The United Nations has designated 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity, a year to celebrate, explore, and protect the incredible variety of life on planet Earth. What a good opportunity to set some New Year’s resolutions and ensure generations yet to come enjoy the beauty of nature in all its abundance.
1. Let the wild survive
Cats and dogs make great pets but our treasured urban companions do not always mix well with nature. It is true that domestic cats eat mice, but they also kill millions of North American birds annually, as well as native shrews and voles. Loose-running dogs can harass and chase wildlife, exasperate bear-human interactions, and disturb ground-nesting and migratory birds. Shorebirds are particularly vulnerable to being chased, as they travel thousands of kilometres between breeding and wintering areas, and must eat and rest wherever they stop. The consequences of insufficient food and sleep are seldom seen—the birds just run out of energy mid-flight and perish when they drop into the sea. This year, let us ensure that pets do not threaten the life of any wild animal.
2. Eat right
Tropical countries are hot spots for biodiversity (e.g., Colombia and Ecuador have over three times as many bird species as B.C., as well as hundreds of species of amphibians, reptiles, and mammals). By buying bird-friendly, shade-grown coffee, we ensure that habitats are maintained for wildlife as well as humans. Similarly, watch for small-garden, ethically-grown teas and spices on sale in the future. To protect marine biodiversity, choosing the right seafood and fish choices is key. Luckily the Sierra Club has a handy seafood guide with what to enjoy and what to avoid.
3. Support local growers
Farm fields, fallow land, and hedgerows all provide wildlife habitat and this is particularly important in the Fraser estuary, where agricultural land was created by diking and draining vast areas of marshland. The wet, muddy fields in winter attract waterfowl and shorebirds, while crop residues and fields of winter wheat provide valuable food. Hedgerows and old fields are ideal habitat for a whole range of species, from Cooper’s hawks to Townsend’s voles. Agriculture can only stay viable as long as people support the farmers that work the land. So buying fresh, local, field-grown produce is good for biodiversity.
4. Protect your patch
As demands on habitat increase and government budgets shrink, community vigilance is needed to protect existing green space. Keep a watch on municipal Web sites for rezoning applications and be prepared to speak at public hearings to protect your local patch. Volunteer stewardship is essential to ensure that habitat values are maintained in parks and protected areas, and watersheds, stream sides, and other valuable locations are not trashed. There are many programs looking for community volunteers, including Streamkeepers, Ecological Reserve wardens, Important Bird Area caretakers, et cetera. Could this be the year you get involved?
5. Enhance a garden
If you have a garden, yard, or a bit of green space, consider some habitat enhancement to encourage songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, and even small mammals. There are many ways to do this, including planting nectar-rich flowering plants and berry-bearing shrubs; providing water; growing an untidy, tangled shrubbery where wildlife can hide, rest, and nest; and putting up feeders. The reward for all the hard work is a garden alive with colour and movement.
6. Understand invasives
A wide variety of plants and quite a few animals found in the Lower Mainland are non-native. Particularly aggressive invasives have a disruptive effect on local species, out-competing them for habitat and food. For example, bullfrogs were released after an unsuccessful attempt at culturing them for frog legs, and have been gobbling their way through wetland creatures ever since. Avoid growing invasive plants and learn to recognize them if you want to participate in restoration work (native plants have sometimes been ripped out in error by well-meaning volunteers).
7. Reduce your family footprint
We coexist on this finite planet with every other human and all of nature. This year we can resolve to limit our climate-change footprint and stop wasteful practices that impact fresh water, clean air, and fertile earth.
8. Enjoy ecotourism
Hotel chains that destroy wildlife habitat and displace local communities to have the best ocean view are not doing their bit for the planet. Genuine ecotourism is travel that encourages the protection of wildlife populations and habitat, enhances nature viewing and cross-cultural contacts, and helps to spread wealth to local communities. Let the tourism business know your views.
9. Get wise
One of the greatest delights of engaging with nature is that there is always more to learn. A walk in the wild is deeply refreshing and a great stress-reliever. Make your walk even more fun by acquiring binoculars and a field guide, keeping journals or blogs to chronicle your local wildlife, or teaming up with others for guided field trips or bird counts (e.g., the B.C. Breeding Bird Atlas or Christmas Bird Count).
10. Tell others
Politicians and corporations need to know that we value biodiversity, so let’s make sure we tell them, by writing letters and voting for nature-friendly candidates. Happy New Year!
Anne Murray is the author of Tracing Our Past: A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, which explores the changes to the Fraser delta landscape over time, and A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay, which covers the diversity of wildlife in our local region. Both books are available in local bookstores or from Nature Guides B.C.