Happy Earth Day! It’s the 51st Anniversary of Earth Day. That number makes me realize that I’m one of the first generations to grow up celebrating Earth Day in school. When you look at the Earthday.org website, there is so much content for you to explore. Conservation, Climate Literacy, Freshwater or Forest Ecosystems, Plastic Pollution, Biodiversity Loss, Air and Water Quality, Indigenous Land Rights, the list goes on. Are you feeling overwhelmed too? There is so much that needs saving, we need to admit that we cannot do it all alone. For some, it is finding an area of intense passion and really getting involved.
For others, they just want to know how they can help in a practical way. To me, this is where the largest impact is made. The truth is that little changes done by many people add up to monumental shifts. With that in mind, I thought it was important to showcase two aspects. The first three topics are about adapting our conservation mindset on certain topics. Those things which seemed normal a few decades ago, but today we know so much more about the impacts and that we need to change our answers. In closing, I focus on a list of practical conservation changes in our daily lives where collectively we can do some real good. And hopefully, many of this will just be common sense for the upcoming generation.
Preservation Perspective Shifts
About 75% of all plants, including those in our yards, gardens, and parks depend on pollinators. There are few important steps to protecting our pollinators, which include bees but also butterflies, bats, birds, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, etc.
First, adapt our thinking that we need to have a perfectly manicured lawn. The amount of chemicals and pesticides used along with the amount of water required to keep that lawn looking pristine takes a significant toll. And I’m not saying you need to give up your entire lawn and let it all go wild. But how about we find some balance. Take a section or area and plant a variety of plants that bloom from early spring to late fall which are pollinator friendly. Pollinator friendly means choosing plants that are native to your region. You can enter your US or Canadian zip code here for a guide to your area.
Second, reduce or eliminate pesticide use. If you must use a pesticide, try to use the least toxic product as possible for the environment, wildlife, your pets, small children, and your lungs. Also, if you are going to apply a pesticide, apply it at night when pollinators are least active.
Third, if you see a cluster of bees hanging on a limb or other object, you need to contact a beekeeper, not an exterminator, flamethrower, water hose, or bug spray. Swarms are quite literally homeless bees, so they are not defending a hive and are normally quite docile. Though that doesn’t mean you or me should mess with them. What they need is someone who knows how to direct them a new home. The beauty of the internet is your local beekeeper or beekeeping club is just an internet search away.
Respecting Public Lands
We have Leave No Traceand Nature First Photography Alliance helping guide movements promoting responsibility in the great outdoors. Many people know Leave No Trace. Nature First Photography is an alliance of photographers for responsible nature photography. It was founded two years ago (on Earth Day!) so let’s first say Happy Second Anniversary Nature First Photography! This photography movement started to promote the protection and preservation of the world’s natural and wild places through inspiring, educating, and uniting everyone making photographs and videos in nature, empowering them to be ambassadors to the natural world. The golden rules of both is to enjoy nature but in a responsible way so we protect and preserve. This leads to a few foundational points.
First, we agree littering is bad but perhaps we need to rethink how we categorize litter. Littering includes throwing cigarette butts on the ground as well as throwing your apple core into the woods at a public park. If I must explain why cigarette butts not going into a garbage can is wrong, then you’re on the wrong website.
As far as the apple core or a banana peel, I find this knowledge isn’t too common. Some fruit products can take years to decompose depending on the environment. Moreover, food waste is likely to be found and eaten by wildlife. As a result, this increases the risk of habituation. For example, if you throw an apple core near a hiking trail, it may encourage wildlife to search for food along the trail. Even worse, the animal could start to associate humans as a food source. If you throw it out a car window, wildlife search along the road. Neither of these situations are desired. Pack it in, pack it out! We can all do that!
Second, let’s broaden our definition of vandalism. Spray-painting graffiti is vandalism but so is carving into a tree or rock. We seek the beauty of the outdoors for the wild nature. No one wants to see your name, initials, or crappy artwork upon their arrival. It destroys the natural wonder and experience for any future visitor. Moreover, it is large reason why managers of public lands are limiting or closing future access. If you want to visit these places again or for your children to be able to see them, we need to show respect.
Phill Monson, also known as Nigel the Litter Hunter, LandPhill, or Your Local Trash Man is a fellow photographer and founder of Adventure Responsibly, a movement to encourage outdoor stewardship and promote outdoor awareness using the versatility of humor to get the message out. Recently, he shared the damage from humans carving all sorts of things into slot canyons. Flash floods formed these slot canyons over thousands of years – thousands. And restoration is no easy task. Instead, be greedy and take your memory, your photo, or your video home so you can keep it all for yourself.
Third, we need to have a mental reset that stacking rocks is a bad human habit. All over our state and national parks and even local hiking spots, we are seeing more and more of rock stacking. These rocks in the woods and especially near and in streams are smaller ecosystems. Streams are breeding grounds for many aquatic species. When people stack rocks, they are destroying breeding grounds in the streams and disturbing this ecosystem. I know some people see this as mediative or art. If you must stack rocks, then find a proper location to do so. If you do find stacked rocks, do our hellbender salamander a favor and knock them down to help the stream to the natural state for the organisms which live there.
Leaving Space for Wildlife
No matter the season, animals are working whether it is searching for food, building shelters, preparing for the next season, nurturing their young, or making long migrations. There is so much that goes into their lives that we simply do not understand or consider when we encounter them. For example, Brynn Alise, another Nature First Photography staff member, taught me through one of her posts on IG the following:
“First – this is not a drone shot. Drones are illegal in national parks. I took this from the side of the road at a pull out looking down on these bison. We spent a day with a biologist a few years ago while in Yellowstone National Park. She shared with us how difficult it is for bison to manage all winter in such brutal conditions. I knew this, but didn’t realize how much small choices we make impact their survival. She explained how when a car makes them run on a road by not just waiting for them, it expends too much of their energy. And, honking at them is the worst. So, please be patient if you are behind them on the road – this is their home. Every time we travel in winter which we have been doing for the last 13 years on and off, we see more and more people in what used to be a very quiet time in the park. Please give bison room on the roads – especially in winter when they are in survival mode – and give all wildlife plenty of space.”
My simple decision to let bison cross the road at their own pace can help that animal make it through the harshness of the winter season. Collectively, if we all did that – can you imagine the impact? And while we cannot know and understand everything about every species, again, we can basic principles of not feeding animals or leaving food for animals to find and risk habituation.
Equally important, we can be patient with animals and allow them the space they need to coexist in our world. If we wish to photograph, we must admit that we have way too many megapixels in our cameras these days anyway, so stay back and crop afterwards. That photograph is not worth risking the life of a young elk, wolf, bison, deer, etc. or yourself for that matter. Because let’s face it, I know where I’m placing my bet for Mama Bear versus human.
So what else can we do? There are many things we can do in our everyday lives which will make a conservation impact. Remember, I’m all about little things for all of us accumulate for big impacts.
Reduce Our Use of Plastics
I need to thank one of my favorite humans Jill Hottel for her research into plastics. A quick summary of her research is:
“Plastic production has skyrocketed since it was first commercially produced in the mid-1900’s. It has become ubiquitous in our present consumer culture and, what’s worse, it’s lifespan will far exceed our own (by hundreds of years). It is reported that each year eight million tons of plastic enter our oceans, and of all plastics ever produced, 80 percent still exists! Plastic is a problem!
Reduce, reuse, recycle is not just a catchy mantra, it’s the game plan for saving the world. Of course, saving the world from plastic will take more than informed consumers recycling. It will also take governmental organizations creating strong legislation, municipalities banning single-use plastics, and manufacturers looking for alternative materials and production methods. You can help! Pick up plastic waste and dispose of it properly, refuse single-use plastics when possible, and reuse, reuse, reuse. Together we can fight the growing tide of plastic waste.”
Take it One Conservation Change at a Time
In my life, I consciously try to adopt a habit. Once it is integrated into my lifestyle, then I find another new habit. For me, it is the best way to make a permanent change. Here are some examples:
Reusable water bottles
Reusable shopping bags
Plan weekly meals to waste less food
Glass food storage containers and avoid plastic baggies
Use less straws or invest in reusable straws (not as difficult as you might think)
Reusable wrapping paper or only purchase recyclable wrapping paper (no glitter, textured embodiments or foil/shinning metallic material)
Only run the laundry or dishwasher when they are full
Find more environmentally friendly laundry detergent and use wool dryer balls
Actively going paperless where I can with bills
Opt out of junk mail subscriptions and catalogs
Unplug chargers and appliances when not in use
Change the thermostat to reduce the overall consumption rate
Adjust the water heater down to reduce the overall consumption rate
Buy and eat locally and try to consume less meat
Dim electronic screens
Turn off the faucet when brushing teeth
Open windows and air out the house instead of always relying on the A/C
If anything, I hope this provided one or two new ideas to adopt into your lifestyle. That alone makes this effort successful. There are so many worthy causes that need saving that often we can feel helpless. But we’re not! We have to know that every effort big or small helps so whether you have started a movement or decide to make a few changes around the house, it will make a difference. I believe we need to make these changes as if our lives depend on them, because ultimately, they do.