Natives are Better

Native pollinators share and share alike on this musk thistle bloom.


On a short walk in Grand Teton National Park last week, I happened upon a large patch of musk thistle. This large noxious weed from Eurasia has threatened range, farm and forest land for decades. It is also one of the successes of biological control—there are effective pathogens that attack seed heads, stems and even roots. In this stand, the flattened disks of old seed heads indicated that weevils had been at work on the seed of the first flower crop, but a late set of purple blooms was sure to set seed and perpetuate the mess.

On my return, I noticed a sphinx moth, also called a hummingbird moth, working around the huge purple flowers. I pulled out my camera and began to photograph the cooperative moth.

As I worked, I noticed that there were a lot of other insect species enjoying the nectar and pollen provided by this end-of-summer bounty. I stayed for several hours and even returned the next day, spending a total of over five hours there.

The number of native pollinators attracted to these late summer blossoms was amazing. In all, I counted six species of butterflies, one moth, at least half a dozen species of bees and another half dozen of flies. There were several beetle species and at least two species of true bugs. The more and longer I looked, the more I found. Significantly, I did not see a single honeybee.

My first thought at this bounty was that perhaps musk thistle has a value after all. Providing native pollinators with such a late season boon seemed a good thing. Perhaps in a thousand years musk thistle will just be part of the new native flora on this continent and will be a pollinator mainstay at the end of summer.

My second thought was, where were all the native plant species that should be fulfilling that role? It has been a hot dry summer and I could see little more than yarrow flowering around me. Despite the attractiveness of the musk thistle blooms to these insects, I would take a variety of natives any day.

Finally, my thoughts centered on the pollinators themselves. It was gratifying to see such a wide variety of native species. It was an indicator that maintaining wildlands such as national parks does indeed sustain important ecological processes.

Native pollinators have taken a beating over the past century as humans have changed plant communities and added chemicals.  Native pollinators have declined by over ninety percent in some places. In our overconfidence, we have sought to replace them with a single species, the exotic honeybee.

And therein lay the seeds of potential ecological disaster. Honeybee colonies across the country have succumbed to strange maladies over the past decade or so, leaving some farm industries scrambling to get crops pollinated—a job native pollinators would have done for free if we had promoted them rather than honeybees.

However, the real advantage to native pollinators lies in their diversity. Dozens of native species from diverse taxa are rarely all susceptible to the same disease or weather events, always leaving plenty of species to do the job. Diversity, not monoculture is the answer.

We have applied our technological genius to create a world where the honeybee is queen, thinking that we were outsmarting nature. In the end, nature is likely going to show us the foolhardiness of our ways.

 



Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure. 


"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 

here

Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)

Perfect Light Photo Supply

Work Wearhouse

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho