Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.


Top Tips for Regenerative Living, Part 1

 

For the next several months I am going to share some of our Be the Change Project’s top tips for regenerative living taken from our eight years of trying to walk our walk.

(For some background on us, read some of my other blog entries or check out our website.)

Our lives are greatly influenced by Permaculture and Gandhian Integral Nonviolence resulting in a blend of greener living with attention to issues of social justice.  We aim to be good friends and neighbors while improving the land and living a good life. It’s a high bar but we do pretty good with it...mostly. 

My goal with this series is to share the edgier, more challenging, and frankly more uncomfortable elements of being the change.  Recycling is fantastic. Changing your lightbulbs is great.  Let’s rejoice with a collective pat on the back for about two seconds and then dig deeper. I want to help foment structural changes that lead to the creation of a more just and abundant world.  I feel this starts with each of us and radiates out to our land, our neighborhood, our city, and beyond.  Lest you believe that your individual actions have no impact, think again.  Check out Erica Chenoweth’s research and her 3.5% rule for social change.  Here’s a sample:

In fact, no campaigns [for nonviolent social change] failed once they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population—and lots of them succeeded with far less than that.

Her work gives me hope and I hope you’ll read on to see our take for making that a reality.

#1. Electricity-Free Living

I’m starting with Electricity-Free Living but the order of tips has less to do with impact than with what I am in the mood to write about. 

Turn on a light switch and magic happens.  We’ve vanquished darkness, kept predators at bay through the night, and can see what color our socks are in our closet in the morning.  Amazing!  But what does it take to bring that light to our sock drawer?  In Nevada, over 50% of our electricity still comes from the burning of coal.  Soooo 18th century. And if it’s not burnt coal, that light is still likely connected to a giant, extraction-based company that’s run by billionaires who work against environmental rules and put profits over people.  And then there’s the materials themselves - metals, glass, plastics, and so on that deliver the energy - which are mined (big holes in the ground made by big corporations), processed, moved around the planet burning more fuels, blah, blah, blah, same old globalism story. 

And, two more things: one, those lights keep us out of sync with the seasons and wreak havoc with our circadian rhythms.  Think of that: with electric lights on all the time we’re forcing our bodies to ignore the sun. To ignore the Sun!  Who does that?  Who, in the history of human existence has ever done that? Hubris out the wazoo. Second, more lights = more stuff = more shit from China or some other sweatshoppy-place run by a multinational that’s conveniently outsourced US pollution and treats the earth and people like dung. 

OK, so what can one do besides give up and watch more adorable cat videos?  Big action would mean calling up the power company and cutting the cord, totally.  That’s a big leap and big leaps are necessary but not if they lead to abject failure.  It’s what we’ve done but it took several years of baby steps with lots of mentorship and experimentation.  So start smaller but continue to hold the bigger vision. 

Here’s two actions:

1. Remove some light switches and plugs in a room or two.  That’s right, get the screwdriver and either uninstall them or seriously cover them up.  Call it a sanctuary in your home but do whatever it takes to get willpower out of the picture to make structural changes that are habit-forming. 

2. Turn the power off for a month.  That’s easy enough to do: just call the power company and say you’re going out of town.  See how fast your rhythms adjust, how well you sleep, how good your lover looks in candlelight.  Dang! how great you look in candlelight.  Have parties all month to share the fun with your peeps.  Guaranteed you’ll learn tons, inspire the hell out of people along the way, and end the month with warm fuzzy feelings of self-righteousness.     

Go ahead, do it!  Dooooo it!  You’ve got the power.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Indonesian Rainforest Needs Earth Law Rights in Response to Palm Oil

By fabrizio frigeni from unsplash

Photo by Fabrizio Frigeni on Unsplash

What if Earth Law could help strengthen the protection of natural habitats critical to the orangutan, and other animals, survival?

Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli orangutan face extinction due to habitat destruction, illegal hunting, and animal trading. Upwards of 80% of Orangutan’s habitat has been lost in the last 20 years

Palm oil factory wikimedia commons

Palm Oil Factory from Wikimedia Commons

For consumers, palm oil is nearly impossible to avoid completely. Over half of products in the US contain palm oil including shampoos, instant noodles, packaged bread, lipsticks, soap, and detergent. Most of the world’s palm oil comes from Malaysia (43%) and Indonesia (44%). Indonesia also happens to contain a richly biodiverse rainforest – matched only by the Amazonian ecosystem.

Palm oil plantations require bulldozing or burning large tracts of rainforest. More than a quarter of Indonesia's forests has disappeared since 1990. Extensive clearing also releases carbon dioxide stored in trees. Indonesia has become the fifth highest emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses due to these practices.

Humans suffer, too. Palm oil has been identified as one of the most common sources of forced work and child labor in the world, by the United States Department of Labor. ELC’s Co-Violations Report also found patterns of labor abuse in the palm oil industry

A solution: Rights for the Indonesian Rainforest could mean

It turns out that the $40 billion-dollar palm oil industry which is often singled out as the culprit for rainforest and orangutan habitat destruction, may, in fact, be the most environmentally friendly oil option. No other oil can yield even a third as much as palm oil per acre planted. Palm oil also uses significantly fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers than coconut, corn or any other vegetable oil source.

So, it’s not the palm oil plant per se, but rather where it is being planted. Helping save the orangutans may mean planting on already-deforested land. Earth Law is the other part of the solution – recognizing rights of the rainforest to strengthen the protection of ecosystems and species

Governance and management plans which recognized the rainforest’s right to exist, thrive and evolve would also support a healthy ecosystem while preserving and restoring biodiversity. Colombia leads the way, recognizing rights for the Amazon Rainforest in 2018. A group of young human rights advocates sued the Colombian government in an effort for their right to exist within a healthy ecosystem and environment. 

Te Urewera National Park in New Zealand also gained legal rights recognition. The Maori presented the case to preserve the region's ecosystem and their land. This decision allows violations against the land to be brought to the courts and protected through legal channels. This case can set an example for the Indonesian case, involving the protection of both nature’s rights and human rights

Both these cases show that rights provided to the ecosystem can protect all life within that habitat. Legal rights for the Indonesian Rainforest would protect from deforestation, protect the population from land grabs and intentional wildfires, protect the workers from illegal and unsafe working conditions, and protect the animals and plants from endangerment and unhealthy habitat conditions.

ELC works to provide the earth with legal support and legally recognized rights. We work to create laws and protections that recognize the rights of nature.

If you’re interested in the environment, consider:

1. Donating to ELC

2. Signing up to volunteer at ELC.

3. Staying informed by signing up for ELC’s newsletter.

4. Connecting with ELC on social media.

Facebook

Twitter

Darlene May Lee is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature's rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Thank You to Volunteers Everywhere!

By Martin Permantier from unsplash.com

Source: by Martin Permantier unsplash.com

Volunteers enable many charitable nonprofits to get their work done. A recent survey by the US Department of Labor shows that about one-quarter of Americans, or 25 percent, take the time to volunteer

The Independent Sector, an organization that gathers tons of statistics about charitable activities, places an Estimated National Value of Each Volunteer Hour every year. That value stands, as of 2017, at $24.69 an hour on average.

Donating one’s time and energy can have a positive effect on health. Volunteering can also be a great way to gain experience for recent graduates or for experienced professionals planning on a career shift. Sometimes volunteering helps define educational goals and volunteers go on to law or graduate school.

At Earth Law Center (ELC), volunteers contribute in many ways. Some help research & write legal documents to marketing communications, others focus on improving the user experience of our website and managing ELC’s digital marketing and paid search projects. Like most nonprofits, all of ELC’s board members are also volunteers.

By rawpixel from unsplash.com

Source: By rawpixel unsplash.com

This year, over 200 people have signed up to volunteer with Earth Law Center – including interns and externs. The interns and externs mostly hail from law schools. ELC was also named a “2018 Top-Rated Nonprofit” by Great Nonprofits, the leading provider of user reviews of charities and nonprofits based on reviews from volunteers, donors and aid recipients.

Regarding her experience with Earth Law Center, Nikita T. says, “It has been an absolute pleasure working with the Earth Law Center. The organization works tirelessly for the causes they believe in and have a remarkable network throughout the world.”

Volunteer Kailee K. states, “As part of the digital marketing team, I get the opportunity to work with talented, smart, and kind individuals who are all willing to donate their time to help this organization reach a boarder audience. There’s a great sense of community within the team even though we all work from different corners of the globe. If you’re interested in supporting a great nonprofit who is working to secure rights for nature and take on environmental challenges, be sure to check out ELC.”

Thanks to our team of dedicated board, staff, volunteers and interns - we are proud to have helped draft and pass an Earth Law Resolution in Crestone, Colorado and Rights of River legislation in Mexico City this year.

Won’t you consider volunteering for an organization you care about today?

If you’re interested in the environment, consider:

Donating to ELC

Signing up to volunteer at ELC.

Staying informed by signing up for ELC’s newsletter. )

Connecting with ELC on social media: Facebook; Twitter

By Eberhard Grossgasteiger from unsplash.com

Source:by eberhard grossgasteiger unsplash.com

Darlene May Lee is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature's rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How Local Governments Are Addressing Climate Change

 

Back in June of last year, President Trump announced he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, the agreement among most of the world's countries aiming to limit the rise in global temperatures.

Since the U.S. is now the only country in the world that is not part of the signature pact, that announcement may have been the Trump administration's most headline-grabbing move related to climate change, but it's just one of many aimed at limiting the federal government's role in the matter.

However, while our federal government may be removing itself from having any role in addressing climate change, the good news is that local governments have stepped up in its place to fight the rise in global temperatures. According to a recent report commissioned by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the U.S. is still on course to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, due in large part to the actions cities and states have taken.

If the more than 3,000 city, state and business leaders who have made pledges to cut carbon emissions fulfill them, U.S. emissions will decrease to 17 percent less than 2005 levels by 2025, according to the report. The report measures the impact of America's Pledge, a plan by California Gov. Jerry Brown and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that supports cities, states and other entities in making commitments in line with the Paris accord.

The report came out around the same time about 4,500 representatives from city governments, regional governments and research institutions met in California for the Global Climate Action Summit. The meeting aimed to speed up efforts to prevent global temperature rise.

Local governments from around the world are also collaborating through ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability, a network of more than 1,500 cities, towns and regions dedicated to sustainability. Participants in the ICLEI network work with experts in 22 offices in 124 countries on sustainable development initiatives.

What Are U.S. Cities Doing?

Local and tribal governments across the U.S. are taking steps to address climate change through many different types of initiatives. Here are a few examples of these plans.

Boston

Boston first released its Climate Action Plan in 2007, but the city updates it every three years. It includes a roadmap to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 and becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. The plan also includes steps to prepare Boston for the impacts of climate change and efforts to make Boston a zero-waste city.

New York City

In 2017, New York City released a plan called "1.5° C: Aligning New York City With the Paris Climate Agreement" that outlines actions the city will take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with the goals of the Paris agreement. All the efforts the plan outlines have the potential to eliminate 10 million metric tons of CO2 emissions by 2030, according to the city.

Seattle

Seattle first adopted its Climate Action Plan in 2013, but in April of this year, the city released a new, more ambitious strategy that aims to make the city carbon-neutral. The plan includes 12 initiatives involving transportation, buildings and carbon pricing. These actions include a congestion pricing program and creating and deploying an electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles released its Sustainable City pLAn in 2015. The city aims to reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent from a 1990 baseline by 2025, 60 percent by 2035 and 80 percent by 2050. As of 2017, LA has the most installed solar panels and the largest electric vehicle fleet of any U.S. city.

These four cities are leading the charge on addressing climate change, but many more cities — as well as states, tribal governments, businesses and nonprofits — are stepping up and making significant changes as well. The federal government may have turned away from the issue, but local governments have intensified their efforts in response.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living and has an especially strong passion for helping others increase their mental health and happiness by improving their daily productivity and positivity. Connect with Kayla on Google+Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on Productivity Theory. Read all of Kayla’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Things to Know About Energy Regulations That Were Rescinded in 2018

 

 Photo credit Pexels

Regardless of a person's political leanings, it's difficult to argue the Trump administration has not had a significant impact on the environment.

Here are some of the most useful things to keep in mind about the energy policies that have been rolled back this year.

1. Oil Drilling Sites Can Become More Plentiful

At the beginning of 2018, the Trump administration reversed three policies related to oil drilling.

One allows hydraulic fracking to happen on federally protected lands or waters, and another overhauls safety regulations put in place by the Obama administration in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon crisis.

Finally, there's a plan to develop more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf, including areas that were previously off-limits for oil drilling.

Analysts say the reduced regulation will make parties more prone to scrutiny if they make mistakes. But, more potential for oil drilling also ramps up the potential environmental impacts, including oil spills and increased pollution.

2. The EPA May No Longer Measure the Full Health Effects of Reducing Air Pollutants From Energy Plants

In October 2018, news broke that Trump is considering rescinding a rule for how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must make decisions about the use of substances that pollute the air. Currently, the EPA measures the costs of industries complying with new standards versus the effects on public health.

When looking at the latter, it considers the positive health effects that happen by reducing pollutants other than the ones the EPA is evaluating — also known as co-benefits. For example, under the Obama administration, the agency calculated limiting the release of mercury into the air would result in a $9.6 billion benefit to public health.

However, after taking co-benefits into account, the EPA said the total positive effects to public health could be as much as $90 billion due to the way limiting mercury would also curtail soot and nitrogen oxide.

Now, if a rollback proposed in 2018 goes into effect, the Trump administration will conclude it's not appropriate to calculate co-benefits, and the EPA will loosen the previous limitations on carbon dioxide. Analysts are also worried that the move will have a domino effect and soon apply to other substances, too.

3. States Can Set Regulations for Coal-Fueled Power Plant Emissions, Which Could Hurt Health

A plan known as the Affordable Clean Energy Rule lets states set rules about greenhouse gas emissions related to coal-fueled power plants. It would replace an initiative under the Obama administration called the Clean Air Plan, which sought to prevent the premature deaths that result from coal pollution.

In contrast, a forecast shows the Affordable Clean Energy Rule could result in up to 1,400 more premature deaths each year and could exacerbate respiratory ailments, especially in kids.

In light of this news, it's important to remember there are sustainable uses for power plant waste. For example, coal ash serves as a replacement for the natural materials used when producing portland cement, which gets widespread use around the world. It's essential to continue to look at sustainable options for coal waste that could positively affect the environment.

4. The Trump Administration Disbanded an Air-Quality Review Panel

A list of EPA panels that will continue their work in 2019 does not include the Particulate Matter Review Panel, which is a 20-person group of experts that work for the EPA and evaluate microscopic airborne pollutants. However, the EPA would not comment on its reasons for discontinuing the meetings of that group.

The news concerned environmental activists who said the decision represented a continual trend to become less dependent on science when making decisions about the environment. Since energy regulations often affect air quality, it's not difficult to see how this change could give more leeway to entities in the energy sector, potentially making air pollution problems worse.

5. Climate Change Progress Has Already Slowed

A team of expert scientists pored over thousands of reports and concluded there is only a 12-year window left to keep the effects of climate change at a moderate level. Failing to do that, they say, raises the risk of devastating storms, famines and other events that could put the world in crisis.

And, according to Trevor Houser, leader of the energy and climate team at The Rhodium Group, an independent research organization that analyzes global trends, only a few of the Trump administration's rollbacks will reduce the United States' climate change progress by 1 to 2 percent.

Houser calls out these factors as causing the backslide:

1. Replacing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan with something less restrictive

2. Attempts to reduce limits on methane emissions associated with oil and gas operations

3. The decision to keep vehicle fuel economy standards at 2020 levels instead of tightening them

Small Changes Have Lasting Impacts

This sobering overview shows how a small number of regulatory changes can have adverse effects on a country or the world.

That's why it's crucial for concerned citizens and people involved in local government to enact smaller, but still significant, changes for energy regulations when possible.

Staying proactive is a necessity that affects individuals as well as larger society.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Modern Homesteading: How Homesteaders Are Using Smart Tech to Stay Independent

 

Homesteaders value their land for more than its profitability. In the countryside, the air is cleaner, the nights are quieter and there's a sense of calm. It's an independent lifestyle distanced from the demands of a major metropolitan area, with its crowded streets and perpetual flow of people.

Though independence from towns and cities has its own unique appeal, it's not without its challenges. The modern conveniences of urban living aren't always available to homesteaders, and their seclusion only compounds the problem. It seems, at first, like an unavoidable compromise.

Fortunately for rural families and farmers alike, this is not the case. They've incorporated smart home devices into their properties to enjoy the benefits of technology while retaining their independence. Through the use of modern products, they've reached a comfortable balance.

Smart Security

Consumers can choose from a broad selection of smart home devices to protect their property against intruders. Given the isolated nature of many rural properties, this is particularly relevant to homesteaders. They can't depend on a next-door neighbor to report suspicious activity and act on their behalf.

Through the simple installation of security cameras, a homesteader can ensure the safety of themselves and their family. Even when they're absent from their property, an app on the user's smartphone enables them to survey their land and alleviate any unnecessary anxiety over potential intruders.

A surveillance system also allows farmers to assess and attend to other threats that might harm their livestock, like coyotes and wolves. It's a pressing issue that farmers have to consider, with predatory animals accountable for over 10 percent of deaths among calves. A proactive approach reduces this risk.

Motion Sensors

Navigating a rural property in the dark can prove perilous without the proper lighting. With the installation of motion sensors, a farmer can move about their property at night and depend on an automated system to keep them safe. They're far less likely to stumble or hurt themselves in an accident.

If a farmer needs to find an item in an unlit shed and has to struggle to locate the switch, they could potentially snag themselves on a sharp object and suffer injury. Motion sensor technology can prevent these incidents and others like them, turning the lights on the moment a person steps into the room.

Motion sensors also serve as an additional security measure. Uninvited visitors who sneak into a homesteader's property at night may feel threatened by a sudden light and decide to retreat. Both criminals and predatory animals depend on stealth, which is something a motion sensor doesn't allow for.

Smart Thermostat

A rural property requires a substantial amount of energy to run. In maintaining the temperature of barns, workshops and outbuildings, farmers sometimes struggle with their monthly expenses. Through the installation of a smart thermostat, however, they're able to offset costs and improve their efficiency.

These devices don't require manual input to adjust the temperature and can learn the schedule of the user to accommodate their patterns. In heating and cooling a homestead only when it's necessary, they conserve energy and reduce excess expenditure. They'll gradually accumulate considerable savings.

According to the Department of Energy, turning the thermostat back 7-10 F can save as much as 10 percent a year on heating and cooling. With a programmable thermostat that regulates itself, farmers can take advantage of smart technology for both their comfort and finances.

Monitors and Controls

In the agriculture industry, success often depends on productivity. Professionals can maximize their productivity through special smart home devices designed for commercial use in farm operations. They can monitor the energy, food, water, fresh air and temperature in their facilities for peak performance.

Technology is also in development that assists farmers in tending to their crops, with devices that manage nutrient levels and irrigation. Through the automation of common duties, these devices have the potential to increase production by a significant margin. Small-scale farmers can consider expansion.

Even simple tools benefit from the integration of smart technology. Equipment that helps to monitor and manage a property is useful, but something as small as a digital smart level can take much of the stress off  of basic homesteading chores and repairs. A seemingly insignificant change can make life much easier.

Modern Homesteading

A reliance on smart technology may seem contrary to a rural lifestyle, but a balance is possible. Those who enjoy the countryside know the importance of using all the resources at their disposal, and the products mentioned here are only some of the solutions that can improve their lives.

As homesteading blogger Victoria Gazeley astutely observed, "modern homesteading isn't about living the life of someone in the 1800s. It's about showing appreciation for the old ways of doing things. Homesteaders can respect that tradition and still adapt to modern challenges." With the devices detailed above, that's exactly what they've done.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Has the Edible Landscape Gone Too Far?

 

The writer’s country cottage in Virginia is surrounded by lawn and meadow, and then forest. Wildlife stays in the woods, where there is both food and shelter from predators.

I realized recently, with a sickening thud of recognition, that maybe I’m part of the problem.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. And, boy, am I sorry. What’s the problem? Bears, for one thing. Deer. Bobcats and pumas, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, and flocks of wild turkey. But mostly, where I live, bears.

When three bears – a mama and two half-grown cubs – suddenly appeared in my field of vision the other day it didn’t register at first. Wow, I thought, those sure are three big shaggy black dogs walking up the middle of the street…off leash. Uh, wait a minute. Those aren’t dogs, they’re bears! Beautiful beasts: lustrous, muscular, and in no big hurry. Unless they are.

“Something’s wrong with this picture,” I thought. Not: bears are bad; rather, this many bears in my central Asheville, N.C., neighborhood at midday is new and disturbing.

Sure, it’s common knowledge among locals that there are bears in the city. But over the dozen years that I have lived here their incidence has changed radically, from occasional bear sightings in the more remote and wooded parts of town, to frequent sightings in the closer suburbs, to, now, the appearance of groups of bears in a downtown neighborhood full of kids, pets, Airbnb visitors, delivery trucks, and a few old folks like me. I

Seeing those bears appear and disappear so fast – emerging from one clump of vegetation and slipping away into another – alerted me to all sorts of unpleasant possibilities. I understand that black bears are not particularly aggressive unless threatened with their cubs alongside them. But it wasn’t part of the social contract when so many of us humans moved into these walkable center-city neighborhoods that we would be sharing the sidewalks with 300-pound free-range omnivores rocking two-inch claws.

And then I remembered that earlier in the year, July of 2018, some neighbors had sent me video of a large bear walking up the steps of their house, eager to get at the grapes that festooned their front porch. This wasn’t just any house: my husband and I had designed and built it some years earlier and later moved two doors away on the same block to build another new house. I had planted those too-successful grapes and carefully trained them onto the porch supports, and I had planted the pawpaw trees that were loaded with ripening fruit, and I had planted the Asian persimmon tree in the front yard; now that it’s mature, the plump dusky orange fruits come ripe and drop like sugar bombs onto the sidewalk in autumn. I had planted the apple tree too. Insert either video clip or photo grapevines porch woven.

I Invited Bears Into the ‘Hood

More landscaping, more edibles and drinkables from our city lots. That was my cry for years, both in print and on the lecture circuit. See what I can grow? Everything! And I had the nerve to tell audiences to take away their bird feeders and keep kitchen compost out of the yard so that “critters” wouldn’t be attracted. Now I see I was missing something.

Looking around the city, though, my self-criticism was tempered by the realization that everyone else is doing the same thing. Planting, planting, planting. And in five years, or twenty, or fifty, it all goes so wild, because it’s so foreign to our nature to kill a tree or root out a shrub. And it’s simply a plant’s nature to proliferate.

These grapevines growing in central Asheville, carefully trained through porch railings, will eventually attract bears right up to the owners’ front door.

Insert your own city wildlife stories here, my urban homesteading friends. In Asheville at any rate, the common wisdom is that humans have encroached onto bear territory, so naturally there will be encounters.

I just don’t buy it. Look back to photos of 100 or 150 years ago in many parts of the United States – and in the case of Virginia or New England, earlier still, well before photography existed – and you will see the hillsides denuded, clear cut for the voracious American timber industry. Around Asheville the bare mountains were often planted with tobacco or left to erode, certainly not creating bear habitat, nor habitat for much of anything else.

No, I think today’s bears -- and bobcats and deer and turkey – are re-colonizing, re-occupying the habitat that we now supply for them ourselves within our densely planted cities: forest, forest understory, and the margins of forest. We are willfully, if unwittingly, growing wildlife habitat, confusing lushness in the city for rationality, whereas what we might need is a look back to Old Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America: their ornamental gardens smaller than small, sometimes only a few potted plants in a courtyard; orchard lands typically situated out in the country, easily patrolled; and vegetables grown behind walls or fences.

What has called this issue to my mind so strongly is the move that my husband and I are making this year from the big city – Asheville – to an old farming community near the New River, in southwest Virginia. We are retiring, seeking dark skies at night, a different way to see the world by day, and a way to take a zero off our living expenses. Our small Virginia house, 800 square feet, is surrounded by a few acres of lawn and meadow, and beyond that nothing but forest.

Just now we’re in the phase when we go back and forth to Virginia every few weeks with car loads of books and pots and pans and winter clothes to drop off.

>Living more and more in the country, where deer and bear and turkeys and bobcats all thrive, I have been shocked not to have seen a single bear all year, and only a few fleeting deer. Several shy turkeys that sped off as soon as they perceived a human. These are wild, wild animals in their natural habitat, and in contrast the closely cropped lawn surrounding our Virginia house makes anything that moves a target for some predator. Every living thing is eating something else. Even the bears get eaten, as hunting is encouraged but highly regulated in order to keep populations in check; Virginia hunters harvested more than 2,800 black beras in 2017, North Carolina almost 3,500, leaving the breeding population intact.

Out of whack bear populations, then? With hunting prohibited inside cities, and with every leafy suburb likewise a hunting-free zone, it’s no wonder that wildlife and people are facing crisis together.

My apologies for encouraging this imbalance in the past. My call now is: Plant Less. Remove More. Open up the yard or put a wall around it. Take out a tree.

Move to the country, where the wildlife is wild. Or stay in the city, making every square inch of landscaping a wildlife-free jewel. It’s time to look at a bigger picture.

Nan K. Chase @drinktheharvest, tends her edible, drinkable landscape in western North Carolina, concentrating these days on the allium family (onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, chives), perennial herbs, rhubarb, serviceberry and crabapple trees, plus greens and carrots in the shoulder seasons. She is the author of Eat Your Yard! and co-author of Drink the Harvest, and her crabapple jelly has won a blue ribbon at the Mountain State Fair.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.







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