How Little it Takes to Be a Thoughtful Citizen
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FROM Adam Weissman
Facebook posting, October 25, 2021

A patch of naturally maintained grass is OK if you make an effort to leave habitat in surrounding areas and consider the lives of others trying to survive in your midst. It really doesn't take much to be a thoughtful citizen of the earth.


"Since I wrote this post about the importance of leaving the leaves two years ago, one of the featured species--the American bumblebee (Bombus pensylvanicus)--has come under consideration for Endangered Species Act protections, and NBC News contacted me to request use of my video of American bumblebees in our habitat. Could there be a better argument for leaving the leaves and the fallen grasses than saving this once widespread species whose numbers have fallen by 90 percent? Bumblebees need these elements that are two often mowed and blown away, especially at this time of year.

After I published this, another group created a graphic based on this post, featuring the same headline and the same animals and one of my pictures. Unfortunately, they also offered mulch-mowing as a solution. That's not a solution to the problem, as mowing over leaves can obliterate all sorts of creatures who are trying to find a winter home there. If you want to get leaves off the grass, just rake them under trees and into garden beds. Or better yet, leave them where they fall, or make a thick layer to create a new bed, and hold the leaves down with branches and twigs.
So what if the leaves kill the grass? Do we really need this much grass? No. If I ever saw kids playing on the three acres of mowed grass per house in my area, maybe I'd be more inclined to listen to the argument that families need tons of grass. Instead of kids, though, I see the opposite in many communities: yellow pesticide signs warning that kids and dogs need to keep off the grass. And I rarely see anyone else on those lots -- no adults, unless they are mowing and chainsawing and leaf-blowing; very few wild animals, because there is nothing there for them, eat, perch in, nest in, or escape to.

And while I'm a dog lover, I can't understand why having a dog has to be a zero-sum game for wildlife. Why should dogs take precedence over the American bumblebee, the monarch, the thousands of other bees and hundreds of other butterflies, and the moths, birds, squirrels, rabbits, deer, raccoons, salamanders, frogs, opossums, and every other inhabitant of our lands? Dogs are not offended by leaves and wildflowers in the slightest; mine occasionally ran right through the plants and no one was the worse for wear because the native plants we grow are resilient. It's also easy in many places to take dogs on walks, and it's always possible to monitor them when they are in your yard. A patch of naturally maintained grass is OK if you make an effort to leave habitat in surrounding areas and consider the lives of others trying to survive in your midst. It really doesn't take much to be a thoughtful citizen of the earth.

When NBC contacted me earlier this month about the bumblebee video, I was speaking on Zoom to a Texas native plant group, and by the time I saw the message, the network had already wrapped production on their piece. But when I watched the story the next day and saw that it recycled some tired old myths, I was relieved that my video had not been included because I didn't want to be associated with it. The reporter who did the story ended the piece by standing in the middle of honeybees hives and talking about the importance of bees to our food supply. His implication that we need to save the honeybee--a domesticated animal not in danger of extinction--continued a long streak of popular narratives that inappropriately put honeybees at the center of "Save the Bees" campaign. Though many of us have written about this extensively for years and a few very thoughtful mainstream magazine pieces have tackled the issue head-on, too many TV and online outlet continue to sow the seeds of confusion. To this day I find myself engaged in an uphill battle to help people understand the negative effect of managed hives on native bees.

On a personal level, I've been trying to explain the concept to my neighbor, who moved to my street two years ago and promptly cut down all the trees in his yard and all the spicebush and dogwoods in the woods behind him, with the goal of growing turf under the trees there. Recently he told me he wants to get a honeybee hive. What will that do to the American bumblebee and the many other bee species in my habitat? It will create an abundance of competition for the few floral resources in this community: tens of thousands more mouths to feed, and for what? Adding hives of domesticated bees can also spread pathogens, another threat to the American bumblebee and related species.

Thanks to the Center for Biological Diversity for petitioning USFWS to protect the American bumblebee and so many other wild neighbors and wild citizens of the earth. We stand with you, "messy" yards and all.

This rant is not over. It's just time to get to my other work now. In short, leave the leaves for bees and everyone else profiled in the attached post; reconsider who your yard is really for (does it have be either/or?); and by all means, if you want to save bees, nurture habitat for those already living right there outside your door.

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