Tiny forests are springing up all over the globe. Communities who understand that humans are connected to the natural world are taking steps to benefit the entire ecosystem, instead of humans only. These changes translate to green news.
With help from volunteers, scientists worldwide are focused on: reducing pollutants in water bodies, improving coastlines, agricultural sustainability, and forest management. Volunteers are counting birds, monitoring water quality in local rivers, establishing butterfly gardens, growing plants around neighborhoods to increase biodiversity, and much more. These efforts are so future generations can experience the rich variety of animals and plants that make the Earth a special place.
Rick and Jan Felumlee’s Mayapple Forest Farm (Ohio) started as a hobby that grew into a “green career.” Rick discovered that their heavily wooded property worked well for growing less traditional plants. Today, Mayapple forest farm grows ten different types of mushrooms from shiitake to reishi, and (endangered) native plants such as ginseng, bloodroot, and goldenseal under the canopy of tall sugar maple, cherry, and walnut trees. Instead of chemicals and purchased water, they use a mulch to control weeds and enrich the soil along with rainwater for irrigation.
Birds symbolize ultimate freedom. They walk on the earth, fly in the sky, and swim in the ocean. In his book, A World on the Wing, author and naturalist Scott Weidensaul explains how technology has helped our understanding of the navigational feats that enable birds to cross mountains and oceans—in unbroken flight for months at a stretch. He writes that in the last 50 years, we’ve lost one-third of the bird species in the world. People are responding by volunteering their time to keep track of birds’ migrations, habitats, and their numbers. It’s how we learned that the waterbird population in Najafgarh jheel (2018), India, increased 135 percent, and the number of species was up 21 percent.
Birds migrate at night using the night sky for navigation. Artificial lights disorient them, causing them to collide with buildings. Cities turning off lights in high-rises are saving thousands of birds from crashing into buildings. The National Audubon Society, the International Dark-Sky Association, and the Denver Audubon are partnering to promote a voluntary program, Lights Out Colorado, during migratory weeks when billions of birds are on the move.
The impact of climate change, habitat destruction, and the never-ending battles with poachers are the causes of birds’ demise. While Weidensaul’s book makes for difficult reading at times, it increased my appreciation for the work of conservationists. Scott tells numerous stories where migratory bird species on the brink of extinction were brought back, thanks to education and ecotourism. When governments fail to act, people step forward.
Tiny Forests popping up around the world, often planted by local community groups, are based on the work of Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki. He found that areas (Japan) around temples and cemeteries contained a great variety of native plants which co-existed harmoniously, producing diverse ecosystems. This contrasts with mono-culture fields (corn and soy beans) and coniferous tree forests—non-native trees grown for timber.
Cities (e.g., New Orleans, Newark, New York, Chicago) around the United States are heating up. The temperature in cities and their surrounding countrysides can differ by fifteen to twenty degrees. Trees and green spaces have a cooling effect and are sources of flood management.
Want to grow a forest? Take a vacant city lot the size of a couple of tennis courts, clean it up, and plant it with various native seedlings. The key is to use plants native to the area. Then let the plants and trees grow with minimal intervention. The result is a complex ecosystem. Urban and suburban areas are becoming wildlife corridors— dotting the landscape with mini-forests. These green islands serve as a fast-food haven for hungry birds, rest for migratory birds, home to insects, shade-loving plants, and people. Dense thickets bursting with biodiversity grow quickly and absorb more CO2 than forests grown for timber. One Tiny Forest at a time, people are reconnecting with nature and mitigating the effects of climate change.
A handful of United States presidents have been prominent champions of public lands and wildlife.
Teddy Roosevelt designated the country’s first national wildlife refuge, Pelican Island (1903). It was the first time the government protected land. His administration established an additional 50 more bird reservations, created the National Forest Service, and signed the Antiquities Act—granting presidents the authority to protect natural and cultural landmarks—into law.
According to Wilderness.org, President Obama “protected more lands, waters, and cultural sites than any other president, culminating with the Gold Butte (Nevada) and Bears Ears (Utah) national monuments and the expansion of the California Coastal and Cascade-Siskiyou (Oregon) national monuments.” Obama committed the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris climate accord. The Clean Power Plan and the Clean Air Act were his initiatives, along with a rule to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas operations on public lands.
President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Endangered Species Preservation Act and Land and Water Conservation Act. But he didn’t stop there. In 1964, he signed the Wilderness Act into law to protect exceptional public lands. Immediately, nine million acres of wild American lands were under the protection of the National Wilderness Preservation System. An additional one hundred million acres have been protected since 1964. In 1968, Johnson established the National Trails System.
Good governance and people willing to help can make world-altering differences. Instead of an economy based on exploiting fossil fuels, the new economy will be about restorative and regenerative growth.