Posts Tagged plant conservation
I have been a member of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for over 30 years, and I have the plaque to prove it. They insisted on giving it to me a couple of years ago. It was the first conservation organization I joined after I got out of graduate school and had a full-time job.
In my opinion, The Nature Conservancy has always walked the talk. In the beginning, I donated to the organization as a whole. TNC does important work all over the world, and I know any donation is money well spent. But as I became aware of how many special places my home state, North Carolina, was losing annually, I decided to direct my donations to the North Carolina Chapter of TNC. For any North Carolina readers of this blog interested in donating to a conservation cause, you can’t go wrong sending money to the NC Chapter.
For readers in other parts of the US, if you go to the United States page of the TNC Web site, you’ll see a list of states on the left side of the page. Click on yours to learn of the good work TNC is doing in your homeland. And for my international readers (and it astonishes me daily how many of you there are), that top link will take you to their main page, which includes links about their work all over the world. Find a spot that speaks to your conservation heart, and direct your donations there.
On the NC TNC page, check out the link called Places We Protect. It lists all the ecosystems and habitats they are protecting and managing. As you might expect, the mountains and the coast of NC contain the most preserves. The piedmont region has been most densely populated and modified for hundreds of years. Many (but not all) of once-special piedmont spots are now housing developments and shopping malls. Even so, they have managed to protect two special piedmont preserves. And this year, TNC-NC protected their 700,000th acre. That is nothing short of awesome.
I could talk all day about the value of TNC preserves, but there’s one that anyone visiting the Outer Banks along the coast of NC should always check out — the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve. Most folks who visit the NC coast don’t even realize that our coastline once was wooded in many areas right up to the sand dunes along the ocean. And those forests were extraordinary for their beauty and their ability to endure all that Mother Nature throws at our vulnerable coastal areas. You can see one of these few remaining forests at this preserve, walk the trails, read the signage, learn about the way this land used to be.
The NC coastal areas have undergone massive development in the last century or so. Many extraordinary and increasingly rare ecosystems only still survive thanks to the efforts of TNC-NC and other conservation organizations working with them. Here’s a link to a video about one of NC’s niftiest plants — the Venus Flytrap. This species is only native to an area about 100 miles in diameter centering on the Wilmington, NC area. The places in South Carolina where they once grew are almost all gone, but NC still has some preserves with healthy populations. Unfortunately, plant poachers know this too, and sneak into the preserves at night, stealing every plant they can find. The good news in NC is that as of today, poaching Venus Flytraps has gone from misdemeanor to felony status. Now if they do the crime, they might actually do some time.
If you are a NC piedmont region dweller, you don’t have to travel to these coastal preserves to see carnivorous plants. The North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC has on display one of the finest collections of carnivorous plants in the world. Most folks don’t realize that these plants — Venus Flytraps and various species of pitcher plants, for example — actually bloom in the spring. Venus Flytrap flowers are quite lovely, and pitcher plant flowers must be seen to be appreciated. You can see all of these plants blooming at the NCBG every spring.
But today my focus is on The Nature Conservancy. If you like to hike in beautiful places, if you want your child to see Venus Flytraps in their natural habitat, if you sleep better at night knowing that knowledgeable, experienced professionals are tirelessly working to preserve our special places for future generations, then please consider a holiday donation to The Nature Conservancy.
And consider making it an annual habit. Maybe in thirty years, you too will earn a plaque commemorating your efforts to help protect our natural heritage. 🙂
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!