Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Homegrown Natural Communities

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Home Grown Natural Communities
by Ranger Steve Mueller

The Great Lakes Ecosystem is a broad term that includes 76 component natural communities within the boundaries of Michigan. A brief definition of natural community is an assemblage of plants, animals, and other life that live in similar environmental conditions governed by natural processes rather than human disturbances.

The “natural” reference separates the communities from those significantly modified by human activity. Our activities alter natural communities in ways that allow us to support our families, but they also can degrade conditions to make it difficult or impossible for many species to survive. We can live and thrive with native plant species by maintaining healthy yard communities that include life beyond a narrow human focus.

Important species that we rarely notice include insects, fungi, nematodes, and microorganism. They maintain healthy conditions essential to sustain a human population and native plants. Farm soils would not produce without a vast array of organisms that created their fertility. Insect pollinators are essential for many crops.

Many organizations work with a common vision for a sustainable future. The Nature Conservancy, Wild Ones, land conservancies, Izaak Walton League, National Wildlife Federation, Xerces Society, Audubon Society, Ducks Unlimited, hunting clubs, and a list that would continue for pages, all help. Most organizations focus on a specialized species group but all work to support natural communities supporting their interests.

To maintain a suitable living environment for people, we have national and state forests, wilderness areas, national, state, and county parks, plus a host of other shared public lands. The amount of private land ownership exceeds publicly owned land acreage. Theodore Roosevelt recognized that forests, wildlife, and watersheds were being damaged and even destroyed by human activities. He established national forests on public lands so they would be managed to maintain healthy human life conditions as a shared public resource.

His efforts significantly benefited the nation’s economic, environmental, and social wellbeing. Many people are working to eliminate publicly owned land and want it all privately owned. President Trump wanted to sell national parks and public lands to private owners to maximize profits instead of serving agency stated missions. His vision of privatization failed with Congress. He then opened public lands to increase resource extraction for private profits. My stance is society cannot thrive and succeed without adequate land protected for public needs such as water. Most public lands are already open for resource extraction. Using all land for personal gain is counter to public interest. Some land needs secure nature niches for present and future generations.

Dr. Doug Tallamy has championed a concept of “bringing nature home” with his book of the same title. The book clarifies why it is essential to maintain our private yards with portions reverted to conditions that support native plants, insects, and other life. He points out that sterile manicured lawns greatly exceed land protected by national parks. We can create “private national park” living conditions to maintain essential life. Such action would enhance our own health, still be private land, and maintain the wealth of species on Earth.

Lawns are life deserts that should be reduced if we hope to provide coming generations with a thriving social, economic, and environmental future. Eliminate any of those three and people along with all life will suffer.

Ody Brook maintains a small lawn free of pesticides and herbicides. The home yard had several mowed acres when purchased. It required excessive fuel, carbon output, and time for mowing. It was open yard to our neighbor’s house hundreds of feet away. I did not mow except in the vicinity of the house and trails to make for easy walking in the yard. More time was spent enjoying nature. Forty years later a forest grows between the homes providing visual privacy. Road noise in front of the house to the highway has been reduced by the presence of abundant plant life that supports more species of insects and vertebrates than I can easily identify.

Maintaining a natural community in your yard will help prevent an impoverished future for coming generations.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at [email protected] – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

Written for WORC e-News, Mar 2022