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Home gardeners should protect local wild areas

“This is the true tragedy of our time: the spiraling decline of our planet’s biodiversity.”

— David Attenborough, “A Life on Our Planet,” 2021

I’m writing this week with the news on in the background, flashing pictures of people rioting at the U.S. Capitol, and our president telling them that the U.S. elections were a fraud but to go home in peace anyway.

Next come the daily numbers of people who died yesterday from COVID-19, and what we can expect if and when a mutated coronavirus arrives in our country.

So when I lead off this week’s column with what naturalist David Attenborough claims is the “true tragedy of our time,” the cynic who often lives in my head these days thinks, “There are so many tragedies that diminishing biodiversity is going to have to wait in line.”

It’s difficult to look past present-day commotions to think about the impact of quietly disappearing wildlife. But that is exactly what Attenborough implores us to do in his book and documentary film “A Life on Our Planet.” They are his witness statement about the rampant disappearance of wilderness during his lifetime, and the endangerment of many animal and plant species that depend on wilderness for their survival.

Attenborough tells us that the Earth’s immense diversity of plant and animal life helped to stabilize global temperatures during the last 11,000 years, a period in the planet’s history called the Holocene. Attenborough writes, “The Holocene was our Garden of Eden. Its rhythm of seasons was so reliable that it gave [the human] species the opportunities we needed, and we took advantage of them”

A stable environment allowed humans to change from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a settled, agricultural lifestyle. Up until the last 50 years, it was easy to forget that our farm crops, and our gardens and home landscapes, are all possible only because of the conducive environmental conditions we’ve come to expect.

Then in December 1968, the Apollo 8 crew transmitted the world’s first picture of the Earth viewed from space. As Attenborough recalls in his book, the image vividly revealed “perhaps the most important truth of our times — that our planet is small, isolated and vulnerable.” Since then, scientists have helped us gain a better understanding of the essential interconnections among all living things on Earth.

Yet, Attenborough explains that gobbling up the world’s natural resources continues, in part, because people have “increasingly detached from the natural environment that surrounds us.” We believe conserving nature is important in the Amazon rainforests and on the African savannas, but often we aren’t aware of the need to protect and advocate for our local wilderness habitats and native plant and animal species.

My neighborhood in Old East Medford still has remnants of the oak savanna that once dominated the landscape between the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains to the east and Bear Creek to the west. The native forbs and grasses that once grew here sustained elk, black-tailed deer and a host of other native mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects. The other day, Jerry and I saw a young black-tailed buck running down our street. We’ve only seen deer in our neighborhood a few times in the past 10 years, but the buck’s ancestors once roamed through here in large herds.

The buck, or perhaps its mother, probably found his way through the neighborhoods bordering the nearest wild area, Prescott Park, which consists of 1,740 acres. The park supports more than 1,800 species of plants and animals in three different habitats: forbs and grassland at lower elevations, oaks and shrubland, and coniferous forest on Roxy Ann Peak. Each of these ecosystems supports its own communities of interconnected plants and animals.

However, this important local wild area is shrinking as the population of Medford grows. It’s estimated that Medford will add another 38,677 people in the next 20 years, reaching a population of more than 118,000 by 2040.

If our goal is to increase biodiversity in our yard, then a good place to begin is by protecting biodiversity in surrounding wild areas, and mimicking those native habitats in our garden and landscape. To learn more, check out my interview with OSU Land Steward coordinator Rachel Werling on this week’s podcast.

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, check out her podcasts at https://mailtribune.com/podcasts/the-literary-gardener and her blogs at www.literarygardener.com.