I’ve had all kinds of thoughts running through my head lately as I witness Nebraska’s extreme drought influencing insect populations and other wildlife. Just last night I had nine birds at once on a small birdbath, and several more at the fountain. I usually raise 150-200 monarch butterflies but this year it will be around 20. The usual hundreds of soldier beetles are gone from fall-blooming joe pye weed, I’ve seen only a scant few large predator spiders, the goldenrods were blooming two weeks ago, my maple tree has already turned orange…. Well, you know.
Recent polls (of which I can no longer find the links to) list the American public in believing more about pollution as influencing our environment vs. climate change and global warming being caused by humans; it seems like you can’t believe in the former without also believing in the latter.
Susan Tweit’s recent post about backyards as wildlife arks also struck home with me because I recently discussed a new park here in Lincoln on my personal blog. My city has been in overdrive trying to make itself look like a big boy city, building a new stadium downtown, adding lofts, hotels, restaurants, and now beautifying with city parks. The newest is Union Plaza, which also doubles as a flood control channel that is dry most years.
The city parks board put in buffalo grass—and that’s it. No taller grasses, no native prairie forbs. I recently found out the reason is two fold: first, that there are no prairie plants that could survive a flooding event, and second, that the parks board seems to be very skittish about tall grass. To the first I say rain gardens, which are gaining momentum here, with even the city paying some residents to install them. I could also say swamp milkweed, ironweed, new England aster, sedges, rudbeckia, joe pye weed… all deeply-rooted so they could survive drought and the tearing pressure of floodwaters.
Drive around town to local parks you see one of two European landscape ideals in full bloom: that of the French formal with grand avenues and symmetrical plantings, or English pastoral, a replication of a bucolic pasture with scattered trees. This second one, mind you, should work here in the prairie, since, well, prairie is a field of grass with some trees. Lincoln has a chance to embrace (or restore) its prairie heritage and teach people about our region, which was not originally covered in center pivots spraying corn and soybeans.
Union Plaza in Lincoln will soon be planted with a few “drought tolerant” trees and shrubs, and will likely go unused by afternoon workers downtown on lunch break. But if swaths of native grasses and flowers were there, we’d have a destination, perhaps a tourist trap—we’d also have less maintenance, far more insects and birds, and Lincoln would transcend the big boy cities in one sudden leap. We’d get people outside, I tells ya. There are plans to prairie up the edges of an interstate leading into town, and to create a prairie corridor between one park and an Audubon prairie six miles away. These environmental meccas may never happen, or may happen decades from now. What we can do now, though, is re-envision smaller city and suburban green areas / margins that are underutilized and sort of get our feet wet–or at least begin to open the public’s eyes to natural environments for healthy wildlife and humans, because you can’t have one healthy life without the other. We can embrace our region, our climate, our soil, our wilderness one bit at a time, and the city should more boldly lead the way. We aren’t in France or England, we are in Nebraska, and the more we deny our place, the more we deny ourselves—and that’s no way to live our already short, troubled lives on this planet.
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