Posts Tagged NC plant conservation groups

Protecting our Gardens

Monarch butterflies are less likely to visit your lantanas if  milkweeds to feed their caterpillars don't grow nearby.

Monarch butterflies are less likely to visit your lantanas if native milkweeds to feed their caterpillars don’t grow nearby.

Most avid gardeners understand that their home landscapes don’t grow in a botanical vacuum. Our little tomato patches, and rose and cottage gardens all grow within a larger context. In my case, that context is the southeastern piedmont region of the United States. It’s easy to forget this larger context when we are battling aphids on our tomatoes or worrying about black spots on our rose leaves, but it’s important not to forget.

Dragonflies need access to healthy wetlands for egg laying. In return, they scour the skies for pesky insects from dawn to dusk.

Dragonflies need access to healthy wetlands for egg laying. In return, they scour the skies for pesky insects from dawn to dusk.

I was reminded of the interconnectedness of the natural world and the increasing fragility of those connections when I recently attended the annual meeting of the NC Friends of Plant Conservation (FOPC). This small nonprofit organization was created to help support the work of the NC Plant Conservation Program (NCPCP), a tiny NC government group charged with conserving native plant species in their native habitats now and for future generations. David Welch, the Administrator of this NC program says his group is one of the only one of its kind in the country targeting the preservation of rare plant species. He says, “We’re breaking new ground, setting the standards in this field.”

Native Atamasco lilies are not rare or endangered, but they are harder to find in the wild, due to the destruction of their wetland habitats.

Native Atamasco lilies are not rare or endangered, but they are harder to find in the wild, due to the destruction of their wetland habitats.

This year’s meeting of the Friends of Plant Conservation focused on  the preservation status of rare plant species native to the piedmont region of North Carolina. You should visit the Web sites of the FOPC and NCPCP for all the details, but as I understand it, the ultimate goal of the NCPCP is to establish two preserves for each plant species on their list. They use data from the NC Natural Heritage Program to identify which plant species are most imperiled, and to learn where they are still known to exist.

Migrating Rose-breasted Grosbeaks won't stop at my feeders if the surrounding environment doesn't meet their requirements for native cover and food.

Migrating Rose-breasted Grosbeaks won’t stop at my feeders if the surrounding environment doesn’t meet their requirements for native cover and food.

 

The NCPCP divides my state into four regions: mountains, piedmont, inner coastal plain, and outer coastal plain. Currently, the NCPCP has 419 plant species on their list of plants they need to preserve; 21 of these are on the federal protection list. That breaks down to 177 mountain species, 87 piedmont species, 92 inner coastal plain species, and 157 outer coastal plain species. For those who are counting, that adds up to more than 419, because some of these rare species occur in more than one geographic region of NC.

At best, the NCPCP is managing to create one preserve a year. At the rate they’re going, many of the endangered species will likely be gone before the NCPCP can protect them. The FOPC is trying to help accelerate preserve creation by soliciting funds from the public, but they are a tiny, mostly unknown nonprofit. They need the help of every North Carolina lover of the natural world, which is why I’m writing about them today.

I recently read that young toads are dying in record numbers due to the infection of nonnative Japanese Stiltgrass in their habitats. The grass favors native wolf spiders, which lurk in the grass and kill and eat the young toads. Every link in the Web of life is affected when we break the chain via habitat destruction and change.

I recently read that young toads are dying in record numbers due to the invasion of nonnative Japanese Stiltgrass in their habitats. The grass favors native wolf spiders, which lurk in the grass and kill and eat the young toads. Every link in the web of life is affected when we break the chain via habitat destruction and change.

Early in this century, a number of federal and state programs existed that granted funds to organizations like the FOPC and NCPCP to enable them to do their work. But I learned at this meeting from Jason Walser, Executive Director of The Land Trust for Central North Carolina, that today only 10% of the funding once available for land protection is available today. Only ten percent!

Luna moths need healthy native forests to thrive.

Luna moths need healthy native forests to thrive.

Why should we gardeners care about preserving rare species? I can think of several reasons. First, as lovers of beauty and appreciators of the gifts plants bestow on us, we value the exquisite beauty of all plants, especially the rare ones. From an ecological perspective, rare and endangered species are the proverbial canaries in coal mines. Before the days of oxygen sensors in coal mines, miners carried canaries with them, because the birds were more sensitive to low oxygen levels than humans. If the canaries suddenly keeled over, the miners knew they had only minutes to evacuate the mine before they too died. The demise of rare plants usually points to environmental degradation. Factors such as pollution, habitat destruction via land clearing, habitat fragmentation, and the introduction of invasive non-native species are destroying the special environments that shelter these species. When they start disappearing, we know we are losing pieces of our ecosystems. No one knows how many links in the chain can disappear before the entire ecosystem fails. Personally, I don’t want to find out.

Once an abundant wildflower of the north slopes of piedmont forests, Bloodroot numbers  are dwindling due to habitat degradation. They aren't endangered yet, but current trends don't work in their favor.

Once an abundant wildflower of the north slopes of piedmont forests, Bloodroot numbers are dwindling due to habitat degradation. They aren’t endangered yet, but current trends don’t work in their favor.

As our native ecosystems are degraded, their health declines. When native plant species disappear, the native animals that need them — insects, arachnids, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals — also disappear. As gardeners, we should be paying attention, because this will affect our home landscapes. Butterfly gardens won’t get many visitors if the native plants their larvae require are gone. Other native pollinators — from mason bees to bumblebees to many species of wasps, flies, and beetles — require native ecosystems for their reproductive cycles. Without our native pollinators, fruit and vegetable production will decline as flowers fade without being pollinated. It is in the best interests of everyone who enjoys the natural world and/or likes to eat fruits and vegetables to start paying attention to what we are losing at an increasingly rapid pace.

Salamanders need clean, still water to protect and nurture their eggs.

Salamanders need clean, still water to protect and nurture their eggs.

Now that I know how few grant funding sources remain for the work of preserving and protecting our native ecosystems, I feel obliged to call upon my fellow plant-loving gardeners to step into the void. As we approach the traditional season of giving, I’m asking that you set aside a few dollars to give to one of the many struggling nonprofit groups trying to preserve as many links in the chains of our ecosystems as possible. I’m starting with North Carolina groups, because that’s where I live. I’ll be featuring some of the ones I support in the coming weeks, beginning today with the NC Friends of Plant Conservation.

Native plants and animals need healthy habitats to survive.

Native plants and animals need healthy habitats to survive.

You can get a sense of the kind of plants they’re protecting from their Web site, and from this blog by Rob Evans, Plant Ecologist with the NCPCP. Even small donations can make a big difference. As you can see from this page, even $25.00 is enough to pay for essential tools they need to protect the preserves.

We protect ourselves, our gardens, and those who come after us when we protect our native ecosystems. This year, please consider donating the money you were going to spend on a new plant or gardening tool for your yard to one of the many conservation nonprofit organizations valiantly working to protect us all.

Do you have a favorite conservation nonprofit? Feel free to tell me about it in a comment.

Do you have a favorite conservation nonprofit? Feel free to tell me about it in a comment.

 

 

 

 

 

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Something North Carolinians can do

If I bummed you out with yesterday’s post, you may be interested in today’s suggestions for combatting what seems to be an exponential loss of species diversity in the southeastern United States, and especially in North Carolina, where the pace of “progress” has exacerbated the damage.

Southeastern gardeners and lovers of native flora and fauna haven’t been sitting idly by. A number of nonprofit groups are out in our wild and not-so-wild places, attempting to preserve and protect them, and to educate the public about their value.

A few NC conservation groups

Groups like the NC Audubon Society, and the North Carolina chapter of The Nature Conservancy are pretty well known. More regional conservation groups in North Carolina include the Triangle Land Conservancy, which is not only working to preserve the area’s shrinking number of high-quality natural areas, but is also using some of its properties to work with a local food bank to grow food that’s helping to feed the poor in the counties of the region.

The North Carolina Native Plant Society

The North Carolina Native Plant Society is another worthwhile nonprofit dedicated to “promoting enjoyment and conservation of North Carolina’s native plants and their habitats through education, protection, and propagation.” Their membership fees are quite low, they have great, fun field trips and picnics, they give scholarships to worthy students, and they even go on plant rescue missions, during which they dig up and relocate plants before the bulldozers erase them. Folks who participate in plant rescues can keep what they save to plant in their own gardens.

The North Carolina Botanical Garden

I’ve told you more than once why I think the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC is worth supporting. They are the only botanical garden in the region with the explicit mission “to inspire understanding, appreciation, and conservation of plants in gardens and natural areas and to advance a sustainable relationship between people and nature.”

All of these nonprofits are doing important work in North Carolina, despite the extremely challenging financial climate we find ourselves in these days. Check out the links and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

North Carolina Friends of Plant Conservation

But I have one more nonprofit organization in North Carolina that I want to tell you about. It has only been around a few years, and it was created to support the NC government program called The North Carolina Plant Conservation Program. This program has always had one — and only one — full-time state-funded employee, and he has a mighty big mission in a state our size: “to conserve the native plant species of North Carolina in their natural habitats, now and for future generations.”

The challenges facing this lone state employee were obvious to anyone in NC paying attention to the threats to our native flora. In 2004, a nonprofit group — North Carolina Friends of Plant Conservation — was formed with this as its mission: “The Friends of Plant Conservation Foundation supports North Carolina Plant Conservation Program (NCPCP) efforts to conserve and protect North Carolina’s imperiled native plants in their habitats.”

Members of the NCPCP are volunteers trying to support the NC Plant Conservation Program with funding assistance and with a lot of “boots on the ground” help. State preserves that harbor rare and threatened species are scattered all across the state. The NCPCP is slowly recruiting preserve stewards for each of these special, unique places. Preserves with stewards are much more carefully monitored and protected, and already the attention of such dedicated volunteers has resulted in habitat and rare species improvement at several sites.

The NCPCP is very inexpensive to join. Student memberships are $5.00/year, individuals can join for $15.00/year, and families can join for $25.00/year. In addition to knowing you’re helping an important cause, members are invited to the annual meeting — a day-long event filled with knowledgeable speakers, who provide the latest status on preserves, species, and plans for the state. Volunteers also have the opportunity to help with conservation activities on the preserves, which provide opportunities to visit rare, special spots that most folks never see.

I hope you’ll visit the link I provided above and, if you’re a North Carolinian, give serious consideration to joining this important nonprofit group.  The next annual meeting will be November 2, 2011 at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill. I hope to see you there. We’ve got work to do!

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