Book Scene: Nature's best hope -- is all of us

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natures best hope

Plenty of science and nature writers are tackling the challenge of helping us understand and respond to the world’s big environmental problems. It can be downright depressing to face climate change, pollution and habitat loss, and bewildering to know how best to respond. I’m excited to recommend Douglas W. Tallamy’s uplifting new book, “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.”

Tallamy is a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. His 2008 book “Bringing Nature Home” showed readers how wildlife species, many of which humans depend on, are dying without the native plants they depend on.

Tallamy is optimistic. He lays a foundation, reminding us of the classic environmental visionaries, primarily Aldo Leopold with his “land ethic” and E.O. Wilson, champion of biodiversity. Their contributions are essential, and yet our continuing goals of development with more pavement, grass and mega-farms require a new conservation toolbox.

Loss of species is real: birds, bees (which pollinate our food crops) and butterflies are suffering serious die-offs. Our options? Continue to eliminate and degrade habitat until ecosystems collapse; remove ourselves from the planet; or learn how to meaningfully cohabitate. We cannot expect our government and land preserves alone to heal the land and save species.

The professor asks all who own or care for even the smallest properties to plant half in native species. He calls this the Homegrown National Park. The goal is to restore wildlife corridors and connect them with others. People benefit as well, from the thrill of discovery and a renewed connection with nature.

Tallamy’s years of research and practice assure us this can work. He shares stories of small victories: pocket prairies, heritage gardens with bubblers, the Highline walkway in New York City. Where people intentionally choose flora and fauna that co-evolve and skip the pesticides, life returns.

Full-color photos accompany much of the text. Rather than including long lists of native plants, the book adds links and references for readers to find appropriate species for their region. Local readers will want to educate themselves on plants from our arid shrub-steppe and riparian zones. A helpful list of questions, which Tallamy is frequently asked, concludes the book.

“Nature’s Best Hope” will be of interest not only to home gardeners and nature lovers. Tallamy’s book is for landscapers, homeowners associations and the decision-makers for schools, churches, corporate and school campuses and parks departments.

What resonates for me about Tallamy’s proposal is the hope that even I, in my small way, can contribute to the survival of wild creatures. I can literally see the change and thrill at the web of life in my neighborhood — a real grassroots movement. Together we can be nature’s best hope.

• “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard” by Douglas W. Tallamy was published by Timber Press on Feb. 4. It retails for $29.95.

• Amy Halvorson Miller works for Inklings Bookshop. She and other Inklings staffers review books in this space every week.

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