are threatened across the U.S.

In the face of such news, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, and feel paralyzed by a sense of powerlessness. But here’s a secret: you have more power than you think.

Think about the lands you have influence over. Are you a homeowner with a large suburban lot? An apartment dweller with a community garden plot or planters on your patio? Chances are you live in a city with parks, schools, and municipal properties, as well as streams and watersheds that run throughout your community, managed by local officials and authorities.

With just those places you can …

  • • Increase habitat by planting or expanding a pollinator garden in your yard, and encouraging your neighbors to do the same.
  • • Work with members of your community garden to identify and encourage beneficial insects that provide chemical-free pest control.
  • • Contact your city council and ask them to reduce or eliminate pesticide use on public property and use native plants in their landscaping.
  • • Volunteer with your local watershed council or water authority to plant streamside vegetation and remove invasive plants.

This rain garden, planted with pollinator-friendly wildflowers, shrubs, and grasses was installed by the city and is maintained by local volunteers. Residents nearby could further expand the habitat by planting the adjacent sidewalk strip with pollinator-friendly annuals and perennials. Photo

Speak up for those without a voice

Often people are more receptive to protecting invertebrates than you may think; the thought just hadn’t occurred to them. Talk to friends, neighbors, and community groups and become an advocate for invertebrates. Even small cities typically host at least one farmers market, where you can engage with producers and ask what they are doing to protect pollinators on their lands. Are you a more accomplished writer than you are a gardener? Write to your local officials and news outlets and make the case for protecting invertebrates. You may even earn a new nickname as “the butterfly lady” or “that bee guy” in the process!

Farmers markets provide an opportunity to ask local growers how they are protecting pollinators. Photo Natalie Maynor, CC-BY-2.0

Bottom-up vs. Top-down

It may seem that the issues facing the animals we care about are so big they can only be addressed from the top through policy and by politicians, conservation groups, and scientists. In reality, change often happens from the ground up, as new practices—introduced locally—become nationwide trends. Community gardens, farmers markets, and gourmet coffee shops all started as local trends that spread globally, and many communities now embrace these concepts, welcoming them as amenities.

Local action at the community level also has the benefit of getting buy-in from your neighbors and community members—whereas legislation, mandated from on high, often meets with resistance and skepticism.

At Xerces, our approach remains the same, rooted in the values that have successfully guided us for 45 years. While we will continue to work at all levels to effect change, it will take all of us to protect invertebrates and their habitat. Over the coming months, we will share with you the resources needed to make meaningful change in your own backyard through a series of ideas, information, and personal stories that we hope will inspire you to take action in your own backyard and beyond this year.

by Justin Wheeler, Web and Communications Specialist