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Attention to Wildlife: Biodiversity Days

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 24 May 2002

The dandelion's an invasive plant; I can understand keeping it out of lawns and gardens. But after a winter of grays and browns, I have to admit its early color lifts my heart. They're good to eat, too; with an earthy bitterness that livens up salads and stir-frys. And their medicinal properties are well established.

In 1966, in a massive screening of 35,000 species by the United States National Cancer Institute, the rare Pacific yew was found to yield a unique and powerful anti-cancer compound. We can't afford to kill off the non-human inhabitants of our Earth, if only for selfish reasons.

But caring for other species benefits us in another way too. Our co-creatures are not here for our benefit, they are part of a larger design -- as are we. Our relationship to them is part of who we are. What does it say about us, what does it do to us, if that relationship is one of ignorance, neglect, or destruction?

When I walk through my garden, into Howard Park, I carry a gardener's concerns with me: what plants look interesting, how are they doing? (Will I find ladyslippers?) But I'm not the gardener here. I have a certain responsibility, like a gardener's, to protect and preserve the plants, but I also have a responsibility to refrain from taking charge -- to let them be wild.

Even "stewardship" can be an excuse for assuming authority. How can we do the least violence to other life? Let's start by paying attention.

Naturalist Peter Alden, author of over a dozen field guides -- including the National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England -- comments that kids today know more about dinosaurs than about what lives in their own back yards. In 1998 he started a project called Biodiversity Days to encourage everyone to become better acquainted with the wildlife around us. Now sponsored by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, this year it's from May 31 through June 3. Volunteers all over the state will gather to walk, discuss, and record all the species they can identify.

Our regional organizer is Mary Morro at the Nashua River Watershed Association, covering fourteen towns. Some of those also have local organizers; see the accompanying list. Call your local organizer -- or Morro, at (978) 448-0299 -- to learn when and where walks are, and what they may focus on.

Next Date

Photo by William Larkin, courtesy of New England Wild Flower Society. We have had ladyslippers in Howard Park in the past, although the patch I saw four years ago has disappeared.

For more information

  • Town Coordinators list on the Mass Executive Office of Environmental Affairs' website.
  • Peter Alden started the first Biodiversity Days in 1998. The Newton Conservators' site gives reporting on Alden in connection with a lecture he gave for them on Biodiversity Days in 2001.
  • Pacific Yew — species information
  • The Taxol Story - An Overview — "a compelling example of the unknown values in forests"

© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark