Nature Notes – From the Backyard to the Biosphere. Introduction

Nature Notes – From the Backyard to the Biosphere. Introduction

Welcome to the Voice’s newest column – Nature Notes: From the Backyard to the Biosphere. The title is deliberately broad, representing my attempt to link environmental issues at the largest scale with natural goings-on at the smallest scale. Check in each month for a quick nature fix – a highlighting of a few of the million and one reasons why we all feel so “right” when in natural spaces.

True, a column on the environment would hardly be complete without some stats on the various ailments from which ecosystems worldwide are suffering. But rest assured: this is to be no doom and gloom section of the Voice. I may let you know of the thirteen new species that have just been added to COSEWIC’s (the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada) list of threatened or endangered species. However, I will just as quickly tell you of exciting new trends in ecological restoration, whereby threatened native species and habitats are being restored to health.

For every abstract environmental woe, there is a close-at-hand, positive action that each individual can take. Did you know that across North America, biologists are concerned about declining songbird populations? A significant problem leading to this decline is loss of habitat. Did you also know that in the heavily-populated areas of Canada where most of us live, the majority of land is privately-owned (in my home of Southern Ontario, the figure is 90%). Enter the private land-owner, the ordinary citizen, and you see on the one hand a contributor to this habitat loss, but on the other hand, a person with incredible power to effect positive change.

The land where species are most threatened (Southern Ontario, Southern Quebec and South-Western BC) is in our hands – not the government’s, not some expert conservation manager’s. Ours. We are the conservation managers of the future, and it is our privilege to be able to carry on what Nature and evolution have worked so hard to produce. A world of such awe-inspiring diversity that biologists freely admit to knowing only a fraction of what really exists. A realm in which the ugliest of caterpillars miraculously transforms into the most beguiling of butterflies. A country in which the hugeness of its geography is humanized by an ecological uniqueness of such clarity that we know we are home just by the texture of the vegetation and the smell of the wind blowing over it. So if your home is the Pacific Northwest, help out the birds by planting your native salal (Gaultheria shallon). You won’t regret the act when little flower-bells emerge in spring and the shrub in summer calls the birds with its tasty berries. Live in the Prairies or the Northeast? Plant the dazzlingly orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and please both your eyes and scores of butterflies.

Such are the pleasures of the eco-managers of the future. Such re-enlivening of the land is the lovely task bestowed on us, the readers of the Voice, the students of Athabasca, the citizens of Canada, and of the whole natural world.

Zoe Dalton is a graduate of York University’s environmental science program, and is currently enjoying working towards a Master of Arts in Integrated Studies with Athabasca U. She can be reached for comments or questions at

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