Birds need insects to eat and plants to use for nests. Insects must have plants to feed on, and plants require insects for pollination.
The precariousness of this ecological triad was the focus of the West Kootenay Climate Hub’s March 17 offering in their monthly webinar series on local environmental initiatives.
“The sad thing about that is all declines are mutual,” said Valerie Huff in her presentation for the webinar about the Kootenay Native Plants Society (KNPS), an organization she co-founded. “We’re looking at real serious declines in our native plant populations, in our native pollinator populations and in our native bird populations.”
The KNPS is working throughout the Lower Columbia region to retain and replenish native plants. Their projects include restoring outdoor spaces by seeding and planting, and creating “pollinator pathways” in towns and parks by planting specific native plants to provide a home for bees and insects.
Part of the KNPS goal is to identify which plants are the most important for these pollinators. They have been working recently with researchers and have created a list of the 30 most important native plants for bees.
Caterpillars are pretty picky eaters as well, and Huff says if certain plants disappear, so will the caterpillars, and in turn the butterflies they would eventually turn into. The caterpillars that become Monarchs need milkweed, and common checkered-skippers need scarlet globemallow. She says the removal of just a few native plants can result in a cascading effect on the ecosystem.
Elizabeth Cunningham spoke at the webinar to promote Nature Canada’s Bird Friendly City program. As the local representative for the program, she hopes to convince the City of Nelson to join.
Cunningham said a quarter of North America’s bird population has disappeared since 1970 – a loss of three billion birds. “Birds need our help,” she said. “There’s a lot we can do to help turn around this situation.”
To gain the Bird Friendly City designation, a city must work to reduce threats to birds, restore natural bird habitat, engage the populace in monitoring, and create a ‘bird team’ to oversee this work.
Large cities such as Vancouver and Toronto are already on board and Cunningham will be pitching the program to Nelson’s city council at their meeting on April 25 at 7 p.m. She encouraged webinar attendees to go to the meeting and support the effort.
Cunningham says that Nelson becoming a Bird Friendly City would involve simple things like keeping some grass unmowed to protect habitat, encouraging pet owners to keep dogs and cats away from nests and limiting pesticide use.
There are also many things that homeowners can do on their own properties to improve habitat for birds, bees and insects. Huff suggested not only planting native seeds, but encouraging native plant growth – and being patient.
Some plants, like the local camas the KNPS is trying to protect, take seven years from seed to flower.
There are also some native plants that may not be right for a garden. Plants like wild licorice can grow quite large, and will take over. “Many native plants can be kind of bullies,” she said. “You have to take into account the individual nature of a plant.”
After seeing the need for native plant seeds in her work with KNPS, Huff started KinSeed Ecologies to sell seeds and provide consulting services on “rewilding” of outdoor spaces.
Huff says the best thing people can do on their property is to simply encourage the growth of the native plants already there. And never dig up native plants from elsewhere – that just adds to the problem.
Both presenters asked for volunteers to help with their initiatives. Cunningham can be contacted at email@example.com and Huff at firstname.lastname@example.org.