Hometown Habitat Film Serves As 'How To' For Supporting Native Plants And Species
A recent New York Times article reported that scientists believe that “the number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by 3 billion, or 29 percent, over the past half-century.”
Also in that article, President and Chief Executive of the National Audubon Society, David Yarnold, called the findings “a full-blown crisis.”
The report, while suggesting there could be many causes for the phenomenon, pegged the decline to habitat loss and the wider use of pesticides.
Catherine Zimmerman is a filmmaker living in Yellow Springs. Her new documentary - Hometown Habitat, Stories of Bringing Nature Home focuses on showing how and why native plants are critical to the survival and vitality of local ecosystems.
We spoke to Zimmerman outside the Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center in Yellow Springs where she talked about the film, which features Dr. Douglas Tallamy, an Entomologist, teacher, author and environmental activist. And tells us a little bit about creating our own welcoming habitats right in our own backyards.
Our time in the Glen this week also included a brief conversation with Bethany Gray - president of the Glen Helen Association and an ambassador for the National Wildlife Federation.
Catherine Zimmerman: This film is an effort to, not only educate people about native plants, but to inspire them to plant native plants and give them a call to action to include native plants in their landscapes. And the hope with the film in this screening is to give them an action plan to take home. A lot of people don't know what to do after they hear some great message that they want to act on, so what we're trying to do is give them an action plan.
Jerry Kenney: Tell me where your interest in this came from.
CZ: Well, it came from a long time of being a really bad gardener, thinking I was a really good gardener, using pesticides, doing all kinds of things, and through a lot of different things that happened in my life, I realized that we need to be better stewards of our gardens. Instead of taking ownership of a property, what we really need to do is take stewardship of that property, and that's [what] I'm trying to encourage other people to do. We really, really need to pay attention to the loss of species that are insects and birds that are happening because we don't have good land care practices, we are using pesticides, we're not paying attention and we need to stand up and say, 'hey, we've got to do something.'.
JK: With the loss of these species, that's been a story that has just only increased in the last decade, even more. Let's talk about recent New York Times article which documented a loss of bird species here in North America.
CZ: Yeah, that's startling. From 1970, we've lost a third of our species of birds. I was just walking on the bike path the other day and I didn't hear maybe one little bird in the distance and all of the sudden I got, I mean, I'm a pretty optimistic person but I started to think this is really happening. We are not, you know, we don't have the species. Part of the reasons we don't is, well there's a lot of things. There are many things at play but one thing at play is we're not planning native plants. Our native insect species really need to have native plants so they, you know, our insects are specialists on certain plants. The iconic one that everybody hears about is the monarch butterfly, only eats the caterpillar stage milkweed. So that's a problem and if we're not planting milkweed, we lose the monarchs. Hey, that's just a species that we all like and love, but tons of other species also lost because we don't plant in our garden’s native plants.
JK: And tell me about making this film and then what we'll see in the film as well.
CZ: Well, this film was really kind of a process. I started by writing a book about reducing lawn and in doing a lawn-alternative and meadow scaping. So, native plants where we put grass - not a monoculture of grass, but a diversity. Diversity is probably one of the most important words that we can, you know, think about because it's we need diversity in the landscape, we need diversity in our food, we need diversity in our friends. It's just a very important concept that we need to embrace.
So, that was the first step and working with Doug, Tallamy, who is an entomologist, and I would kind of call him the Al Gore of native plants. He has been trying to educate people for a long time about this connection between native plants and our other native species, it's all connected. And we decided that I approach him with this idea of doing a film about native plants, really keying in on his research and that's what the film is about. It took two and a half years to do. We went all over the country. It was pretty amazing.
One of the most amazing things I think I encountered was how much communities are really stepping up in a grassroots way to make this difference. There's a lot going on in this country. It really made me very optimistic. All the people I met and what they were doing. So, in the film, what we try to do is bring that inspiration and then sort of take it another step and help people to implement these ideas in their own landscapes. It's not hard.
JK: Has the film seen an audience yet?
CZ: Thousands of screenings across the country. I'm being really optimistic, but we need, like way more, and I hope people, you know, get in touch with me and have a screening in their hometown because this is not a message that can die. This is a message that we need to really get out there.
JK: In these screenings, are you getting new people interested in this subject?
CZ: Well, this is a big thing that I think about all the time. And one reason I did a film, I, in the past, I've taught a class in natural landscaping and native plants and at the end of the class, I would look around, think, wow, I've only reached 15 people. So, I kind of put together my newfound knowledge of this environmental concern in native plants together with my film making over 40 years of telling stories and this is a story I'm trying to tell right now because I think it's a critical story.
We just we just need a lot more people to know about this and I think that that's my big message. We need to create an army of habitat heroes. We cannot go out and talk to all the people that we already agree with. We have to find new people. We need to, and, the only way you really do that is with education. And that's a huge part of this film. It really starts out in the first 15 minutes trying to tell people things that they just don't know, and why would they? Because, you know, we're not teaching this especially to the people who are my age, who are really the controllers, if you will, of landscapes. We need to get out there just like the guys who advertise for pesticide use, which is prevalent, we need to have that big voice, we need to be equal in that regard, so people get the message.
JK: Catherine, we want people to come see the film but can you give us some quick tips on how people who are concerned about this issue can start building their habitats to draw in more of these species that we're losing?
CZ: Well, I think you need to take a good look at your yard in your backyard and try to identify what you have there. One of the biggest problems is people don't really know the difference between native and non-native. Native plants always support native species. Non-Native plants do not. And the more that we have in our gardens of non-native plants, as we say in, as Doug Tallamy says in the film, we're really clobbering our neighborhood when we don't plant native plants. We are taking away the ability for our native species to survive there, including birds.
Ten or twelve years ago, when I first started in this whole thing, it was really hard to find anything like I was thinking about online. Now, it's really easy to put in 'native plant' and find out what's native to your neighborhood. That's a big thing that people can do, is really try to identify what's in their garden and what they can replace that with. Butterfly bush - not good. People don't know that, they think they're attracting butterflies, but they're not really thinking about the whole lifecycle of that insect. A butterfly needs to first have a plant that the caterpillar can eat. Those would be native plants. Butterfly bush is a nectar plant but it doesn't really do anything for the entire cycle of that that insect.
So, I think self-education is a good thing but there are a lot of good resources everywhere and you can go to TheMeadowProject.com. We have a lot of resources that people can access not only to find native plants, but also institutions that support this whole concept. What we're trying to do is this action, to do this National Wildlife Federation habitat certification that anybody can do in their own backyard, but we would like to do it for the entire village of Yellow Springs and really become a model for other municipalities to actually do this, get more people involved in the community. That's really the important piece of this event, in my estimation.
JK: The film is Hometown Habitat, Stories of Bringing Nature Home, directed by Catherine Zimmerman. It will be featured in the Glen Helen Auditorium on October 25th, 7:00 p.m.. Catherine, thanks for speaking with us.
CZ: Thank you.
Jerry Kenney: Bethany, Catherine listed education as a big part of this film. That's something that the Glen has a lot to do with. Let's talk a little bit about bringing this film to its showing and some of the work you're doing at the Glen as well.
Bethany Gray: We actually have a partner in this film, the Yellow Springs Hardware Company, who wanted to help bring this film to the Glen, and we feel that it's an important connection because the Glen is constantly looking for ways to reduce invasive plants and species, nurture native habitat and educate people about their habitats. And, one way we can do that is to educate them about their own backyards, especially those that live close to the Glen and other natural areas, because what they do in their yard can impact the natural areas that they live around.
JK: The non-native plant aspect of the film, that is something that Glen has been wrestling with for quite some time. Can you update us on any progress there?
BG: Well, there's always work on invasive species management going on. It's a constant battle. So, there are a combination of staff, mixed with volunteers, who come out to the Glen to manage those species. Some of the main ones you'll see around here are honeysuckle shrub, invasive plants that are taking over, but there are everything from Stilt Grass on the ground to Tree of Heaven and other species that can invade.
JK: And what else should people know who might be interested in coming to see the film?
BG: Attendees that come will be able to take home information as a template for where they can get started in their yard, and some of that will be from the National Wildlife Federation, where they can start building up their habitats without feeling overwhelmed.
JK: That's great. I think a lot of people are excited about this project and anxious to learn how they can help.
BG: Thank you.