The Confluence of Hope and Action (Bonus Episode)

Our pilot season is over, but Griff Griffith and Michael Hawk have more great nature knowledge to share!

Today’s episode answers your questions about the Jumpstart Nature episodes we’ve already published and gives you an exciting peak into what comes next.

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This podcast episode was produced by Michael Hawk. Our host is Griff Griffith. Michelle Balderston is our associate producer.

Transcript (Click to View)

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Recap Episode

[00:00:00] Griff: Hello, welcome to jumpstart nature bonus episode. This is Griff, your host. And I’m super excited to be here because we had such a great first season. It like blew my expectations of what I thought was going to happen. So I’m super happy to have this recap episode where we’re going to go over some of the things that we learned from our pilot season, some of the.

[00:00:21] Feedback we got from you, some of the things that we celebrated and what we have planned next. So just a quick introduction. Of me is I’m a spokesperson for Redwoods rising, which is a project is a huge restoration project, probably the third largest one in the United States and it’s collaboration between Redwood national and state park.

[00:00:42] Save the Redwood league and the Yurok tribe. mostly I’m just doing social media and making videos about what we do, but also I do a lot of presenting about the project. And my whole life has been about wildlife conservation. And I’m talking my whole life, I started volunteering at wildlife care center when I was 12.

[00:01:03] And so everything’s built up to this jumpstart nature podcast, which I love so much. And I loved how our first four episodes really got out there beyond my expectations and that people got to hear about how they can help birds and plants in their own spaces, connectivity, safety, baselines.

[00:01:20] Pretty awesome. What’d you say, Michael?

[00:01:22] Michael: Absolutely. And yeah, today we’re going to talk about those four episodes. Some of the things that we learned, answer your questions that you’ve submitted. And quick introduction of myself. I’m Michael Hawk. I’m the founder of Jumpstart Nature. And from the podcast. Point of view, I am also the producer and the writer and editor of the podcast.

[00:01:42] And we wanted to talk with you all today because we’re planning to make a whole lot more jumpstart nature in the future. But we need your help to make that happen. And I’ll get into more of that here a little bit later, but the best thing you can do if you’re listening right now is support our Patreon, which we’ll link in the show notes.

[00:01:59] And for as little as 4, you can help us pay the bills. And train other people to do more and hopefully produce many more of these episodes going forward.

[00:02:10] Griff: You’ll be like our employer. We need you to be our employer.

[00:02:13] Michael: Definitely. And Griff, I think probably the best way we can go about this is to go through maybe episode by episode, and we can answer those listener questions share some other facts and interesting stories about each of the topics and. I also want to hear, hopefully it generates some ideas from the listeners about what we can do going forward.

[00:02:35] Griff: Cool. Maybe a good place to start was just to let people know how we make these episodes, like what the process has been.

[00:02:42] Michael: Oh, that’s a really good idea. I think that context will help. And so this idea, this podcast concept has been rattling around in my head for a long time, over a year. And basically what we do is we have a big list of topics that I think are important to get out into the world, but we want to do it in a way that’s relevant and resonates with people.

[00:03:02] We have this brainstorm list. Our volunteer team will go through it and maybe assess what some of the best topics are and work out the details. ANd one of the really cool things about this list of ideas we had is that as Griff and I started going through them along with the other volunteers, we found out that we’re all really aligned in our vision for what we want to do. So from there we would pick our shortlist for episodes. We’d seek out guests, record the interviews and then write the script.

[00:03:27] Or in one case, one of our volunteers wrote one of our scripts. And once the script was ready, and again, we really let our guests steer what we want to say, because we didn’t want to go into these episodes, assuming too much. Our guests had a lot of surprises for us that made for even better episodes. But once the script is ready, I’d hand it off to Griff.

[00:03:46] Griff: I would griffify it. .

[00:03:48] Michael: He’d Griffify it, improve it, and then we would add on the finishing touches and publish it.

[00:03:54] So starting with our first episode, if you missed it, it’s called the yard of the future. And it had Dr. Doug Tallamy who’s really well known for nature’s best hope, Mary Phillips from the NWF and Leslie Inman, who started this phenomenal community online that has gotten thousands of people engaged behind native plants.

[00:04:13] So Griff what stood out to you in this episode? What really resonated with you? Or maybe it was a surprise.

[00:04:19] Griff: I got inspired and motivated that we’re really going to be able to pull off some major restoration and people’s spaces their yards, their balconies or porches or place of worships or workplaces, because in the episode, we talked about how lawns became cultural and how huge and massive lawns.

[00:04:38] Are now not just in someone’s yard, but you put them all together. They’re bigger than all these national parks combined. I think you mentioned that in the episode, but if lawns can become cultural and people could be talked into spending all this money for pesticides and herbicides and gas for their lawnmowers.

[00:04:54] If people can be talked into that, then. Native plant landscaping, landscaping for wildlife can also become cultural. And I’m seeing it happening. We’re so much further than we were five years ago. And so that’s why I love this podcast. I think it was a great one for us to start off with because both of us We really believe that native plants are the easiest and best things that people can do to help wildlife is just planting native plants in whatever spaces you have, even if it’s just a container garden.

[00:05:23] So I think what stood out to me about the episode is just that it gives me hope. I call myself a hope dealer and episode one was a good example of that.

[00:05:30] Michael: Yeah. Very similar for me hearing Dr. Tallamy breakdown, the history of lawns, the marketing behind it, the politics even, and just our human desire to fit in with our lawn. You’re right. This actually gives us a pathway to flip the script, so to

[00:05:49] Griff: Yeah, and flipping the script is what we need to do because people have this like sense of belonging because they are keeping up with the Joneses, so to speak, with their perfect lawns and all that stuff. And you can keep that sense of belonging, but you can expand it and make it way cooler. And by planting native plants, then you’re bringing in, you’re having a sense of belonging because you actually belong to the place that you live.

[00:06:11] And a lot of us if you’re not indigenous. You’re a newcomer here, and especially in California, we move around a lot. So I just think that learning what the native plants are, planting them, be part of like having butterflies and birds come into your spaces, I think this is the type of script flipping we need and have that become cultural.

[00:06:29] So episode one, I think was super on point.

[00:06:32] Michael: And we got a really interesting question. There’s a couple of questions that this episode generated. So one of the questions from a listener was this the day after I heard the yard of the future. I also heard a little bit about a prairie restoration in my area and I was left feeling a little bit conflicted. Can you help me better understand why a prairie, which is full of grass is okay, but a yard full of grass isn’t

[00:06:54] Griff: Excellent question. So a yard full of grass is called a lawn and maybe we can just go ahead and make up the definition right now. The difference between a lawn and a Prairie is a Prairie is native grasses and other. Annual and perennial native plants. A lawn is a monoculture. So it’s only a grass and almost always like 99.

[00:07:17] 99999 percent of the time. It’s non native grasses and then prairie. You don’t need to put in a bunch of inputs. Maybe to get it established, you do, but once you get it established, you don’t need to mow it. You don’t need to herbicide it. You don’t need to pesticide it. So that’s the difference. And in fact, if you want to do a prairie in your yard, that’d be really helpful.

[00:07:36] Nationwide, there’s only 4 percent of our original native grass prairies left. And in California, it’s even worse. It’s 1%. And that’s confusing for people because you drive through California and you see expanses of grass. But if you got out there with your iNaturalist app, you would find out that those grasses are from most of them.

[00:07:55] Almost all of them are from Europe because we planted them. We aerial seeded them. So the difference between you can have a Prairie in your yard, which would be native grasses and some wildflowers.

[00:08:03] Michael: which would be awesome.

[00:08:05] Griff: Yeah, it would be super awesome. And there’s people that are doing that. You can there’s groups that are doing that.

[00:08:10] So you can tap into that Prairie energy, especially if you live in a historic grassland, that’d be really helpful thing to do. Okay. And then you know, that discussion you know, maybe you might move into a, a housing association or HOA and they don’t want a Prairie in your yard. Michael, do you have any ideas to help us strategize ways to influence an HOA that has set in their ways to maybe embrace things like prairies and native plants

[00:08:34] Michael: Yeah. And that’s actually one of the questions that we got. So if, if you’re someone who is unfamiliar with what an HOA is, it’s an organization that has bylaws and they kind of oversee what people do, what homeowners do in a neighborhood. And very often they dictate what types of plants you can plant and what your yard should look like, and it might restrict you from doing some things.

[00:08:55] This is a problem. A lot of people run into there’s a lot of things that you can do. A simplest thing you can do is you can start small and the HOA probably won’t care, make it look intentional and maintain it. But if you really want to make a big change with your HOA and you have the energy,

[00:09:09] start joining their meetings. And then if you want to take it a step further, maybe even run to join the HOA is one of the board members of the HOA, and you can make those changes. And this could be a huge way to make change because once you’re in, you can understand what is driving this perception, and maybe you’ll also find out that.

[00:09:31] Your HOA is very cost conscious, and you can make a case that you can plant native plants and save money on watering or save money on Maintenance. There’s lots of different things that you can do once you’re in the HOA.

[00:09:43] Griff: So just some good, helpful neighbor infiltration into the HOA may be what you need to do.

[00:09:48] Michael: Yes. And it will take some time. It takes some effort, but we need it. We need you to do that. Okay. Let’s move along. Episode number two was called plant your bird feeder. And we had Dr. Alex Lees giving us a perspective from the UK, Dr. Emma Greig from the Cornell lab of ornithology. And again Dr. Doug Tallamy, I guess there’s a common theme here.

[00:10:11] This episode was somewhat related to episode one, because again, it’s very native plant focused. But the thing that stood out to me most was again, how we as people. Operate on such a massive scale. There are millions of us putting feeders out. And you know what Dr. Lee’s and Dr. Emma Greig talked about is we’re really selecting for some of those seed eating birds, we’re giving them a bit of an advantage.

[00:10:34] And at the same time, we’re setting up these feeding stations that can act as disease transfer locations. So much disease gets spread at our feeders and that. It’s a surprise to me. I knew it happened, but I didn’t realize it was happening on such scale.

[00:10:49] Griff: Yeah, what stood out to me about that episode, besides the fact that my mom was on it, all is that The problem that she encountered, the reason why she was in that episode is because she got Salmonella from the bird feeder. And that’s not as uncommon as people think that’s actually pretty common. A lot of my experiences with bird feeders have been negative, like that, like a lot of disease spread. It might just be where I’m at in California. We’re in a major migration flyway. There’s a lot of birds coming from a lot of different places to our feeders. So, Maybe the disease transmission is higher here.

[00:11:21] But I stopped using feeders for that reason. And I don’t really need them. I have just as many birds in my spaces because I leave, I know I have native plants and I leave the seeds on them. And so right now I have this primrose that is getting more pine siskins than any feeder I’ve ever had before.

[00:11:40] Like I have this like 20 primroses that are loaded with pine siskins and lesser gold finches. And you can do that too. You can just leave. You don’t have to have a bird feeder to attract birds. And I love that about that.

[00:11:52] but at the same time, as an interpreter, as a natural resource interpreter, where I’m trying to get people to be connected to nature all the time, bringing birds into your space is a great way. I even bought my niece, my five year old niece, a window bird feeder.

[00:12:06] So the bird feeders can come to her window and she can see them. And she started identifying them and stuff. And so I understand that. The importance, it’s just, if you have the bird feeder, you got to have the responsibility of cleaning it all the time. And if you don’t want to do that, then don’t have a bird feeder.

[00:12:20] Michael: That’s exactly right. You don’t have to go tear your bird feeder down right now. You just need to take on that responsibility as if you were caring for a pet, for example.

[00:12:28] Griff: That’s a great way to think of it as your bird feeder is like your pet’s feeder. It’s got to stay clean or they get diseases.

[00:12:33] So another question we got from someone was that the national wildlife Federation’s native plant finder that we recommend, it doesn’t show specific plants for all the areas. Someone said it doesn’t show specific plans for my area. I’m assuming that person’s from California because native plant finder.

[00:12:49] Doesn’t do California justice because of all the microclimates that are here. They were worried because the native plant finder was making recommendations, but it was being vague, like sunflower species or willow species, but no specific species recommendations. So what would you say about that?

[00:13:05] Michael,

[00:13:06] Michael: Yeah, that question, they included the zip code and I checked it there. They were in Utah actually. And I, I think the NWF native plant finder is a great starting point, especially if you’re say East of the Rocky mountains, when they get to the Western States, it’s a little bit more complicated and I don’t think they have all the same details.

[00:13:25] So in California, we have calscape. org and that gets you the super micro habitat. Recommendations. But if you aren’t fortunate enough to have a resource like that, virtually every state has a native plant society and you can Google it. You can Google Utah native plant society and see what resources they have.

[00:13:49] If you’re still coming up empty, I know it’s work, but. Email them. Most of these people that are part of a native plant society, they are really passionate about the work that they do and they’ll probably share with you tips and suggestions and worst case scenario, search for nurseries that specialize in native plants.

[00:14:07] Most cities and even some smaller areas have some native plant nurseries. And ask good questions of any nursery that you go to ask them and see if they really know what they’re talking about when it comes to native plants, because, yeah, like there are many different species of willows and sunflowers.

[00:14:22] And it’s important that you find 1 that is local to your area.

[00:14:26] Griff: And there’s help with nursery, like how to find nurseries and stuff. If you go to homegrown national park. org, which is Doug Tallamy’s a group. You can find a lot of other helpful resources that might help you narrow down species in your area.

[00:14:39] Michael: Yeah, great suggestion. And a lot of these resources are continually improving. So check back once in a while, maybe you’ll be surprised. So moving down our podcast list, episode 3 was called the age of connectivity and we had Beth Pratt. And Robert Rock and Ben Goldfarb, who’s the author of the book crossings featured in that episode.

[00:15:00] So Griff, I know that we also had a wonderful experience with that crossing shortly thereafter. So what resonated with you from this episode?

[00:15:08] Griff: I just want to say, first of all, that we’ve been really fortunate that all of our guests we had on all four episodes were the most relevant guests we could have possibly have gotten in a lot of ways. Beth Pratt is like the main cheerleader fundraiser behind the largest wildlife crossing in the world.

[00:15:26] Robert 101. It’s connecting Santa Monica mountains to bunch of other natural areas, including Malibu state beach. And then Ben Goldfarb, he was at this event we went to. So Beth, Robert, and Ben were all at urban wildlife week, which was mostly about this crossing in LA. So that. Episode came out when we arrived, like it came out on Monday right when we arrived in LA to celebrate this crossing and the need for it.

[00:15:59] And I just thought that was wonderful. Connectivity is really the thing that we need to be talking about wildlife conservation now, because there’s a lot of reasons why animals need to move even before. Humans have changed the landscape as much as we have, they’ve always needed to move, migrate migrating long distances and short distances, like elevational migrations.

[00:16:20] And now we have what Ben calls in his book, crossing these moving fences. We have so many cars on our roads that there’s these moving fences. And so I felt like this episode was excellent and just introducing people to the connectivity concept, why it’s so important. And I don’t think we could have found better people to explain that.

[00:16:37] Michael: You’re absolutely right. We were very fortunate to have such great people to tell the story of connectivity and the thing that I take away from it, and it’s not just this. Urban wildlife week event that we attended in Los Angeles. But when I talk to people about connectivity and habitat fragmentation, and this concept of isolating populations, it seems like people just get it.

[00:17:04] It’s a very natural concept for them. And I think that really is what resonates to me is not so much what we talked about in the episode, but it just makes sense to people. And we see this movement really starting now. And the other thing that I think these four episodes tied together nicely, you talk about these moving fences, these roads, and this happened depending on your perspective of time.

[00:17:29] Slowly over time, we built dirt roads and then concrete roads and cars started going faster on them and then more lanes and all these different things. And it really, it’s an example of shifting baseline syndrome in a way, which was our fourth episode that featured Dr. Loren McClenachan, who did some of the I think.

[00:17:49] Most resonating research on this topic. Dr. Allison Whipple and Francisco Saavedra jr. Who gave us a indigenous perspective.

[00:17:59] Griff: Yeah. This episode really inspired me at work. one of the things I’m working on is since we’re doing this restoration of, of Redwoods where like, we’re going into these places where there was aerial seeded and it’s just really thick and they buried streams to pull out logs with I mean, I could. Just go on, you can go to @redwoodsrising on Tik TOK and watch any of my videos on what happened in far Northern California, but it ended up with, I think 4. 6 percent of our old growth Redwood forest left, and now we’re trying to restore what was clear cut. One of the things that I got inspired to do at work because of episode four and her research was.

[00:18:35] We’re going to have some interpretive signs in different places that people can get their picture taken next to it, which will always have the year on it. So year after year, people could take these pictures, hashtag them. That way we can save them and we can show how people’s baseline changes from year to year.

[00:18:51] So in 40 years from now, when these redwood trees, a lot of them are going to be a hundred feet tall. It’s going to, the picture is going to look a lot different than when people were getting their pictures taken. Next to seedlings.

[00:19:01] Michael: That’s an amazing idea because seeing it in picture form, I think really helps it resonate. And while I didn’t see any specific questions from listeners about this episode, I talked to a lot of people about it. And it’s a, it was a challenging episode because this is this concept. I think we all know that our landscape is changing and that the environment has changed, but really what we were trying to point out here, the concept anyway, is that we really discount the severity of the changes because our brains, we implicitly define our experiences as normal.

[00:19:36] Like what I saw when I was 10 years old, that’s what I think is normal, but then being able to see this history and understand the way things used to be gives us a much deeper perspective on how much things have really changed.

[00:19:50] Griff: Yeah. And you know, growing up in the Bay area of California gave me a lot of unique perspectives on several different fronts, I’ve talked to a lot of conservationists. You grew up in the Bay area. Like I did California’s Bay area where. The population is twice as big as now as it was when I was born.

[00:20:06] I watched the fields get developed. I watched the creeks get put into culverts. I watched the oak woodlands get cut down. I watched these things happen. I went out there and moved the stakes with the pink flags on them because I knew that those stakes meant that I was going to lose places that I played places that I caught lizards, places that I caught turtles.

[00:20:25] So in California and other fast growing areas, the baseline shift right before your eyes on a rapid scale. And so it was really easy for me to appreciate this episode and the things that Alison was talking about. Because I’ve watched this, I watched the Delta. I played in the Delta, the freshwater Delta that we talk about in this episode.

[00:20:46] As a kid, I caught turtles there and sturgeon there and all kinds of stuff. I think this is a really important concept for people to get. I would ask people to maybe listen to this episode twice and send it to folks because what is normal to us may not be what is best for the environment. And so knowing your historical ecology and talking to elders and indigenous people is a very important first step in doing any sort of restoration. And so we started off with four really important episodes that help people understand problems. And then we give them actions they can take because we consider ourselves the hope dealers and we want people to do things because I’m an optimist. I think we can. With information and action, I think we can make the world a better place.

[00:21:34] I’m not one of those people who doom scrolls. I’m more do hope questing. So when I go through articles and stuff like that, I’m looking for solutions. I want to know what people are doing that’s working. And so I think integrating that into our next our next steps is really important.

[00:21:50] So do you want to talk about what we got planned, Michael?

[00:21:54] Michael: Yes, I do. And I think what might be helpful to talk about where we’re going is also to talk a little bit about the vision for jumpstart nature, because we’re doing a lot in addition to this podcast.

[00:22:05] And the podcast is a big part of it. So jumpstart nature, if you’re unfamiliar with it beyond the podcast, I started jumpstart nature as part of my departure from the tech industry. I used to work at Google as a global engineering manager and really because of the. Habitat changes and the environmental loss and birding and hiking and different things where I was seeing firsthand what was happening, I really felt it was an imperative for me to do something about it.

[00:22:32] And especially when I consider my two kids and the world that they’re going to grow up in.

[00:22:38] so starting a couple of years ago, I started scheming a plan as to how I could leave Google and devote my life to conservation. And that turned into jumpstart nature where we want to catalyze everybody to make a difference for the environment in ways that are personally meaningful.

[00:22:52] And this podcast is a big part of it because we can reach a very unique audience here and speak to you directly. And beyond the podcast, we have a lot of different resources and newsletter and big plans to perhaps create a mobile app in the future that can.

[00:23:08] Help people take step by step actions and give positive feedback as you start to make a difference for pollinators or make a difference. From a carbon footprint standpoint or whatever it is that really speaks to you the most but pulling in from that longer term vision, one of the first things you’re going to see from us next, in addition to the podcast is we’re going to start offering some educational packages.

[00:23:32] And these packages are designed to reach people or groups that are looking to build their skills to spread the word about conservation and become hope dealers too, and become part of this movement. And it’s people or groups, nonprofits that maybe feel like don’t have the time to learn some of these new skills like social media or , podcasting or don’t have the money to hire someone to do it for them.

[00:23:57] So we’re going to affordably show. You how to do this. And it’s not as hard as you can think. And the first one, one of the first ones, anyway, that we’re going to release is all about social media and Griff. Do you want to talk about that?

[00:24:09] Griff: Yes. I would love to save people the 10 year social media learning curve that I went through because when I. Went viral on accident. One of my very first videos I ever uploaded went viral Rue Mapp from Outdoor Afro called me and said, you’re going viral.

[00:24:24] This is what you got to do. And I didn’t know what I was doing, but pretty soon I’m on today’s show and headline news and stuff, just from the simple video and increase the recruitment of the California Conservation Corps, who I was working for at the time by a thousand percent. And I saw the value in social media.

[00:24:40] And I was like, wow, I could really get a conservation message out. But there wasn’t a lot of mentors and tutorials and stuff during that time. So I learned by making a bunch of mistakes and. It took me like 10 years to get 000 people on my social media platforms. But then it just took six months for me to get half a million people.

[00:25:02] And that’s because I finally learned what the algorithm is and how to surf it. And some other really important things that I could share with people, because. You don’t, we don’t have 10 years for all the conservationists to learn how to use social media. We need to get these messages out right now. And so if you are trying to get a conservation message out, if you’re trying to save some habitats in your local area, you can do it so much faster with social media.

[00:25:28] And it’s just a reality. Like I wouldn’t choose to be good at social media. I would choose to be really good at wildlife tracking. Like I wasn’t. I’m the opposite of Michael. That’s why we make such a great team. I’ve been in the fields my whole entire life. I can barely turn on a computer. So the last 10 years of learning how to do social media has been a struggle for me.

[00:25:51] And now I know how to make it really simple for you. And it needs to be simple for you because everyone we’re an attention economy and everyone needs to hear these conservation messages. So let me help.

[00:26:02] Michael: Yeah. Griff has recipes that work for whatever your goal might be. And we’re really looking to bring this forward and simple easy to consume videos and checklists. But I want to hear from you, anyone listening, if you’re struggling personally, or your organization is struggling to build an audience and achieve your goals with social media tell me what’s holding you back.

[00:26:25] Perhaps some of your experiences and we can try to address it. So you can email us at podcast at jumpstart nature. com and tell us what you’d like to see, what’s holding you back. Do it by the 15th though, because we are putting this together soon and we want it to be the most help possible for you.

[00:26:43] Griff: And you can check out what I’ve been doing so far. If you go to at Redwoods rising on Tik TOK or at Redwoods rising on Facebook, you can see that’s where I, when I took everything that I’ve learned from my personal platforms and applied it to Redwood rising, it worked out really well for me. So if you could go there, you can see what I’ve been doing and you’ll learn a little bit about what I’m going to talk about, but yeah, , get any questions you have.

[00:27:07] To us by the 15th would be really helpful because we want to help you where you’re at.

[00:27:12] Michael: And yeah, one of those videos last I looked at over 4 million views. It’s amazing. You figured it out and yeah, we want to share this. So social media is our first package that we’re looking to put together. I would love to help people get, say, their own podcasts out into the world or better leverage their newsletters their website.

[00:27:30] There’s lots of different things that between Griff and I and some of our volunteers, we have a lot of different expertise in different areas, and we think that this could be very valuable. To you and any organization that you’re part of. So let’s shift back to the podcast specifically and talk about a couple of the topics that I think are probably going to make the cut for our next season.

[00:27:51] And the first one that’s really, I think, top of head for both of us at the moment is climate change. And we haven’t done anything specific to climate change yet in our first four episodes. And there’s so much that we could talk about so many different angles here.

[00:28:05] Griff: And we’re interested in reframing it so that it’s a new conversation. I feel like, like climate change, the science has progressed so much, but the speaking points haven’t. And so a lot of people have the speaking points are too familiar and maybe even divisive. So they’ve become invisible. So I think reframing the climate.

[00:28:23] Conversation would be really good. And it’s something that I’m really embedded in right now, because I’m often standing in front of Redwood trees that are storing 350 tons of carbon. The old growth, Redwood forest is the carbon sequestration champion. And that’s where I’m at. So I think this would be, it’s a great time to talk about it.

[00:28:42] I think that we can come at it with some non triggering ways to talk to people about climate change, some new ways of framing it. That make it less partisan, if you will, because climate change should not be a partisan issue. It should be something that we’re all interested in learning about.

[00:29:00] Michael: Yeah, that’s where I think to me anyway, personally, that’s a lot of the fun of creating these episodes is really thinking about how we can break through and reach new people. Like I’m not going to create an episode and title it climate change. No one’s going to listen to that. No one wants to listen to that.

[00:29:12] Wildfire is another one. It’s another one of these hot button topics. And I have a personal story about wildfire. And I think this. It’s very similar to a lot of people in the United States and Canada and much of the world for that matter. So back in 2020, during the middle of the pandemic, like everyone was very downtrodden at that point because we were stuck inside and here in California and much of the West, we were having a massive wildfire season.

[00:29:41] And it turns out though, that based on the science, the number of acres that burned that year were actually on the low end of the historical average. And I think that woke me up to like, what is going on here? What is different about this current day and age where something on the low end of acreage burns was just causing so much havoc.

[00:30:06] Griff: Yeah. And that has a lot to do with fire intensity and that’s what opens up a really great conversation. I’m excited to do this episode. I first became a firefighter and I was 18. And the last fire that I fought was that Camp Fire. The one that burnt down the town of Paradise.

[00:30:20] That was the last fire I was on. And I’ve spent a lot of time fighting fires with indigenous people. Or doing prescribed fires with indigenous people. And so they’re, they have blown my mind and challenged my Western concept of wildfires. And I think that sharing that is going to be just as mind blowing for our listeners.

[00:30:38] It’s a wonderful, very interesting topic of, about people and fire and our landscapes.

[00:30:45] Michael: This is an example of a topic that people are quick to jump to a conclusion. It’s much more nuanced and I’m looking forward to covering it. But again, it’s going to be challenging, I think, to do it, but I think we’re up to the task.

[00:30:57] Griff: Yeah. Both of these climate change and wildfires are what we’re going to talk about is going to be counterintuitive for a lot of people, but that’s what makes it interesting.

[00:31:05] Michael: Yeah. And just a couple more that are on the list. The insect apocalypse, you may have seen these dire newspaper headlines. And again, this is a situation where a lot of people don’t really think about insects as the critical component to. Our natural systems that they are perhaps we do think about pollinators in that way, but it goes much deeper.

[00:31:24] So explaining what’s going on here with insects and why we need to save them. As we’ve been talking about here too, we want to take interesting angles on our topics, be creative, reframe things so that we can reach people in perhaps a new way. And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about poison and toxins and the complex relationships that we have with these chemicals. I think we talk about the poison chain sometime where maybe you have a rodent problem and put out rodenticide and that mouse or that rat eats the poison, but then your house cat eats it and gets poisoned as well, or an owl will eat it and get poisoned too, which is obviously a bad thing.

[00:32:06] But at the same time, There are all these different relationships occurring in nature where plants are creating their own toxins to protect themselves. And this is a very important thing because it’s part of why we need biodiversity. We have all of these different animals that have co evolved to handle these toxins.

[00:32:23] So there’s something there. I don’t have the angle quite worked out yet, but we’re going to talk about that. And I think that we have a really interesting episode in the works in that ballpark somewhere.

[00:32:32] Griff: So what are your ideas for future podcasts? We are always trying to be relevant to people and their needs and to help. So if you have something you’d like us to cover, or if you’d like to be interviewed, or if you know someone who would make a good contribution, please let us know, please email us sooner, the better.

[00:32:50] Michael: Yeah, that’s podcast at jumpstart nature. com. And there’s a bunch of other ways you can help. I love that there because we do want to hear from you and you can help us directly in creating more interesting and better episodes going forward. I also, I just revamped our Patreon and Patreon, as I alluded to at the beginning is one of the most direct ways that you can help us continue to make these episodes and pay our bills because we do have bills to pay and uh, on our Patrion, you can contribute anywhere from 4 to 25.

[00:33:20] Which goes directly to the the efforts that we have underway. We also have a donate button on our webpage, jumpstart nature. com, where you can donate directly any amount. And of course, for this podcast, please like it, share it, rate it. That helps keep us up in the charts. It helps us get to more people.

[00:33:43] And specifically, if you can share the episodes that you like with three people or groups that you believe would like it as well, that goes a long way to getting our message out. So Griff covered a lot of ground here today. Is there anything else that’s top of your mind that you’d like to talk about?

[00:33:59] Okay.

[00:34:01] Griff: I’m just interested in hearing the feedback we get about episodes and how we can make the social media class as relevant for you as possible. Also. Please follow us jumpstart nature on Facebook and follow me at Griff wild on Facebook and Tik TOK at Redwoods rising is another project that I’m totally submersed into.

[00:34:23] Michael: Yeah, we could really use your support. I, a lot of people thought I was crazy for leaving my comfortable job to do this. And I want to prove them wrong. And I want you to all come along with us as part of this movement. Griff, one other idea that came to my head here is if you’re out there and you want to participate, you want to volunteer, you want to help us produce these podcasts. We could use the help if you have experience in audio production, podcast production, editing, let me know, because we can use more producers to get more episodes out.

[00:34:52] That would also be a great way to support us. So Griff, I am so grateful that you’ve joined us and that we’re partnering on this jumpstart nature initiative. And I love the movement that it’s becoming. So thank you so much for being here today and doing all the great work that you do.

[00:35:09] Griff: thanks for including me.

#4 – We Live in a 10% World

What is “normal” or even “natural” in nature? In a world where everything is constantly changing, the human desire to define things as “normal” has broad implications on how we see the world, and how we choose to conserve it (or not conserve it!).

This desire to establish a personal “normal” leads to a quirk of psychology called Shifting Baseline Syndrome.

Learn about the dramatic impacts that it has in this Jumpstart Nature episode.

Comparison of fish caught from the same Key West location. While just two examples, there are many more that tell the same story.

Join your guide, Griff Griffith, as he explores what shifting baseline syndrome is through some incredible examples. With the help of Dr. Loren McClenachan, Dr. Alison Whipple (San Francisco Estuary Institute), Ben Goldfarb (author and environmental journalist), and Francisco Saavedra Jr (forestry student and member of the Pit River Tribe Madesi band), we look at the many ways that shifting baselines steer us in the wrong direction.

Beyond a podcast, Jumpstart Nature is a movement fueled by volunteers, igniting a fresh approach to reconnecting people with the natural world. In the face of our pressing climate and biodiversity challenges, we’re on a mission to help you discover newfound purpose and motivation.

Join us in this vital journey towards nature’s revival. Explore more and show your support at, and follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter.

For even deeper nature insights, delve into our companion podcast, Nature’s Archive.

Links to Topics Discussed

Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet, by Ben Goldfarb

Eager: The Surprising Secret Life of Beavers, and Why They Matter, by Ben Goldfarb

Everyone’s Guide to Helping our Planet, Jumpstart Nature’s list of easy things you can do…TODAY.

Redwoods Rising

The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean, by Susan Casey

Links to Additional Resources

Anecdotes and the Shifting Baseline Syndrome of Fisheries (Daniel Pauly)

Daniel Pauly’s TED Talk

Documenting Loss of Large Trophy Fish from the Florida Keys with Historical Photographs (McClenachan)

Map of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta Region, from


This podcast episode was written and produced by Michael Hawk. Our host is Griff Griffith. Michelle Balderston is our associate producer.

Some of the music used in this production is through creative commons licensing:

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Lofi Prairie  by Brian Holtz Music
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No warranty of accuracy of the transcript is provided or implied. There may be typos.

[00:00:00] Griff Griffith: If we went back in time to say, 1777, to a place called Grifftown, Pennsylvania, it would probably be normal to hear people complaining about getting passenger pigeon poop in their hair. This bird, once the most numerous in North America, went extinct in the wild by 1900.

[00:00:18] In 1877, it would be normal to hear someone say that the salmon were so thick in California’s rivers that you could walk across their backs to the other side. Today.

[00:00:29] Salmon species are listed as endangered or threatened, in much of their range.

[00:00:36] In 1977, it would be normal for my dad to thoroughly wash the smashed insects off our windshield. Every time we stopped for gas he had to do this or he wouldn’t be able to see. Today I live and drive in the same places, but I rarely need to take a squeegee to my windshield. The insects just aren’t there. These extreme examples of wildlife population declines happened in just a few generations.

[00:01:03] And despite being obvious in hindsight, weren’t always obvious while they were happening. And even today, there are many other examples occurring right in front of us that most people are completely unaware of.

[00:01:14] This misperception can be attributed to a particular quirk of human psychology called shifting baseline syndrome. This quirk has to do with how you and I perceive normal from a particular place and time. For example, what do you consider to be normal weather? How many birds in our parks is normal?

[00:01:33] What species of trees are normal in our forest? The idea of normal depends on who is doing the observing and when they are doing it.. Historical Marine Ecologist Loren McClenachan unearthed an incredible reference that vividly illustrates This phenomenon at work.

[00:01:48] Loren McClenachan: I was focused on the Florida Keys and the Caribbean, trying to see what sorts of sources existed. and it was actually the very last archive that I was visiting in, in Key West, the Monroe County Public Library,

[00:01:58] I was working with the archivist, basically saying I’m interested in anything that can tell us about long term change And then he came out one morning with this big box of, pictures

[00:02:08] And there were these pictures of, people just come back from recreational fishing trips in the 1950s and 1960s, and there was just these immense, immense fish in the, in the photographs and immediately it was like, a giant light bulb went off so I was in Key West and I went and took repeat photos, in the same sort of vein and then compared them.

[00:02:28] Griff Griffith: These photos were taken at the same spot after similar deep sea fishing trips. And what did she find?

[00:02:34] Loren McClenachan: I found a 90% decline in the size of these large trophy fish over that 50 year time period. Essentially we’ve replaced these large trophy fish that we think of as, as being, these massive, catches and these massive fish on the reef with really small, , fish that have, essentially, replaced the fish, both in the ecosystem and then also in the, fishery itself

[00:02:56] Griff Griffith: Yes, these fishers returned with fish that were 90 percent smaller than just a few decades ago, but they had the same big smiles and looks of satisfaction in their photos as a fisherman of the past who had the much larger fish.

[00:03:08] Loren McClenachan: Yeah, exactly. That’s and that’s the shifting baseline syndrome

[00:03:10] Griff Griffith: They seemingly had no idea that just a few decades ago, they could have been catching fish 90 percent larger. Things had changed, just slowly enough that the fishers didn’t think about it at the moment, because they didn’t have the same baseline of normal.

[00:03:25] But shifting baseline syndrome is so much deeper than just our perceptions.

[00:03:29] Francisco Saavedra: we know historically that it only takes one generation to forget. It only takes one generation to be killed off, displaced or denied access to an area for them to forget the culture.

[00:03:42] Griff Griffith: That was Francisco Antonio Saavedra Jr. A member of Pitt River Tribe. Madaisi band with Yurok ancestry. We’re going to hear more from him shortly.

[00:03:53] So let’s take a deeper look at our sense of normal shifting baseline syndrome and what it means to you, me, indigenous people, and how we treat the environment.

[00:04:03] I’m Griff Griffith, and welcome to Jumpstart Nature.

[00:04:11] A moment ago, we got a small taste of shifting baseline syndrome, and we’ll come back to Dr. McClenachan’s findings in a bit, but first, just what is shifting baseline syndrome?

[00:04:25] Loren McClenachan: shifting baseline syndrome is this idea that, the first time that you observe an environment, you, you think of it as natural and, all changes that you observe after that personally, you think of as, not natural. So you can imagine, you know, your childhood environment, the neighborhood that you grew up in.

[00:04:43] Griff Griffith: Right? Who hasn’t had the experience of returning to a place they know well after several years and seeing everything has changed? What you grew up with is your baseline of normal.

[00:04:53] And now the next generation is growing up with a new baseline of normal. If they’re lucky, they’ll hear stories about the way it used to be, but that will never feel normal to them.

[00:05:03] But is the way it used to be the way it should be in the future.

[00:05:08] Dr. Alison Whipple: what really comes out of that is that our ecosystems. Are not static, they were not and should not be thought of as static. That’s often, a challenging thing when we wanna do like conservation work or restoration

[00:05:20] where we’re like, we’re getting credit to do X, y, or z. We, we wanted to stay that way.

[00:05:26] Griff Griffith: That’s Dr. Alison Whipple of the San Francisco Estuary Institute, referring to a study on the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta in California. In this system, river channels, islands, and sloughs were constantly changing due to floods, droughts, and other environmental processes.

[00:05:42] If we look at any ecosystem, we see frequent change. In fact, there’s an important concept where one ecosystem tends to convert to another ecosystem over time. Ecologists call this succession.

[00:05:54] A great example is a mountain meadow. Picture this meadow. It probably has short grasses and sedges, perhaps even a few hardy wildflowers.

[00:06:01] And it’s often surrounded by forest. This meadow formed because of some dramatic geologic event, , such as a glacier scraping out all the topsoil and plants and leaving behind poor, rocky soil. Grasses and sedges can live in that environment, but not much else.

[00:06:16] Over time, those sedges and grasses grow and die and decompose, adding nutrients to the soil. Fungi and bacteria move in, and new pioneer plants start to encroach around the edges of the meadow. The soil continues to improve, allowing shrubs and small trees to move in, accelerating the soil building. Eventually, the large trees move in, and the meadow is gone.

[00:06:38] Most ecosystems have these types of natural ” pressures” to transition to some different systems similar to what we just described with meadows.

[00:06:47] That is, unless something dramatic happens.

[00:06:50] . Many ecosystems have natural reset buttons, such as wildfire. These reset buttons prevent succession or perhaps even roll back the system to an earlier stage.

[00:07:04] In fact, we’re going to go deep into wildfire in a future episode, but for now know that our obsession with wildfire suppression has allowed succession to continue without reset in many places where it wouldn’t have been possible in the past. Ben Goldfarb, author of Crossings and Eager, has also been thinking about shifting baseline syndrome.

[00:07:30] Ben Goldfarb: it’s a concept developed in fisheries where, , maybe your, grandfather, you know, would catch these giant groupers, and then he fished at those groupers and then, you know, then, and then your father would catch.

[00:07:39] Smaller groupers, but we think it’s still fine, , and today you’re, catching sardines, but you know, you don’t really know any better because you weren’t alive when your grandfather was catching giant groupers and, you know, and someday your children , we’ll be, eating jelly fish, but, you know, that’s okay.

[00:07:51] because , they have no memory of, what the oceans were like during their kind of apex abundance.

[00:07:56] Griff Griffith: Ben’s example of eating jellyfish might seem a bit extreme, but it powerfully drives home the point.

[00:08:02] Often, these shifting baselines cause our expectations of nature’s abundance and productivity to decline. And this can create a destructive feedback loop.

[00:08:12] Let’s consider a hypothetical new development project Perhaps a new strip mall is being proposed for some area of land.

[00:08:19] The developers and politicians, and probably most people, assess the impact of the project based on current conditions. What does this land do for us today? Perhaps that land is abandoned agricultural land. It’s not providing much ecological value. . So officials decide to approve the strip mall.

[00:08:37] But our baseline of the land is totally wrong. Perhaps that spot back in 1900 was a wetland that helped buffer floods and supported fish, frogs, bats, and a generally abundant ecosystem. And could easily be restored. But our baseline tells us otherwise.

[00:08:53] So the decision to build on the land didn’t fully consider the ecological potential of the area. Our acceptance of these new baselines is extremely damaging. But shifting baselines run deeper still.

[00:09:05] Loren McClenachan: one example that I alluded to, earlier was the goliath grouper in the Florida Keys. And so this is a fish that has existed, in great abundances for centuries.

[00:09:14] it was fished intensively over the last century and it was protected in the 1990s because of, a realization that it was, it was really, depleted. And since then it started to come back, which is great. But, people who, have recently moved to the Keys, for example, will say things like there’s more now than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.

[00:09:34] which is true, but it’s also just part of the story. And so in the absence of a longer term perspective, those voices really dominate the narrative

[00:09:42] in the case of the goliath grouper, there’s been pressure to reopen the fishery essentially every year since it was closed in, in the 1990s. And it just was successful in this last year, which I think is unfortunate. I think partially that’s a result of, sort of sense that, you know, things are, things are better than they were in terms of the populations and these fish that people were used to seeing rarely in these ecosystems are coming back

[00:10:05] Griff Griffith: This rebound effect is also common. Without a proper baseline, we tend to mistakenly perceive a partial recovery as a much more significant improvement.

[00:10:14] And at this point, I feel like I just need to give the ocean a shout out. You probably know that nearly 70 percent of our planet is covered in oceans. You might also know that oceans play the most prominent role in our climate, where ocean temperatures and currents influence major weather patterns and trends.

[00:10:30] It’s easy for us to see what’s happening on land, which plants and animals are growing, how much land is used for people and agriculture, but only a tiny fraction of us spend any real time on our oceans.

[00:10:41] We don’t have the same intuitions about how they work and what they support. To help wrap our minds around this, people often cite that 70 percent statistic, but it goes so much deeper. Literally. Susan Casey, author of The Underworld, Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean, says if we think of the parts of the Earth that support life, 98 percent is ocean.

[00:11:03] That’s because life in the ocean generally occurs all throughout its depths. Above sea, life is restricted to a thin slice close to the Earth’s surface.. Despite the importance of oceans, we seem to have a lot of problems with shifting baselines in marine systems.

[00:11:17] Loren McClenachan: humans are terrestrial animals. I think we just have a much shorter set of observations under the ocean than we do in terrestrial systems. And so, in marine systems, we developed SCUBA and the ability to essentially be aquatic animals for short periods of time in the 1960s and 1970s.

[00:11:35] And so scientists began to use those and study those systems, a few decades ago. And so we have observations coming out of that history of marine science, but the average person doesn’t spend a lot of time underwater. And so I think there’s just a lot less, sort of knowledge about the changes that have happened.

[00:11:53] Griff Griffith: It’s frightening to think how much has changed in our oceans in such a short period, and our general lack of knowledge going back further in time. But historical

[00:12:00] But historical ecologists, like Dr. McClenachan, find creative ways to uncover the past.

[00:12:05] Loren McClenachan: So I worked with, some early pirate journals, and descriptions of, travels through the Caribbean, which was really fun. there was this one pirate named William Dampier, who was just an amazing natural historian. He recorded the different species of mangroves, and he was really interested in turtles, which is how I came across him.

[00:12:23] But his, narrative of his voyages and his trip around the world really includes a whole lot of ecology, actually, which is, sort of surprising,

[00:12:31] Griff Griffith: And this makes sense. Making a living at sea, regardless of the ethics of that living, requires a deep understanding of the ocean and its animals. A pirate in the 1600s would be totally dependent on the oceans for food, travel, and just general survival. If you weren’t a skilled observer taking detailed notes, you probably wouldn’t survive long.

[00:12:51] Back to the land for a few minutes. Dr. Alison Whipple and her colleagues at the San Francisco Estuary Institute have spent significant time establishing an early to mid 1800s baseline of two parts of California. Let’s first look at the San Joaquin Sacramento River Delta. This is just downstream from the famous 49er gold discoveries .

[00:13:13] Dr. Alison Whipple: This is a very unique system, we don’t have a lot of inland deltas in the world. So this was a, historically a freshwater but tidal system. So we had the, the two rivers in the Central Valley, the Sacramento and the North, and the San Joaquin and the South coming through the Central Valley draining the Sierra Nevada and other, the Western coastal systems.

[00:13:39] And coalescing into Pretty crazy mess of tidal channels in the delta.

[00:13:45] we mapped over 360,000 acres of tidal freshwater wetland in the delta

[00:13:52] Griff Griffith: There’s a ton of interesting geology here, but I’ll keep it to the basics. As Dr. Whipple said, the Sierra Nevada mountains act like a blockade on storms and force a lot of rain and snow out

[00:14:02] All this water flows downhill, seeking the ocean, but it runs into another mountain range. Thankfully for the water, there is a narrow opening in the mountains near San Francisco.

[00:14:13] Both rivers converge at this point, forming the massive delta. Okay, that’s a lot of words. We’ll put a map in the show notes, but just recognize that we have a lot of water trying to go through a narrow area.

[00:14:25] So it creates this huge delta into California’s Central Valley. In the 1800s, this delta was enormous, biodiverse, and very productive.

[00:14:33] Dr. Alison Whipple: contrast that to today where we’ve really done a lot in terms of hemming in those tidal channels basically levying off the small dendritic channels that used to weave within. The tidal wetlands and quote unquote reclaiming that land for agriculture. Those peat soils are very rich for crops.

[00:14:53] And so they’ve been great for many decades now. And so we’re really yeah, that’s that big contrast shifting to an agricultural landscape. So we’ve seen what we documented in, in our mapping was about a 97% loss of the tidal freshwater wetlands. So we really have only very small patches today.

[00:15:14] Griff Griffith: Today’s Central Valley is perhaps the most productive agricultural land in the United States. Full of almonds, walnuts, citrus, tomatoes, grapes, garlic, and dozens of other crops.

[00:15:23] So what’s the downside of channeling the Delta and creating more farmland? Well, with intensive agriculture, the fertility of these existing soils are declining, and we’re no longer generating as much new fertile soil. Of course, there is also the loss of many ecosystems, and biodiversity, and negative impacts to fisheries.

[00:15:41] Without insights to the early 1800s baseline, we’d be inclined to continue to reign in the river delta and expose more productive soils.

[00:15:50] But understanding how the system worked in the past and what created this fertile land in the first place gives us the knowledge to make better decisions.

[00:16:00] Francisco Saavedra: we don’t necessarily suffer from shifting baseline syndrome in the same way. We know that we were stewards of the land. We know that the land’s been altered. We, we know that history, it has been passed down orally mostly,

[00:16:23] my name is Francisco Antonio Saavedra Jr. My Yurok name is Chpgi, C H P G I. It means Osprey in Yurok.

[00:16:35] Griff Griffith: We briefly heard from Francisco earlier. He studies tribal forestry at the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California.

[00:16:41] He’s also a forestry apprentice in one of the largest restoration projects in the United States. It’s called Redwood Rising, and it’s happening on the Yurok people’s homeland.

[00:16:50] The Yurok people reside in far northern California. While the Yurok tribal lands today overlap with their ancestral lands, they have been reduced from roughly 1 million acres down to about 56, 000 acres.

[00:17:02] Francisco Saavedra: we’ve been stewards for the land of, for over 10,000 years, and sometimes that’s some of the disconnect that I see with the loss of like species, like the salmon. you know, we’ve experienced dramatic environmental changes and decline of species, of staple foods.

[00:17:19] Griff Griffith: One of the staples of the Yurok is the lamprey eel or Pacific lamprey as some call it.

[00:17:25] Francisco Saavedra: The amount of eels that my grandfather used to catch in the fifties, in the sixties was in the hundreds. It was a lot. Uh, guys could go out there and catch hundreds of eels to the point where they’re taking turns, catching eels, and It was sustainable because at that time, lamprey eels made up 90% of the river’s biomass.

[00:17:48] That’s something that when I tell people that, when I say, Hey, did you know that lamprey eels made up 90% of the river’s biomass as far down as the Sacramento River? Think of all those indigenous nations who’ve maybe never even seen a lamprey eel because of hydroelectric damming, because of redirection of water, because of loss of streams and habitat through commercial logging.

[00:18:10] Griff Griffith: It’s estimated that the lamprey eel have decreased by 90 percent since the 1960s. A couple of things stand out here. One, remember that number, 90%. And two, this demonstrates how complicated shifting baselines are. Francisco clearly knows the history.

[00:18:26] He knows the baseline. But many others, even some conservationists, may not know this. And part of that reason is not only because of shifting baselines,

[00:18:35] Colonists.

[00:18:36] Francisco Saavedra: created hydroelectric dams and classified the lamprey as a parasitic fish. He didn’t make no fish ladder for them. He only made it for the salmon. The lamprey died off in massive, massive numbers.

[00:18:48] Griff Griffith: Yes, Western cultures love to label everything.

[00:18:51] In this case, the lamprey eel was labeled a parasite. That label alone is filled with negative connotations, reducing the chances that anyone would try to save this fish. But who are we to judge the strategies that life has evolved to embrace? And we actually need creatures like lamprey eels to maintain balance in our ecosystems.

[00:19:09] But the view of shifting baselines from an indigenous perspective runs much deeper.

[00:19:14] Francisco Saavedra: we know historically that it only takes one generation to forget. It only takes one generation to be killed off, displaced or denied access to an area for them to forget the culture.

[00:19:28] Griff Griffith: California indigenous people are reclaiming their culture and lands.

[00:19:32] And the real story of what happened to them is starting to become more clear. I know when I was in school, we weren’t taught about the systemic genocide of Native Americans in California and other parts of the USA. Yes, I know the term genocide has taken on different legal and common meanings, But it’s hard to ignore the intent of policies and the reality of actions that were taken, very often violent actions.

[00:19:53] Thousands of Native Americans were killed directly through massacres or forced starvation. Many thousands more were separated from their families, enslaved, Or put in very oppressive boarding schools. In fact, there were land grants and related policies that encourage colonists to clear the land, removing numerous oak trees from the landscape These were oak trees that the indigenous people depended on for food and other things.

[00:20:21] As we learned in episode one, oak trees are also the champion species of biodiversity. Stick with me here. Have you ever heard of Silicon Valley?

[00:20:29] It’s the part of California where silicon based microchips, computer processors, were developed and mass produced. It’s now known for its tech culture. Depending on how you define its boundaries, it’s home to 4 to 6 million people.

[00:20:41] You look around today and you see business centers, office parks, and suburban sprawl…. But this area used to support exceptional varieties and quantities of plants and animals.

[00:20:50] Dr. Alison Whipple: The Santa Clara Valley, certainly as you head north and head towards the bay you start entering into more of a seasonal wetland complexes, alkali seasonal wetland. And then moving into, once you hit tidal influence the tidal marshes of the bay historically.

[00:21:06] Griff Griffith: Santa Clara Valley is the proper geographic region that is known as Silicon Valley. Wetlands and tidal marshes are some of the most productive ecosystems, most of which have been filled, channelized, or entirely cut off.

[00:21:18] But this area was also home to many, many oak trees, especially further south.

[00:21:22] Dr. Alison Whipple: Again, really a really profound and dramatic loss of oaks in that period of, mid 18 hundreds to that early 1930s period based on reconstructing you using methods to take the trees that were documented in those GLO notes, those general land office notes, and then extrapolate out what that would’ve meant in terms of numbers of trees based on the densities that we’d estimated. And so we found that there was probably around 50 trees per hectare, or that’s 20 trees per acre which can be roughly approximated to about 20 trees in a football field, if that’s something folks can imagine.

[00:22:00] Griff Griffith:

[00:22:00] This research was in a narrow area of the south part of Santa Clara Valley.

[00:22:04] Dr. Alison Whipple: sources that we are able to use for the work is, mostly generated by those who occupied California in the early 18 hundreds. So the Spanish explorers, the missionaries, the 49 ERs, et cetera

[00:22:15] Griff Griffith: It revealed the loss of basically 50, 000 of the most important trees we have for biodiversity. I think it’s safe to say that most of the businesses and homeowners in that area have no idea what was lost.

[00:22:27] And this is why we’re such advocates for planting native plants at home, at school, at your place of worship, or place of business. And if you’re listening, say, in Ohio, Florida, Texas, New York, or pretty much anywhere else, the story is the same. Just change the name of the species.

[00:22:41] 50,000 oak trees down to 300 is roughly a 99 percent reduction. Can you recall earlier when I said, remember the 90 percent reduction? Here’s Dr. McClenachan again.

[00:22:53] Loren McClenachan: that work found a 90% decline in the size of the largest fish that were caught in the Florida Keys. There was work from, from Maine, from this part of the world that showed a 90% or more decline in the abundance of cod, on the Scotian Shelf since the Civil War. , one of the early papers in this field showed a 90% loss of, pelagic fish like billfish and tuna caught on Japanese long pit, longline fisheries since the 1950s. So, I think it’s, it’s really sort of stunning that across these different geographies and time scales and species and ways of measuring, it’s a really consistent finding, which is this 90% or order of magnitude loss. there’s a Canadian journalist, who I think put it really nicely and saying that, we live in a 10% world. So the world that we’re living in now has, various ways that you look at it, 10% of the abundance and the biomass and the productivity that it had, you know when you look farther in the past


[00:23:47] Griff Griffith: , in many ways, we now live in a 10 percent world. Can you imagine the beauty, awe, and wonder of a 100 percent world?

[00:23:55] So what can you do to help? Our earlier episode, The Yard of the Future, gave you one of the most powerful things that you can do, and that’s plant native plants wherever you can, . And jumpstartnature. com has a special downloadable PDF called Everyone’s Guide to Helping Our Planet, which has over 100 simple steps that you can take.

[00:24:14] You don’t have to be overwhelmed, but you should get started.

[00:24:17] Today we’ve heard how shifting baseline syndrome skews our perception of the world causing us to miss dramatic changes altogether misinterpret typical processes such as succession, diminish and gloss over injustices and overestimate small rebounds in populations.

[00:24:32] What are some examples of shifting baseline syndrome that you’ve seen?

[00:24:35] We’d love to hear from you. And we’re curious, you can email us at podcast at jumpstart nature. com, or leave a comment on one of our social media pages. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at jumpstart nature.

[00:24:48] A big thanks to.

[00:24:49] Loren McClenachan, Francisco Saavedra Jr., Ben Goldfarb, and Alison Whipple. Alison Whipple also wants us to acknowledge the historical ecology team at San Francisco Estuary Institute that’s currently led by Sean Baumgarten . And was founded by Robin Grossinger.

[00:25:05] if you want more shifting baselines, Nature’s Archive has a full length interview with Loren McClenachan. It’s episode number 78.

[00:25:12] And jumpstart nature. com slash podcast has a transcript and full show notes for today’s episode, including links to topics we mentioned and additional resources to help you learn more about shifting baseline syndrome.

[00:25:24] Michael Hawk: Jumpstart Nature was created and produced by me, Michael Hawk. Michelle Balderston is our associate producer and our host is Griff Griffith. The song Lofi Prairie by Brian Holtz Music was used in this production with permission via creative commons license. The song is available from and the full license information is in the show notes at As always. Thanks for listening.

#3 – The Age of Connectivity

Human society is more connected than ever. Between mobile phones and internet applications, we can connect with each other instantaneously, around the globe.

We’ve carved our lands into isolated islands, but we can fix it!

And more traditionally, the United States alone is home to nearly 4 million miles of roads, structures which, for many of us, have only served to enhance our sense of connectedness to the cities we live in, to our families and friends, and to the larger world around us. Yet, these same roads that connect people have the opposite effect to the natural world, extracting an extreme toll on the plants and animals around us, and in many unexpected ways.

And roads and highways are just the tip of the iceberg. Join us as we unravel the many complex dimensions of wildlife connectivity while revealing the surprising toll that human activity has inflicted on the movement of species. Join your guide, Griff Griffith, as he is helped by experts Ben Goldfarb, Beth Pratt, and Robert Rock, who will also teach us how we can help restore essential links while supporting the health of the living beings around us.

Beyond a podcast, Jumpstart Nature is a movement fueled by volunteers, igniting a fresh approach to reconnecting people with the natural world. In the face of our pressing climate and biodiversity challenges, we’re on a mission to help you discover newfound purpose and motivation.

Join us in this vital journey towards nature’s revival. Explore more and show your support at, and follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter.

For even deeper nature insights, delve into our companion podcast, Nature’s Archive.

Links to Topics Discussed


Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet, by Ben Goldfarb

Lights Out Program from the Audubon Society

Living Habitats, Robert Rock’s landscape design company

Phantom Road Experiment

Save LA Cougars

Related Podcasts You Might Like

Links to Additional Resources


This podcast episode was written and produced by Michelle Balderston. Our host is Griff Griffith. Michael Hawk provided production oversight.

Transcript (Click to View)

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No warranty of accuracy of the transcript is provided or implied. There may be typos.

[00:00:00] Griff Griffith: Imagine you are a skunk. Not just any skunk. You are a male skunk in late winter. And like all male skunks in late winter, you are feeling strongly motivated by the carnal urge to find a mate. You can’t resist it.

[00:00:14] You leave your familiar territory armed with one of nature’s most effective… and stinky defenses, and you’re hoping to find love, or at least an available female to breed with, but you encounter a new predator while crossing a road. This lightning eyed hunter barrels down on you with a speed that you’ve never witnessed.

[00:00:34] You raise your tail in warning, but it’s undetoured. The brightness of its eyes get larger and larger the closer it gets. It’s uninterrupted growls grow louder and louder. You spray. The next morning, the smell of your failed defense is obvious even before your crumpled up body is spotted on the side of the road. Nothing in your evolutionary heritage prepared you for a freeway. Your genetic lineage is gone.

[00:01:01] And this straightforward problem of roadkill provides just a glimpse into the broader problems stemming from the isolation and fragmentation of natural habitats.

[00:01:12] Ben Goldfarb: Lots of research shows that they’re genetically fragmented and isolated by highways, or at least, you know, certainly many populations are. You know, they can’t cross roads to find new mates and, you know, their gene pools kind of stagnate as a, as a result.

[00:01:27] Beth Pratt: I think we tend to, think that plants don’t need to move, but they do. It’s, it’s the same principle that resiliency, genetic resiliency.

[00:01:36] Griff Griffith: Most people are astonished to learn about all the ways that the highways and their associated noise and lights affect wildlife. The impacts can range from gene flow to auditory barriers and result in the slow or alarmingly fast removal of wildlife species from the landscape. But don’t worry! A lot of innovative progress is being made around the world to reconnect these important pathways, and you can even be a part of these solutionary actions in your very own backyard, porch, park, patio, balcony, workplace, place of worship, and or school.

[00:02:09] I’m Griff Griffith, and welcome to Jumpstart Nature.

[00:02:14] Beth Pratt: Yeah. Wildlife connectivity, I think in a nutshell, I mean, you can get into, you know, really robust scientific definitions, but it’s, it’s ensuring animals and plants can move from landscape to landscape. That you don’t have barriers that impede movement.

[00:02:36] Griff Griffith: That’s Beth Pratt, who is a wildlife advocate, author, and California Director for the National Wildlife Federation.

[00:02:42] You may know her best as leader of Save L. A. Cougars, a campaign to build the largest wildlife crossing in the world, that’s going to cross Highway 101 in Los Angeles. It’s called the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, and it will help to reconnect two mountain ranges and their wildlife.

[00:02:58] Ben Goldfarb: The notion of habitat connectivity is just the idea that wildlife can move through all of the different habitats they need to meet their various needs.

[00:03:06] Griff Griffith: And that’s Ben Goldfarb, an independent conservation journalist and author of the new book, Crossings: How Road Ecology is Shaping the Future of Our Planet. These two experts have introduced easy to understand definitions of connectivity, which again, is the ability for species to move freely and uninhibited within or between environments.

[00:03:25] But we need to understand exactly why this is so important.

[00:03:29] Beth Pratt: Connectivity and connected landscapes is something we didn’t realize was so vital for the health of functioning ecosystems. At least when I was first starting out in conservation, we thought islands of habitats worked, we now know they don’t.

[00:03:43] And movement is important for many reasons. Obviously if animals get killed while they’re trying to move to find food or shelter or mates, that’s not good.

[00:03:53] If you have barriers that impede genetic diversity, that’s not good, right? So if animals can’t move to find mates, maybe they don’t die, but the barriers are something that, prevent them from finding food, shelter, or mates.

[00:04:07] Ben Goldfarb: I think that migration, you know, this kind of seasonal movement between points is a really obvious example of the importance of habitat connectivity, but, when you think about the other needs that animals have, of course, you know, they need to find mates, that’s a really fundamental part of wild animal life and, you know, the ability to, you know, move from your, sort of your natal population where you were born and potentially disperse out into an area, you know, with unrelated males or females that you can access.

[00:04:33] Griff Griffith: Habitat connectivity supports genetic diversity, which is critical for maintaining species health in the long term. If a species gene flow becomes stymied, populations begin to dwindle and ecosystems can even break down. Fragmentation also causes increased competition for prey and space and other resources. It also increases the number of encounters between humans and wildlife, which as we know, can go bad really fast.

[00:04:58] The impacts stretch far beyond the immediate and are becoming more severe as habitats become more and more fragmented. Fragmentation is kind of the opposite of connectivity. It refers to the many discontinuous patches among larger habitat. Just imagine one big island breaking into a bunch of little tiny islands. The National Wildlife Federation has named fragmentation as one of the primary threats to survival of wildlife in the United States.

[00:05:23] And what’s driving this fragmentation? In a large sense, it’s all the built environments and structures that humans have introduced in our short time on this planet. From buildings and infrastructure to agricultural fields and forestry activities.

[00:05:36] But there’s arguably no bigger culprit than roads. In the United States alone, there’s an estimated 4 million miles of roads with nearly 50, 000 miles of interstate highways, which are home to about 25 percent of all traffic, and each and every one of those roads presents a challenge, a question, to surrounding wildlife. To cross or not to cross.

[00:06:00] Ben Goldfarb: Not crossing highways in some ways, as some researchers pointed out to me, you know, it’s almost more dangerous than attempting to cross.

[00:06:06] Griff Griffith: We’ve highlighted some of the implications of wildlife not crossing. Now what happens if they do? I think we all know the answer to that. Many, unfortunately, become roadkill. It’s hard to estimate just how many animals are killed by our vehicles every year but the number according to Beth Pratt sits around 1 to 2 million per year, and that is very likely way, way lower than the actual amount of dead wildlife on the sides of our roads.

[00:06:33] Beth Pratt: I think there’s a moral cost to it that we have not reckoned with. If you just look at stats, you have eight to $9 billion worth of damage in the US every year just from these animal vehicle collisions. And that’s just the human costs, right? That’s medical costs, that’s property damage. Your car gets wrecked. That’s loss of work. If that was caused by anything else, it would be a public health outrage. We’d be taking action against it.

[00:07:00] Robert Rock: It’s everything from the cost of cleanup to the insurance impact to the impact infrastructure.

[00:07:07] Griff Griffith: And that is the voice of Robert Rock, Landscape Architect, Principal and Chief Operating Officer of Living Habitats, an Illinois based architecture firm that puts sustainability and ecological well being at the heart of their designs.

[00:07:19] Notably, Robert and his design team are behind the previously mentioned Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, which we’ll be talking about a lot through this episode.

[00:07:27] Robert Rock: Yeah, when you take all those things in total and you understand it’s that big of an economic impact, it’s kind of shocking.

[00:07:33] Griff Griffith: And that’s just what we CAN see. But our roadsides are home to a diverse array of species and it’s not just the bigger, more visible species that are held back by our roads, even plants face similar consequences.

[00:07:47] Beth Pratt: I think we tend to, think that plants don’t need to move, but they do. it’s the same principle that resiliency, genetic resiliency as I think we all learned is, you know, we can’t be in breeding with our relatives. And that is the same for animals as it is for plants.

[00:08:04] Griff Griffith: And if plant populations start decreasing…

[00:08:06] Beth Pratt: You start pulling any one plant out of an ecosystem, there is an animal that depends on that plant, whether it be a butterfly or a deer or whatever.

[00:08:15] You start having localized extinctions that then actually can affect the whole. So think about if you are a, you know, a plant that’s dispersing seeds, whether it be through wind or other animals, and the only seed dispersal that’s happening, or genetic exchange is right around you because there’s a road in the way.

[00:08:35] So you start creating these islands of genetically like plants. And as we know over time, that does not bode for a, a resilient population, you need genetic diversity.

[00:08:47] Griff Griffith: That’s certainly a problem in and of itself. But there’s one major factor that’s increasing risks and that is climate change. This should come as no surprise given the devastating wildfires that have consumed many parts of North America over this and the past several summers.

[00:09:03] The number of people who have been forced to flee their homes is staggering. We can’t survive such inhospitable and dangerous environments and neither can wildlife.

[00:09:13] Beth Pratt: You know, if you’re an animal who is living on a landscape that is burned, you need options. And if you can’t get to an unburnt landscape because there’s a roadway in the way, you’re gonna starve to death. And indeed, we saw that happen with the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains.

[00:09:30] Ben Goldfarb: Drought, fire, these other climatic, conditions are increasing the imperative that animals be able to move between patches of habitat and roads are exactly the problem that are preventing them from doing that.

[00:09:41] Griff Griffith: Because of changing climatic conditions, namely warmer temperatures and environmental disasters like droughts, wildfires and extreme weather, species need escape routes.

[00:09:51] But with so many roads in the way, that has become increasingly difficult, if not downright impossible. And to prevent this from happening, first and foremost, meaningful action on climate change is absolutely necessary around the world. But of course, this is a huge issue that will take time. So let’s get inspired by taking a look at what will soon be the largest wildlife crossing in the world. And it will be spanning one of the busiest freeways in California. Currently under construction, the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing will span 10 lanes of Highway 101 in California, and by Beth Pratt’s estimates, endures 300 to 400 thousand cars each and every day. The crossing is expected to be complete in 2025.

[00:10:33] Beth Pratt: The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, I think is, um, my colleague called it a Bridge of hope, and I, I think that’s the best thing I can call it. It is a visionary project that is reconnecting the Santa Monica mountains to the rest of the world. It was cut off decades ago when we put the 101 in and really isolated the entire mountain range.

[00:10:55] So this bridge is not just going to get animals from point A to point B, you know, it’s not just gonna be about mountain lions crossing over. On top is going to be a living landscape that pretty much reconnects the Santa Monica mountains to the rest of the world. So, along with mountain lions crossing on it, you’re going to have monarch butterflies laying their eggs on top of it. You might have a fox family living on it. You’ll have western fence lizards.

[00:11:18] It’s a living landscape on top of one of the world’s busiest freeways. And I just can’t think of anything more hopeful than that.

[00:11:25] Griff Griffith: Robert Rock as one of the architects on the crossing can speak more about what truly makes this bridge more than just a bridge.

[00:11:33] Robert Rock: You have to think about this type of infrastructure, not as a bridge, it’s better to think about it as an elevated piece of habitat. Sure, there are structural components that are classic to bridge architecture, but all of those incredible engineering feats as a part of this project are done in service of the environment.

[00:11:59] Ultimately when we’re designing things like this, You are creating this microcosm of the natural world.

[00:12:05] Griff Griffith: Once complete, this crossing will claim the title of the largest in the world, restoring habitats within a densely populated area that has been heavily degraded by human activities and development over many decades.

[00:12:18] Its proponents hope to see the crossing allow for the free movement of a broad variety of species without the risk of car collisions, while also enhancing the health and well being of many previously isolated populations. Outside of California, similar crossings or corridors have been popular in parts of Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and more, highlighting a trend which is only continuing to grow globally. And more and more regional or federal agencies are making it mandatory to consider wildlife safety.

[00:12:48] Great. So we build more wildlife crossings like the Wallis Annenberg wildlife crossing. That’s problem solved, right? Well, unfortunately, it’s a bit more complex than that.

[00:12:59] Beth Pratt: Light pollution is an incredibly big barrier and can cause death, disorientation, and, and many other impacts to wildlife.

[00:13:10] Griff Griffith: Most migratory birds, including ducks, geese, and songbirds will migrate under the cover of darkness, given that the nighttime skies are often cooler and calmer with less risk of predation. Unfortunately, with the light from our cities, distracting them from their paths, once they get lost, they can be left circling the same area of the sky over and over becoming very tired.

[00:13:31] Worst case scenario, this exhaustion can put them more at risk of predation, lead them to collide with physical structures, or even cause death.

[00:13:39] Ben Goldfarb: Of course, so many nocturnal species that rely on darkness to hunt and to avoid predators and to feed.

[00:13:44] Robert Rock: It throws off circadian rhythm, their foraging and their, their hunting activity, their sleep cycle, their mating habits.

[00:13:50] Griff Griffith: There’s a whole other piece about how artificial light can push migratory animals to migrate earlier than they biologically should or otherwise would. Yet, it’s not just birds who are in trouble.

[00:14:01] Beth Pratt: Dr. Travis Longcore did a light map and pretty much showed that the late P-22’s route to Griffith Park was probably dictated almost entirely by avoiding light pollution.

[00:14:12] Griff Griffith: P-22 is the famous mountain lion of Los Angeles who miraculously crossed multiple freeways to get to Griffith Park in search of a territory of his own. Unfortunately, he only found isolation in the urban Griffith Park and died famous, but unmated.

[00:14:26] So species can be inhibited by visual barriers just as much as they can be by physical ones. An artificial light, which has become such a fundamental component of modern human societies, is causing so much harm to the natural world by eradicating natural patterns of lightness and darkness.

[00:14:44] Whether it’s from light bulbs, headlights, or the glow of our phone screens, this perpetual light has undoubtedly revolutionized the way that we as humans live. But if it can cause such harm to other species, perhaps there’s some harm it can cause to us too.

[00:14:58] Luckily, when it comes to solutions for enhancing connectivity,

[00:15:01] Ben Goldfarb: I think that’s something, that’s something that wildlife crossing designers and engineers are increasingly conscious of, the fact that, you can have this wonderful wildlife crossing, but , you know, if that crossing is brightly lit and noisy, animals are less inclined to use it.

[00:15:17] Griff Griffith: Taking the Wallace Annenberg Wildlife Crossing as an example, Robert Rock and his team were acutely aware of the negative impacts of light pollution on migratory and nocturnal species. While considering the benefits to human safety that highway lights often provide, they needed to devise a design which held human and wildlife wellbeing in equal regard.

[00:15:36] Robert Rock: When you have surfaces that are lighter in color, they have an increased amount of reflectivity. The concrete barriers that are in the median or along the edge of the freeway are painted white on purpose, you know, to reflect that light, to make them a a bit more visible.

[00:15:52] But ultimately, when artificial light hits those surfaces and it bounces off of them, it creates this illumination that creates what’s called sky glow.

[00:16:02] What you get is kind of this halo effect from any of these portions of, of developed area and, and infrastructure where you’re affecting those species and their ability to exist within a certain offset distance from the, freeway itself.

[00:16:16] Griff Griffith: This sky glow was ultimately addressed through more intentional design choices meant to resolve a seemingly inherent conflict between human safety needs and wildlife safety.

[00:16:26] Robert Rock: We worked pretty deliberately and diligently with the electrical engineers at Caltrans to change essentially what’s been, you know, the last couple decades of, push in a different direction to be more efficient with light sources.

[00:16:40] The stationary ones that are along the freeway. Where the light fixtures would get higher, they would get brighter, and they would be spaced further apart. Well, the challenge with that is that obviously that light, when it’s pushed in those extremes is impacting further and further from the freeway itself.

[00:16:54] So we asked them if we could bring those lights back down to more proximate height. We could put them a little bit closer together. Uh, and then we also worked with them to change the, the color temperature of the lights.

[00:17:04] Ben Goldfarb: The designers, you know, have really gone to great pains to mask some of those light pollution impacts, through vegetated screens and berms and walls and other, other measures.

[00:17:15] Griff Griffith: Those two considerations alone, through the use of more efficient, less invasive light sources to the construction of these large earthen berms -doubling as both visual barriers to light pollution and ecosystem enhancer -will go a long way to restoring wildlife connectivity along the 101 in Southern California.

[00:17:32] And more progress is taking place elsewhere too. International guidelines have been developed under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and Wild Animals or the CMS to address artificial light as a major source of pollution and detriment to nature.

[00:17:48] These guidelines will be presented for adoption at an international conference later this year. Additionally, a number of cities have begun participating in quote unquote lights out events, a campaign developed by the Audubon Society, which encourages reducing unnecessary artificial lights during critical migration periods.

[00:18:07] Now, what’s the deal with noise?

[00:18:10] Beth Pratt: Noise pollution, another one, in the ocean and elsewhere, animals tend to try to avoid human noises, and especially on our roadways, some of them won’t even get to a road to try to cross because the noise is so impactful they turn around before they even get there.

[00:18:28] Ben Goldfarb: There are lots of, studies showing that, uh, you know, animals avoid noisy areas, or, they have to modulate their calls. If you’re an amphibian or a songbird to kind of be heard over the din. Road noise is really a form of habitat loss.

[00:18:43] Griff Griffith: Okay, so we know that large structures like roads prevent wildlife connectivity, and we know that artificial light pollution poses another challenge.

[00:18:52] In the same way, species can often become disoriented by the human made noises around them, especially near a busy freeway, which then either deters them or confuses them to the point that they’re not able to reach their intended destinations.

[00:19:07] Take this for example. You found yourself in a crowd full of people and you’re trying to find your friend. You hear them calling your name faintly in the distance, but you can’t exactly make out where their voice is coming from. Humans rely on auditory cues to move through our environments just as much as other species do. And noise pollution is posing a huge problem. According to the World Health Organization, noise pollution is one of the most detrimental forms of pollution. There’s a specific name for this kind of human-made noise, called anthropophony, or anthrophony for short. This term was coined by musician and soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause along with his colleague Stuart Gage and refers to the sounds that are generated directly by humans or our technologies.

[00:19:52] While there’s a bit more nuance and details we can get into, this term is important as it sets itself apart from geophony, the sounds of natural non biological things such as wind or water, and biophony, or the sounds of living organisms.

[00:20:05] Why is it important to distinguish human made sounds from other living or non living sounds? Well, estimates suggest that the rustling of leaves might be as quiet as 20 to 30 decibels, while a small stream might be 40 decibels.

[00:20:19] In contrast, the sound of a lawnmower can be as loud as 90 decibels. The wail of a siren? Up to 140 decibels, both of which far exceed the threshold at which sound can damage a human’s ears. And things become even more serious if those sounds persist over long periods of time.

[00:20:41] Ben Goldfarb: I didn’t quite realize the extent to which all of that noise was impacting me until you read the literature about the human health effects of road noise and, you know, and realize that, I mean, that constant racket, that stress, is raising our blood pressures and, you know, making us more susceptible to stroke and cardiac disease and, all kinds of problems. I mean, road noise is literally shortening our lifespans. You know, it’s, it’s one of the great, I think, unsung public health crises of our time. You know, and it has kind of a similar, uh, effect on wildlife as well.

[00:21:14] Griff Griffith: If humans were removed entirely from these landscapes, just think of how quiet things would be. The consequences of anthropophony are striking.

[00:21:24] Ben Goldfarb: if you’re an animal, a wild animal, you know, your, hearing is indispensable, right? if you’re an owl or a fox, you know, that’s how you detect your prey. And, if you’re a prey species, that’s how you detect your predator, right, is primarily through hearing. you can’t hear, you know, you’re going to avoid that area.

[00:21:41] Griff Griffith: Researchers have studied this very effect in what is called the Phantom Road Experiment…

[00:21:47] Ben Goldfarb: …which was conducted in Idaho by researchers at Boise State University. And, basically what they did was they recorded the sound of traffic, and then they played the noise of the road, this otherwise unroaded, forest, during songbird migration season.

[00:22:02] And, you they found very clearly was that, birds tended to avoid that noisy area, and the birds that did stick around, were in worse body condition because, they were sort of constantly having to look around for predators rather than hear them, and they, fed less as a, as a result.

[00:22:19] So they were kind of skinnier and less equipped to, uh, complete their migration. So that was just, you know, kind of a, a brilliant study that, proved, I think very conclusively that, isolating noise as a variable, road noise is, is still a, a huge issue.

[00:22:32] Griff Griffith: Studies such as this one have highlighted the negative implications of noise pollution on species health and richness, where decreasing species abundance has resulted from traffic noise as low as around 45 to 55 decibels.

[00:22:46] Other species such as frogs and toads have been known to adjust their vocal behaviors in the presence of anthropophony by adjusting the frequency or amplitude of their calls or ceasing their calls altogether.

[00:22:59] This may leave the females without the ability to find their mate. Or it could trigger a stress response in them which leaves them immobile.

[00:23:07] Now, the best part about noise pollution is that unlike other forms of pollution, it doesn’t linger once it’s been removed from the environment. You turn off the sound, you start to restore connectivity.

[00:23:17] Remember those large earthen berms I mentioned earlier that have been integrated into the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing? That’s another brilliant example of how landscape architects like Robert Rock consider the different barriers to wildlife connectivity and integrate these considerations into corridors and other connectivity projects, as these walls do a great deal to diffuse noise as well.

[00:23:41] Robert Rock: You put up a sound wall because we hear high and medium frequency sounds, and we want to attenuate those sounds to make our, our lives better on the backside of those walls, so we don’t hear that sound coming off the freeway.

[00:23:52] But the challenge that exists when you’re designing a crossing like this, where we really, truly are restitching the entire ecosystem, is that those areas that are adjacent to the crossing structure themselves will host species that are part of that environment, that have a home range that’s so small that we are creating a home for them.

[00:24:11] We’re creating a home for some of these species that are more impacted by the low frequency sounds than they are by the higher the medium.

[00:24:18] So what we’ve designed are these series of earthen berms that stretch along the freeway in all four directions, off the corners of the structure that are a combination of different layers of material that flank the edge of the roadway and extend back into the habitat area so that we can vegetate the backside of that and create habitat on the backside.

[00:24:39] And create enough mass between the roadway and the habitat that we’re creating to attenuate sound on the order of 20 to 25 decibels.

[00:24:48] Griff Griffith: In cities in Europe, acoustic walls and rubberized roads have been piloted to diffract the sound of traffic. As recognition to this invisible type of obstacle to connectivity becomes more common and these types of solutions become popularized around the world, we’re sure to do a great deal of good for our own health and the health of the species around us.

[00:25:09] I hope it’s clear by now that wildlife connectivity, whether physical, auditory, or visual, is absolutely crucial to preserve The well being of biodiversity and we humans with every additional road or structure we build have made that increasingly difficult. And it’s not just roads and highways that we need to think about. Anywhere we’ve built structures that impede animal movement, anywhere that our artificial lights cut through the dark of night, and anywhere our noises boom through habitats offers us the opportunity to see how we’re impeding wildlife connectivity and try to improve it.

[00:25:42] Beth Pratt: You’re not gonna have wildlife in the future if you keep building more parking lots and start accommodating like electric bikes off trail.

[00:25:50] But yeah, I think, you know, our biggest barrier is us.

[00:25:53] Griff Griffith: But not all hope is lost. There are some incredibly inspiring initiatives taking place across the United States and the world that are successfully working to rebuild these essential links.

[00:26:02] Take the Wallace Annenberg Wildlife Crossing in California as a striking example of human ingenuity and compassion for our fellow living beings.

[00:26:11] Understandably, not all of us can just go out and build wildlife crossings, but there are still little steps that we, as individuals, can take to make a positive difference. For example,

[00:26:21] Beth Pratt: I mean, obviously donating to projects, but volunteering, getting the word out about why this is important.

[00:26:27] But I think the biggest impact you can have is actually just in your own space, whether you have a backyard or an apartment balcony or whatever, put on your wildlife eyes and look at how you may be contributing to the problem. Are you leaving your lights on at night? Do you have lights that are impacting wildlife? If everybody shut off their lights, wow, that would just be an amazing impact.

[00:26:52] Ben Goldfarb: citizen science is really powerful. Or community science or participatory science, you know, whatever, whatever term you wanna use for. that’s kind of one of the, one of the beautiful things about, participatory road ecology is that, it doesn’t really require any, you know, special expertise to identify, you know, a dead raccoon or a skunk, by the side of the road.

[00:27:10] And there are many programs and apps, that collect that data and use that data. And, you know, there are some wonderful case studies community collected data,, informing the location of wildlife crossings or, you know, or, or contributing to, our understanding of the range of species. Roadkill, you know, for all of its tragedy is also this really useful scientific tool.

[00:27:31] Griff Griffith: There’s lots of reasons to have hope.

[00:27:36] Beth Pratt: I do think overall the views of wildlife are changing across the country. Um, some areas it’ll take a lot longer, but you know, science is now showing what or as animal lovers, you know, I grew up with animals my whole life, knew, which is they are capable of emotion, they do have personalities, they have an intrinsic worth.

[00:27:57] we take for granted every day being able to get in our car and driving to the grocery store without being killed, without having to navigate an obstacle course.

[00:28:06] I think if we started thinking about what it would mean if we had to face all these obstacles, we’d have wildlife crossings everywhere.

[00:28:14] And I think the good news is it’s not that we have to give up doing any of these things. We don’t have to give up mountain biking or boating or driving. We just have to do those things with wildlife in mind.

[00:28:25] Griff Griffith: Many of the impediments to connectivity we discussed today happened consistently over generations, and surprisingly, despite being obvious in hindsight, it was not so obvious while it was happening. With the actions we discussed in today’s episode, we can help biodiversity recover.

[00:28:44] But there are many other examples of dramatic generational changes that we miss or misinterpret.

[00:28:49] For example our elders have told us of a time when salmon were so plentiful that you could walk across the river on their backs or a time when you had to pull over your car and wipe all the bugs off your windshield just so you could see the road but current generations may be unaware of this history Due to a phenomenon known as Shifting Baseline Syndrome.

[00:29:10] In episode four, we’ll hear an indigenous perspective, a marine biologist perspective, and an environmental scientist perspective to help us understand how to go from a place of wildlife deficit to creating a story of hope, a story of lots of wildlife coexisting with us as we move forward.

[00:29:28] How do you or will you support connectivity in your own community or even your own backyard? We’d love to hear from you. You can email us at podcast at jumpstart nature. com or leave a comment on one of our social media pages. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and you can also follow our personal Tik Toks. Mine’s @GriffWild.

[00:29:47] And a huge gratitude shout out to Ben Goldfarb, Beth Pratt, and Robert Rock for their contributions to today’s episode. Ben and Beth have also been featured in our sister podcast, Nature’s Archive. If you’re interested in hearing full length interviews about the fascinating world of connectivity and more, check them out.

[00:30:05] Ben Goldfarb also has a wonderful new book out called crossings, which I highly recommend checking out. if you want to learn more about widespread ecological transformations that roads have driven, including many of the topics we’ve touched today, be sure to get his book. I am loving it.

[00:30:23] And be sure to check out, where we’ll include links to all the resources mentioned during today’s episode, a transcript of the podcast and additional resources to help you learn more about how to support connectivity.

[00:30:37] Michael Hawk: The Jumpstart Nature Podcast was created by myself, Michael Hawk. Today’s episode was written and produced by Michelle Balderston. And our host is Griff Griffith. Thank you for listening.

#2 – Plant Your Birdfeeder

Feeding birds is a cherished nature pastime in the United States, the UK, and Canada. It brings the wonders of the wild right to our backyards, allowing us to marvel at the beauty and behaviors of our feathered friends up close. Plus, there’s the satisfaction of knowing we’re contributing to wildlife’s well-being!

Northern Cardinal on a seed tray

But have you ever wondered about the impact of bird feeding? What about the recent concerns regarding disease outbreaks? And do you know where the birdseed you use comes from?

Join us in this episode as we delve into the world of bird feeding with insights from experts in the field: Dr. Emma Greig from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Dr. Alex Lees from Manchester Metropolitan University, Dr. Doug Tallamy (see last week’s episode for much more from Dr. Tallamy!), and Mary Phillips. They’ll help our host, Griff Griffith, unravel the mysteries, so you can feel confident that your bird feeding habits are indeed making a positive difference for our avian companions.

Beyond a podcast, Jumpstart Nature is a movement fueled by volunteers, igniting a fresh approach to reconnecting people with the natural world. In the face of our pressing climate and biodiversity challenges, we’re on a mission to help you discover newfound purpose and motivation.

Join us in this vital journey towards nature’s revival. Explore more and show your support at, and follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter.

For even deeper nature insights, delve into our companion podcast, Nature’s Archive.

Links to Topics Discussed

Full Nature’s Archive Interview with Dr. Emma Greig “From Fairywrens to FeederWatch

Killing with kindness: Does widespread generalised provisioning of wildlife help or hinder biodiversity conservation efforts? – scientific paper by Jack Shutt and Alex Lees

Preventing Window Strikes

Project FeederWatch – Begins on November 1!

2021 Pine Siskin Salmonella Outbreak

3 Billion Birds Gone – the detailed study that determined that we’ve lost 3 billion birds since 1970.

Links to Additional Resources

Homegrown National Park

Seven Actions to help birds


This podcast episode was written and produced by Michael Hawk. Our host is Griff Griffith. Michelle Balderston is our associate producer.

Some of the music used in this production is through creative commons licensing:

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Imagefilm 033 by Sascha Ende
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License (CC BY 4.0):

Music: Cinematic Suspense Series Episode 009 by Sascha Ende
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License (CC BY 4.0):

Music: Lofi Prairie by Brian Holtz Music
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Music: Stranded by Brian Holtz Music
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License (CC BY 4.0):
Transcript (Click to View)

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You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “Jumpstart Nature Podcast” and link back to the URL.

No warranty of accuracy of the transcript is provided or implied. There may be typos.

[00:00:00] Griff Griffith: Do you have a bird feeder in your backyard or know someone who does? It’s quite likely that the answer is yes. In the United States alone, bird feeding has become a soaring $4 billion industry, and it’s even more popular in the uk.

[00:00:17] Why not? Feeding birds is a great way to experience wildlife up close. We all love novelty and what’s better than a surprising flash of color from a unique bird, just a few feet outside of your window

[00:00:30] and the science is clear.

[00:00:31] Connectedness with nature Is important for our health and wellbeing, and it just feels good to help other creatures.

[00:00:37] Here’s the twist Feeding birds in our backyards has many unintended consequences. Most of us may even be feeding birds the wrong way,

[00:00:46] KGW TV Reporter: Symptoms are consistent with salmonella. It spreads easily at feeders since birds return over and over to the same spot.

[00:00:58] Griff Griffith: And I was surprised to learn that there is way more to this story. There are just so many unexpected impacts of feeding birds. Sometimes it seems like we need feeders more than the birds do.

[00:01:10] Don’t worry though. we’ve interviewed some experts and did a little research, so you don’t have to. Now, let’s figure this out together.

[00:01:17] I’m Griff Griffith, and welcome to Jumpstart Nature.

[00:01:30] Michael Hawk: Oh, this is a really fun one. Look over there in the Bush. It’s going to come in. Here it comes. And look, it takes a seed and it leaves.

[00:01:39] And give it a second here and it will come back.

[00:01:42] Here it comes. Can I get one more seed and leave?

[00:01:46] Griff Griffith: That’s jumpstart nature’s founder Michael, describing an oak titmouse at his feeder. You can just hear the excitement and after watching for a while, you will notice that every bird has different lifestyles and behaviors. The oak titmouse, for example. Seems almost polite too. I mean, the way it grabs one seed flies away to either eat it or stash it and then returns for another.

[00:02:07] Some birds may only eat seeds off the ground. Others love to cling to the feeder, and still others will only land on a stable platform to eat. This explains all the different types of bird feeders you see at the store

[00:02:18] Dr. Emma Greig: You can just put a little tray of seed on your back porch and actually bring nature right to your window and be able to see, oh, these are some of the birds that are around.

[00:02:27] Griff Griffith: That is Dr. Emma Greig. Dr. Greig is with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which is broadly considered the epicenter for bird research in the United States. She oversees project Feeder Watch, an annual community science effort to document which birds show up in people’s yards. in fact, you can participate in this.

[00:02:45] I’ll explain in a bit.

[00:02:47] Since the winter of 1987. 88,

[00:02:49] Dr. Emma Greig: , people have been counting birds for Project Feederwatch, following the exact same protocol,what this means now is that it is just this humongous, beautiful dataset of standardized observations of birds in winter

[00:03:05] Griff Griffith: with all of this data collected from regular folks like us, scientists at the Cornell Lab can detect and deduce all sorts of things such as which birds are showing up in specific locations, and if their populations are increasing or decreasing, or if a species range, the area which they live is changing.

[00:03:23] But this brings up a great point. This dataset only tracks birds that visit feeders.

[00:03:29] Dr. Emma Greig: FeederWatch is not an ideal data set if you want to study, say, population trends in :red-eyed vireos, a little insectivorous, migratory bird, that’s probably not going to be around your feeder.

[00:03:42] Griff Griffith: I was surprised to learn just how few bird species visit feeders at all.

[00:03:47] Dr. Alex Lees: a majority of songbirds are actually insectivorous So bird feeding only ever helps a relatively small number of species

[00:03:55] Griff Griffith: that’s Dr. Alex Lees co-author of a 2021 paper that looked at bird feeding and human provisioning of other resources such as bird, baths, nesting boxes, and even landfills, which serve as a human made restaurant for some birds.

[00:04:09] Various estimates indicate that 70% or more adult songbirds rely on insects at least occasionally.

[00:04:17] And Dr. Doug Tallamy an entomologist and ecologist who has looked closely at the relationships between insects and birds Emphasizes this point

[00:04:26] Doug Tallamy: Our backyard feeders are feeding, particularly the birds that spend the winter here. The ones that do not migrate. And we’ve got something like 350 species of North American birds that do migrate and they migrate south because they are insectivores. They have to go south where the insects are.

[00:04:40] and when they come north, they breed on insects. And even the, residents that spend the winter here switch to insects when they’re breeding. So if you add all that up, it’s 96% of our terrestrial bird species rear their young on insects

[00:04:55] Griff Griffith: this is an incredible revelation. Bird seed we put out only benefits a small percentage of birds, and even then, often only as adults. In fact, research done by Dr. Tallamy’s lab show that chickadees require,

[00:05:09] Doug Tallamy: 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars. Just to get them to the point where they leave the nest. And after they leave the nest, the parents continue to feed him caterpillars in another 21 days.

[00:05:18] So you’re talking about tens of thousands of caterpillars to get that one little bird that weighs a third of an ounce through to maturity

[00:05:24] Griff Griffith: That’s right. Chickadee parents have to work incredibly hard to find 9,000 caterpillars.

[00:05:30] I know I love to see birds nesting in my yard. If 96% of songbird parents are feeding nestlings insects, are feeders even helping? At this point I’m not sure So who is using our feeders?

[00:05:43] Dr. Alex Lees: so it’s often,either granivorous species, species, which, naturally eat, lots of seeds or omnivore species. Species which might eat seeds particularly in winter, and then insects more in summer. And it tends to be more resident species,

[00:05:58] Griff Griffith: So these are birds like goldfinches cardinals, jays, nuthatches, and some woodpeckers, as well as a few non-native species like house sparrows and European starlings .

[00:06:08] So these birds must be getting some benefit from this easy food, right?

[00:06:12] Dr. Alex Lees: there’s good evidence from Europe and North America that many sort of common generalists and abundant species have often become even more common and even more abundant essentially because of this provisioning of resources year round.

[00:06:27] Griff Griffith: Oh, that sounds good. More abundant birds, right? this got me thinking if resident species are doing well, populations, in some case, growing, what indirect effect does this have on migratory species?

[00:06:40] Dr. Alex Lees: it’s community ecology 1 0 1 if you like, sort of fundamental tenets of ecology that.

[00:06:45] Changes to the system. The increase in one species may lead to changes in the abundance of other species

[00:06:51] Griff Griffith: so here’s the thing, some birds are more dominant than others.

[00:06:56] They may more aggressively defend territory food sources, or even nesting holes. And it turns out that many of the resident species that are more likely to use your feeders are the more dominant ones.

[00:07:07] After all, they know their neighborhood, They’re present all year.

[00:07:11] normal situations, animals often avoid direct competition with each other.

[00:07:15] There’s a fancy word for this niche partitioning, which means that an animal develops survival strategies to avoid battles over resources like food and nesting sites.

[00:07:25] But as feeders become more widespread, it means that those dominant species are harder to avoid in a way. They create a fortress around their feeders laying claim to everything like it’s their neighborhood, their town.

[00:07:36] The losers in this situation are the less dominant and migratory birds who now find it difficult or even impossible to find motels, houses and welcoming restaurants. You know what I mean?

[00:07:47] And it’s well documented that nearly all migratory bird species are in steep decline.

[00:07:52] So what can we do? There are solutions, but looking into this, we discovered another possibly more dramatic impact of bird feeding.

[00:08:00] Linda Stratman: I was diagnosed with Salmonella. I was sick for several days, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

[00:08:11] Griff Griffith: That’s my mom. And a few years ago she caught salmonella, a nasty bacterial infection. How did she catch it?

[00:08:19] Every so often and with increasing frequency, there are salmonella outbreaks among finches and siskins.

[00:08:25] 2021 had a particularly bad outbreak. Pine Siskins, a small seed eating finch was hit hard. While it’s unclear how many were killed, some estimate it’s in the millions

[00:08:36] finches provide textbook examples of disease spread up feeders. They are nearly all seed eating birds and they form forging flocks, especially in winter. And if you put up feeders with the right seed, you’ll have finches nonstop.

[00:08:50] Dr. Alex Lees: a major, a direct consequence of bird feeding, has been, enhanced disease transmission. So this is something we’ve,really struggled with in Europe. basically in 2005, there was a disease crossover event, of pathogen.

[00:09:05] this, protozoan parasite called Trichomonas gallinae. it jumped from its regular hosts in game birds and pigeons, into finches, into songbirds

[00:09:15] particularly affected a species called, the European Greenfinch

[00:09:18] it led to, a sort of a 60% decline in the abundance of this species. in the UK, we lost millions of green finches it also spilled over into other species as well.

[00:09:28] Griff Griffith: Finches are particularly susceptible to several diseases from salmonella to mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, which impacts their eyes.

[00:09:36] It begs the question, do finches get so many more diseases because they can’t practice social distancing at our feeders?

[00:09:42] Dr. Emma Greig: certainly if you observe a sick bird, then it’s a good idea to, go and clean your feeders right then and there, but if you don’t observe any sick birds, we don’t have a sort of scientifically backed feeder cleaning frequency that’s going to have a, a detectable effect on bird disease spread.

[00:10:00] Griff Griffith: All right? How many of you clean your feeders? Be honest with me. Also, how many of you are watching your feeders closely enough to even recognize sick birds?

[00:10:09] Think about it for a second.

[00:10:11] Dr. Alex Lees: at these bird feeders, then we have, often 10, 15 species in some gardens might be using essentially the same bit of plastic. I think a useful analogy is, would you go to the zoo and then hand out a plate and feed , 15 different species of animals off the same plate and then lick the plate after yourself.

[00:10:38] So in nature, we wouldn’t normally have a resource which is used by all these same species throughout the year and constantly.

[00:10:46] Griff Griffith: The thought going through my head right now is, uh, spider-Man’s Uncle Ben saying, with great power comes great responsibility. Birds aren’t supernatural So if we are feeding birds or providing water, we need to clean those things just like you clean your plate or your dog’s food dish.

[00:11:01] And after you clean your feeder, clean yourself. This is how my mom caught salmonella. She may not have washed her hands well enough.

[00:11:07] Of course I now have even more questions. Like, how often should I clean my feeder? What other unexpected surprises result from bird feeding?

[00:11:17] And is there a better way to support our birds?

[00:11:20] Dr. Greig mentioned there isn’t good scientific data on cleaning frequency. This simply means that researchers haven’t been able to isolate or compare disease spread in populations that use feeders versus those who don’t.

[00:11:34] Dr. Emma Greig: The state of knowledge right now I think is that we say to clean your feeders if you see sick birds.

[00:11:39] And we have a kind of course recommendation for every couple of weeks, but I think we really want to nail that down a lot better

[00:11:47] Griff Griffith: Dr. Lees has a slightly different perspective.

[00:11:50] Dr. Alex Lees: number one is keeping those. Feeders as, as clean as possible. That’s, not putting out too much food, so you have to throw it in that way. And then cleaning that on a, near daily basis. that’s the recommendations coming out of here are, every few days.

[00:12:03] Griff Griffith: On near daily basis? Well, in the UK, bird feeding is perhaps more popular than the United States. And remember the people population density is much higher.

[00:12:12] It is an island after all, so bird feeding has a bigger impact than we see in the US, and the recommendations are accordingly, more aggressive,

[00:12:20] our recommendation, regardless of where you live, is to be proactive. Don’t wait for an outbreak before you start cleaning your feeder and stay up to speed with the news from your local bird organization so you can be alerted if a disease outbreak is detected.

[00:12:34] And remember, the same goes for bird baths, clean them.

[00:12:38] Michael Hawk: So one day I looked outside, it must’ve been 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM, something like that. And there was a rat under my feeder in broad daylight, which obviously was a surprise. And it reminded me a little bit of the constant battle that we have with squirrels to keep them off of our feeders. But I was curious why a rat in the middle of day.

[00:13:04] Griff Griffith: In Michael’s case, someone in the neighborhood had poisoned that rat, and in its last hours of confusion, it was seeking food and water.

[00:13:11] That’s what they usually do, seek water. By the way, rat poison is terrible, just terrible for our wildlife. Without Michael’s action, it’s likely a hawk or owl would’ve eaten that rat and became poisoned too

[00:13:23] But regardless, all animals seek out easy meals. So if you decide to put bird feeders out, you need to think about this. You may get rats really quickly or other animals.

[00:13:34] Rats are one thing, but

[00:13:36] Dr. Emma Greig: if bears are the thing that you’re attracting, take those feeders right down. Stop feeding them until the bears are hibernating, because it’s just so dangerous for people and for the bears if they get habituated to food that people are providing.

[00:13:49] Griff Griffith: You might laugh at the notion, but I’ve seen countless YouTube videos of bears raiding bird feeders, and unfortunately, as the saying goes, a fed bear is a dead bear. Bears and many other animals get habituated to human handouts. , intentional or unintentional.

[00:14:05] And this brings them into conflict that rarely has a good outcome.

[00:14:08] And there are lots of ways to reduce the chances of attracting rats, mice, or other unintended visitors.

[00:14:14] For one, don’t let old food accumulate under the feeder. Clean it up. Take feeding breaks on occasion. Like just put your feeder in the garage for a month. So the seed eating animals don’t set up shop in or around your house. If nothing else, at least move your feeders around the yard.

[00:14:31] You might try different styles of feeders that don’t spill as much and use high quality seeds such as black oil, sunflower seed. Many seed mixes have millet or other seeds that birds simply don’t want, and they’ll kick ’em outta the feeder, but rodents will happily eat it.. speaking of seeds,

[00:14:47] Dr. Alex Lees: some of that bird food is grown as far away as in West Africa Now, is it sensible, for instance, to farm bird food and then move that halfway across the world to feed a very common bird species

[00:14:58] Griff Griffith: Bird seed is an agricultural crop and we tend to assume it’s sustainably grown. Wouldn’t that be nice? But is it really? There is no standard like there is for bird friendly coffee and it turns out

[00:15:10] Dr. Alex Lees: Much of it, you know, ends up going to landfill or rotting in the garden or. It’s eaten by non-target species like,rats and mice and gray squirrels

[00:15:18] Griff Griffith: So there has to be a better way and thankfully there is.

[00:15:23] Mary Phillips: we actually advocate native plants being probably the best source of food for wildlife in their various stages of development

[00:15:32] Griff Griffith: That was Mary Phillips of the National Wildlife Federation from last week’s episode and we agree with her after talking with all these experts.

[00:15:39] What we like to say is plant your bird feeder.

[00:15:42] Dr. Emma Greig: I love that. I think that’s exactly right. Just plant it.

[00:15:46] Griff Griffith: Native plants are the set it and forget it solution.

[00:15:52] You’ll attract beneficial insects for all those insect eating birds. You’ll have natural seed and fruit sources for other birds. Birds, won’t congregate on one tiny piece of plastic and metal, so you’ll reduce disease spread. And you won’t have the upkeep and maintenance of cleaning your feeder or the unintended attraction of rodents.

[00:16:10] Now, if you’ve been feeding birds, the feeder, don’t feel bad. I love that you want to help birds and enjoy watching them and hearing them sing. I’m not gonna tell you to stop

[00:16:19] But I am asking you to really consider the responsibility you have taken on by adding resources, bird food, in this case, into our ecosystems.

[00:16:27] The most important thing I ask you to do is add native plants to provide some balance. Check out last week’s episode for more details.

[00:16:34] And clean your feeders, often

[00:16:37] Some experts. Recommend that you clean your feeders using a nine-part water to one part bleach solution, and use a brush to get in the nooks and crannies and crevices and corners.

[00:16:46] Have you heard that since 1970, we’ve lost 3 billion birds in North America? That sounds way depressing, but if you implement the changes that we’ve talked about in this episode, like planting your bird feeder, you can help our birds recover. There are lots of opportunities to bring back biodiversity, and many of them are fun to do.

[00:17:12] Speaking of biodiversity, there are many things that hinder it. For example, several wildlife species, including some birds, won’t bother to cross a busy road at all. And the reasons might surprise you.

[00:17:25] This cautious behavior may sound like a lifesaver in the short term But if those animals are unable to reach other populations of their own species, their isolation may result in their extinction tune in next week to find out why. And you can learn many other surprising effects of fragmented habitats.

[00:17:44] And please share your experiences with Bird Feeding and Native plants with us. We’d love to hear from you. You can email us at podcast at jumpstart nature. com or leave a comment on one of our social media pages. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and you can also follow our personal Tik Toks. Mine’s @griffwild.

[00:18:01] whether you have a feeder or a beautifully landscaped yard, porch, or balcony full of native plants you can participate in Project Feeder Watch. Go to for details.

[00:18:12] The program runs from November through April in the United States and Canada.

[00:18:17] You want to learn more about Project Feeder Watch or hear more of our interview with Dr.

[00:18:21] Greig? be sure to check out Nature’s Archive for the full interview. Nature’s Archive is our sister podcast full of conversational interviews covering all things nature.

[00:18:31] To check out our show notes at where we have links to all the resources mentioned transcripts of the episode, and links to additional resources to help you support birds, whether by providing feeders or native plants,

[00:18:45] Michael Hawk: And a big thanks to Dr. Alex Lees, Dr. Emily Greig, Dr. Doug Tallamy, Mary Phillips and Linda Stratman for their contributions to today’s episode

[00:18:54] The jumpstart nature podcast was created and produced by myself, Michael Hawk. Michelle Balderston is our associate producer And our host is Griff Griffith. Some of the music used in this production is done so with permission via creative commons licenses, this includes the following songs. From Sasha Ende Imagefilm 033 and Cinematic Suspense Series Episode 009 from Brian Holtz music. We have Lo-fi Prairie and Stranded.

[00:19:18] All of the songs are available from And full license information is in the show notes at slash podcast.

[00:19:27] Thanks for listening.

#1 – The Yard of the Future

Without noticing, homeowners across the country have destroyed habitat covering an area the size of New England or Florida. As bad as that sounds, it actually gets worse.

But we can easily fix this problem – and it actually saves you time and money.

The help from Dr. Doug Tallamy, Mary Phillips, and Leslie Inman, Griff explains what’s going on here, and how you can help create The Yard of the Future.

Join us in this vital journey towards nature’s revival. Explore more and show your support at, and follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter.

For even deeper nature insights, delve into our companion podcast, Nature’s Archive.

Links to Topics Discussed

Homegrown National Park and their Map

National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Garden for Wildlife Program

NWF Native Plant Finder

Pollinator Friendly Yards on Facebook

Leslie Inman on Nature’s Archive Podcast

Doug Tallamy on Nature’s Archive Podcast

Additional Resources

Calscape – find hyper-local native plants in California

List of Native Plant Societies across the USA


This podcast episode was written and produced by Michael Hawk. Our host is Griff Griffith. Michelle Balderston is our associate producer. Be sure to check out Griff’s TikTok!

Some of the music used in this production is through creative commons licensing:

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
Free download:
License (CC BY 4.0):

Music: Horde Of Geese by Alexander Nakarada
Free download:
License (CC BY 4.0):
Transcript (Click to View)

Jumpstart Nature owns copyright in and to all content in transcripts.

You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “Jumpstart Nature Podcast” and link back to the URL.

No warranty of accuracy of the transcript is provided or implied. There may be typos.

[00:00:00] Griff Griffith: If you are listening right now, you probably already appreciate the awesomeness that is plants. I mean, besides cyanobacteria and algae, they’re the only living things that can convert sunlight into energy. And no plants means no pollinators, no birds, no mammals, and yes, no people.

[00:00:21] Plants fulfill the godlike role of supporting most life as we know it. Despite their divine efforts, however, most of us only like them for their looks, like their flowers, or beautiful green landscapes, or maybe even for their creature comforts that they provide us, like cool shade or soft comfortable lawn.

[00:00:40] In fact, we focus a lot on creating beautiful landscapes with, beautiful plants. But very often it’s to the detriment of the critical functions that only plants can provide.

[00:00:51] Doug Tallamy: it ties in with the perception that you have that, that plants are decorations. You don’t want anything touch your decoration or it won’t be perfect, but that’s not real life,

[00:01:00] Griff Griffith: Jumpstart Nature is on a mission to support life. Lots of it. Because that’s what keeps our ecosystems robust. Our crops thriving, our wildlife flourishing, and that’s, what’s going to help our descendants thrive too.

[00:01:12] But we’ve somehow inherited a curious tradition that traces back to colonial England, where our lands are valued for their decorative aesthetics rather than their functionality.

[00:01:23] Landscaping your yard was like a way of showing that you colonized the patch of wild that you had dominion over. And this choice we’ve collectively made has far reaching impacts that are hard to fully understand.

[00:01:35] So let’s connect the dots between the history and our relationship with plants and our yards, and together we’ll uncover the yard of the future.

[00:01:44] This is Jumpstart Nature. Just to set the stage, there are over 44 million acres of lawn in the United States.

[00:02:07] That sounds like a big number, but is it?

[00:02:10] Doug Tallamy: That’s an area bigger than the size of New England, and it’s dedicated to a status symbol, which happens to be an ecological dead zone, so we can do better.

[00:02:18] Griff Griffith: That’s more area than used to grow corn. In fact, one estimate concluded lawn occupies more space in the United States than all eight of our largest irrigated crops combined.

[00:02:29] By the way, that voice you heard a moment ago was Dr. Doug Tallamy. Dr. Tallamy is an entomologist and ecologist, co-founder of Homegrown National Park, and is perhaps best known for his research about, and advocacy for, native plants. Maybe Dr. Tallamy’s description of lawns as ecological dead zones sounds a bit extreme.

[00:02:50] So let’s explore this more deeply. Remember a moment ago when I was talking about how critical plants are for supporting life? It’s easy to overlook the magic of photosynthesis, and yes, even lawns partake in this process.

[00:03:02] But how does the energy that plants create transfer to animals?

[00:03:06] Doug Tallamy: It turns out that native plants pass the food onto animals much better than non-native plants. Because the animals they’re passing the food on are adapted to eating them plants, protective tissues, they don’t wanna be eaten. the animals that are getting that energy have to have the adaptations necessary to obtain it.

[00:03:24] Griff Griffith: So let’s unpack this. First, Dr. Tallamy mentioned native plants. Native plants are plants that evolved in and are adapted to a local environment.

[00:03:33] It turns out that most grasses used in our lawns in the United States aren’t even native.

[00:03:39] Even Kentucky bluegrass is European and Asian. It was brought to the United States by European settlers and became popular in Kentucky and thus was given the name Kentucky bluegrass. And non native plants in general do a terrible job at passing the food they create to the native animals.

[00:03:55] To explain this, many of you have heard of the food chain, right? That’s the concept we’re talking about here. You know, grass grows, a cow eats the grass, and then a lion eats the cow. That’s the food chain.

[00:04:06] And actually, a food chain is representative of a poorly functioning system.

[00:04:10] Doug Tallamy: most people talk about food chains. it’s not really what happens in nature.

[00:04:14] Griff Griffith: Rather we want a food web where lots of animals are eating the plants and lots of other animals are eating those animals that ate the plants.

[00:04:22] Doug Tallamy: A spiderweb would be a very good way to, to picture it. But not just one thing. Eats that, plant a number of things, eat it. So picture a number of. little lines emanating from that plant. And then a number of things. Eat those things that ate the plant. And very soon you have a very complicated, web of interactions.

[00:04:38] Griff Griffith: And in most ecosystems, insects are the primary animals that eat plants and convert their energy to forms that other animals can use. At best, our lawns feed a very small number of animals, and those are often the animals that we consider pests.

[00:04:52] Doug Tallamy: when we concentrate the preferred food of a particular insect over tens of thousands of acres, of course that insect’s going to take advantage of that or do the best they can. many of the insect pests that people think about are actually introduce species,

[00:05:08] Griff Griffith: Lawns are monocultures. We call big concentrations of a single type of plant monocultures. Mono meaning one, And culture in this regard refers to the practice of growing something. So a monoculture is a practice of growing a single item. You might be saying, But Griff, we have hibiscus, camellias, tulips, English ivy, and daylilies all in our yard.

[00:05:28] That doesn’t sound like a monoculture. Dr. Tallamy has a name for these plants.

[00:05:32] Gardeners know them as ornamentals. I sometimes think we’ve become desensitized to that word. These are plants sold for their value as ornaments, or as Dr. Tallamy says, decorations. These plants are not native to the United States. Not much here eats them, so they’re not really contributing to the ecosystem.

[00:05:49] Plants and animals are fighting an evolutionary arms race.

[00:05:59] Doug Tallamy: remember, plants don’t wanna be eaten. They’re protecting their tissues. Typically with nasty tasting chemicals, and I’ll use the monarch butterfly as a great example here, although it’s not an exception, most of the insects out there are just like the Monarch.

[00:06:12] They can only eat particular plants. In the case of the Monarch, they can only eat milkweeds. It is adapted to the cardiac glycosides that milkweeds use to protect their tissue. Has behavioral adaptations to getting around the sticky latex sap. That gums up the mouth parts of other insects.

[00:06:28] Griff Griffith: So it turns out that these delicate, highly evolved relationships exist everywhere.

[00:06:33] Doug Tallamy: when you look at the insects that eat plants, 90% of them are what we call specialists, meaning they can only eat particular plants.

[00:06:41] And that’s the problem with specialization. If you take away the plants on which these insects have specialized, you lose the insect. So when we,landscape with plants from other countries. None of our insects have specialized on those plants because they’ve never seen them before. It takes many eons for the insects to adapt to these plants.

[00:07:00] Griff Griffith: So we’ve taken an area the size of New England and we replaced it with plants that don’t support our food webs at all. They only serve as decorations.

[00:07:09] But you still might see some bees or an occasional butterfly on your non native plants.

[00:07:14] But don’t let that fool you that’s not a relationship. No matter where a plant is from, if it relies on pollination, it’s going to attract pollinators to its flowers. So pollinators may do a little window shopping, perhaps even stop for a snack. Think of it like it’s a gas station or a convenience store that offers mostly low quality junk food to adults. And I say adults because it takes thousands of generations of co evolution for insect caterpillars and larva to adapt to being able to eat the leaves of a plant.

[00:07:46] That’s the true mark of a plant contributing to the food web. That is what is meant by a native plant. It’s been here long enough to evolve relationships.

[00:07:56] So why do we have all these lawns and all these ornamental plants in the first place?

[00:08:01] Doug Tallamy: the idea of lawns Used to be a status symbol of the rich. We adopted it from the aristocracy of Europe. In the old days, you could not have lawn if you needed to use that land for agriculture, and most people did. and you needed to maintain it. So you either needed, lots of sheep or lots of slaves, and if you had those things, you were rich.

[00:08:21] anybody with a big lawn, it was a sign of wealth.

[00:08:24] Griff Griffith: Think about the places that have the largest most manicured lawns. What comes to your mind when you see these neatly trimmed, unbroken expanses of green?

[00:08:35] I think of opulent mansions, golf courses, corporate headquarters, and luxury resorts.

[00:08:41] All of these places have money. Yes, it’s largely a status symbol. When I was a kid, it was common to compliment our neighbors for a meticulously manicured lawn with no weeds, or judge them for an unmowed, dying or weedy lawn, and in many communities, this is still the case.

[00:09:00] I’m not bashing lawns 100 percent here. They do have a purpose, especially if you have pets and kids. But surveys show that even then, many people don’t actually use their lawns. And we mismanage them.

[00:09:13] So here’s a fun thought experiment. Imagine trying to explain the concept of a lawn to say Benjamin Franklin. It might sound like this.

[00:09:23] Hello, Ben. Thanks for asking about my lawn. It all started when the house was built. We tore up all the existing wild plants and we flattened the ground out, and then we planted thickly with European grass seed.

[00:09:36] Since that grass doesn’t natively grow here, we have to feed it synthetic fertilizer every few months and water it about once a week, sometimes multiple times. And unfortunately it grows too fast and too long. So we have to cut it with a lawnmower every week..

[00:09:51] At this point, Ben Franklin is probably thinking we’ve gone mad. Wasting our time and money on a never ending task.

[00:09:57] But wait, Ben, there’s more. The grass doesn’t like our climate much, so we have to apply fungicide a couple times each year to keep those fungal infections from killing it.

[00:10:06] We have a few pest insects that like to eat the roots of our grass, too. We accidentally brought those from Europe. Oops. But we just applied some insecticides and, um, we do it a couple times a year and it gets rid of them. Unfortunately, those insecticides kill other organisms, too. You know, bees and stuff.

[00:10:22] Ugh, and we hate weeds, so we apply broadleaf herbicides to kill those too.

[00:10:28] Just wait until Ben learns about how those fertilizers, fungicides, and insecticides end up in our waterways, watersheds, many miles away from where we applied them. And it causes havoc, such as harmful algae blooms, amphibian die offs, and water contamination, dead zones.

[00:10:45] Making it worse. Many consumers don’t even realize they’re applying some of these chemicals because they’re often mixed in with the fertilizers.

[00:10:59] It turns out that our obsession with lawns was amplified by some surprising history.

[00:11:08] Doug Tallamy: so it persists largely at this point through marketing and, the culture is based on neat landscapes, neat open landscapes,

[00:11:17] around 1900, we invented the lawnmower. now we could take care of lawns without having a lot of sheep or a lot of slaves, that made it available to the common man, but it represented. Wealth, in the fifties, marketing took over and if you didn’t have a perfect lawn, you were a communist.

[00:11:36] Griff Griffith: Wait, what? Yes, in this post World War II era, McCarthyism was rampant. It was named for Senator Joseph McCarthy and his extreme efforts to call out and eliminate communists.

[00:11:47] In this era, fear of communism was pervasive, and accusing someone who didn’t conform to your standards as being a communist was commonplace, and it led to many campaigns of false accusations. This is also the era of Levittown, the famous master plan community built by William Levitt.

[00:12:04] Levitt himself said, No man who owns his own home can be a communist. He has too much to do. And he was referring largely to the upkeep of the property. That’s right. Levitt knew that they would be mowing, pruning, raking, spraying, all those things.

[00:12:18] And keep in mind there is a $177 billion US lawn care industry, a $31 billion global lawnmower industry. And even the US fertilizer industry is estimated at $3.3 billion.

[00:12:33] Each of these marketing their quote unquote solutions in a way that keeps us coming back for more. So in a system perpetuated by literally billions of dollars of corporate interest, we’re looking at lawns as a sign of personal and community wealth. And much of this was set in motion with a background threat of being labeled as a societal outcast if you didn’t comply.

[00:12:54] Despite all of this, there is a passionate and energized community emerging, looking to bring the mysteries and discoveries of nature to their own homes, and it often starts with observation and curiosity.

[00:13:06] Leslie Inman: for years, driving down my street and seeing lawns being sprayed and just the use of chemicals. Just after the trucks would leave, I would see birds flying around and they’re, of course, they’re going to be landing on those lawns.

[00:13:23] it just looked wrong and there’s a caution sign on those lawns

[00:13:27] Griff Griffith: This curiosity about the apparent hypocrisy of having a sign telling people to stay off, but seeing birds and squirrels on the lawn led Leslie Inman down a path to learn more.

[00:13:37] Today, she manages a Facebook group called Pollinator Friendly Yards. How many members are in that group?

[00:13:42] Leslie Inman: 184,000, I think.

[00:13:45] Griff Griffith: Don’t let the pollinator friendly part of the name fool you into thinking the group only cares about pollinators.

[00:13:51] Leslie Inman: I reel them in with pollinators and then teach them about, you gotta be thinking about caterpillars and native plants and a lot more

[00:13:59] Griff Griffith: That’s 184, 000 people sharing stories, ideas, and resources to plant native plants, and dispersing that information Far beyond the confines of the group.

[00:14:09] In fact, there are several emerging groups promoting the concept of treating private properties as habitat. Dr. Tallamy has an organization called homegrown national park.

[00:14:20] Doug Tallamy: We had more than 40 million acres of lawn in this country,

[00:14:23] and I remember sitting at my kitchen table and I read that and I said, well, what would happen if we cut that area in half? So if everybody took half the area of lawn they have and planted it, um, how big an area that would that be, would that be 20 million acres worth? And I started to add up the area of all the big national parks in the country.

[00:14:42] and even threw in areas like the Adirondacks, not a national park, but it’s a big area. So Yellowstone, Yosemite, you know, the Smokies, Denali, all these things, you add ’em up. Still less than 20 million acres. So I said, well, gee, we’d have the biggest national park in the country. We could call it Homegrown National Park if everybody cuts their grass in half.

[00:15:01] Griff Griffith: Homegrown National Park encourages people to plant natives and over 34, 000 people have

[00:15:06] registered their native plants on the Homegrown National Park map.

[00:15:10] And the National Wildlife Federation has a long standing program that encourages people to create a certified wildlife friendly habitat in their yards.

[00:15:19] Mary Phillips: Garden for Wildlife, , is really the umbrella term for our whole habitat program at National Wildlife Federation, which includes our signature certified wildlife habitat program. And that was launched in 1973.

[00:15:31] Griff Griffith: Mary Phillips is the head of National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program, and how many people have certified their spaces as habitats?

[00:15:39] Mary Phillips: We’re at 295,000, so really excited. Hopefully this year, in our 50th year, we will hit 300000.

[00:15:46] Griff Griffith: These are all great numbers. And these groups report an acceleration in growth and engagement in their programs. It’s a movement that’s gaining momentum. In fact, Mary Phillips also reports that some home builders are embracing native plants.

[00:16:00] , some people are concerned that native plants mean a wild looking space and wonder how this would fit in with the expectations of their neighbors and homeowners associations.

[00:16:10] Leslie Inman: I particularly not wanted it to look crazy and wild because I don’t think I’m going to bring people in that way. So especially in the front, it is very calm and tame and easily understood to people who don’t understand native plants. It fits in with the other yards, even though it’s almost 100% native.

[00:16:30] Griff Griffith: So the yard looks intentional, maintained, and aesthetically pleasing.

[00:16:33] Leslie Inman: Yes, but a total habitat at the same time.

[00:16:37] Griff Griffith: But is a certified habitat as simple as just adding native plants to make your yard wildlife friendly? Mary Phillips from the National Wildlife Federation again

[00:16:45] Mary Phillips: So it’s, , providing wildlife with food, water cover and places to raise their young and committing to using sustainable gardening practices.

[00:16:53] and we actually advocate native plants being probably the best source of food for wildlife in their various, , stages of development and specifically try to encourage people to do, if. They’re able in their garden or in their whole yard, 50 to 70% native plants

[00:17:11] Griff Griffith: And what about water?

[00:17:13] Mary Phillips: if you’re within. 500 feet or less, of a natural water source that could be counted, as well as, bird baths or ponds or, bubbling fountains, those kinds of things can.

[00:17:24] Be a water source for the requirement

[00:17:26] Griff Griffith: The last part of the NWF recommendation is to have places that provide cover and shelter to raise young. This means leaving leaves and some brush piles and twigs around. Dr. Tallamy breaks it down like this.

[00:17:39] Doug Tallamy: There are four things that every landscape needs to be doing these days if we’re going to reach a sustainable relationship with the ecosystems that support us. every landscape has to sequester carbon.

[00:17:50] It’s gotta pull carbon outta the atmosphere and store it. Every landscape has to support pollinators. 80% of all plants are pollinated by animals and 90% of all flowering plants. So we need pollinators everywhere, not just in agriculture. Every landscape has to support the food web we talked about earlier. And every landscape has to manage the watershed. lawn wrecks the watershed, particularly with all the things we put on it. they’re very, short root systems.

[00:18:14] So when you get a downpour, it doesn’t absorb much water and most of it runs off as storm water, taking the fertilizer in, the pesticides and the herbicides that we put on our lawns with it

[00:18:23] Griff Griffith: So this points us back to native plants. They sequester carbon. They support pollinators. They support the food web. And with native plants, you won’t need all the pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, and herbicides that find their way into our water. And once you move away from these monocultures, pest outbreaks should become less and less common.

[00:18:41] Why is that? By supporting a diversity of native plants, you’ll bring balance back to the predator prey relationships. You’ll see more lacewings and ladybugs eating aphids and thrips. You’ll see more birds and bats. You’ll support hoverflies that pollinate plants as adults and eat aphids as larvae.

[00:18:58] You’ll notice dragonflies, praying mantises, and more. If this all sounds overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be.

[00:19:04] Mary Phillips: fortunately there’s a lot of tools out there to make it less complicated, and one of the big things that we encourage is people to just start in a small area of their property. you can even do this on a balcony or a porch

[00:19:15] Griff Griffith: Then you have to pick out the plants that you want.

[00:19:18] Mary Phillips: I would also. Recommend going to public gardens. , public gardens have amazing, habitat and native plant display gardens that really could inspire you and give you some ideas and, get you some focus

[00:19:30] Griff Griffith: Leslie Inman again

[00:19:32] Leslie Inman: there are six, keystone species, which are oak, willow, and, prunus cherry. Those are three tree species and then, goldenrod, Helianthus, sunflower, and, Aster. And if you could just start with those flowering plants or if you have room for those trees, those six keystone species can just help the environment and start your habitat immediately.

[00:19:59] Griff Griffith: Keystone species are really important and the ones Leslie mentions are great to start with. Keep in mind that the specific species may vary upon your location. We have some resources to help with that later. Here’s Dr. Tallamy again.

[00:20:12] Doug Tallamy: remember, the Roman arch, the keystone is the stone in the middle of that arch. And if you take the stone out of the arch, you can just picture the arch collapsing. That’s the stone that maintains that arch. So that’s why I call these plants keystone species. If you take these species out of your local food web, the food web collapses because they are making most of the food.


[00:20:31] Doug Tallamy: I like to think of the keystone plants in the ecological house that we’re building as the two by fours that hold that house up. They’re the support system. In the past we’ve been decorating with plants trying to build houses out of wallpaper, and that doesn’t work.

[00:20:43] So we wanna get those structural plants in there, the ones that are gonna support the ecosystem the best. And then we can decorate, with other plants later.

[00:20:51] Griff Griffith: Remember when we were talking about how native plants do the best job at delivering the energy they create to the food web. Well, these Keystone plants do it the very best and it turns out that one type of plant stands out even among the Keystone species.

[00:21:05] Doug Tallamy: oak trees do a number of things, that make them wonderful plants, for your ecosystem. Supporting biodiversity is one of the most important things. first of all, they make acorns, which each acorn is a very rich package of food loaded with fats and proteins,

[00:21:19] and a single oak tree can make a million acorns in its lifetime. So you’ve got a, yeah, a giant food producer there for, particularly for mammals and birds. but they also support those caterpillars. So it turns out that caterpillars are transferring more energy from plants to other animals than any other type of plant eater.

[00:21:35] So any plant that supports a lot of species of caterpillars, is contributing energy to food webs. and again, nothing supports caterpillars as well as oaks

[00:21:44] Griff Griffith: Oaks are incredibly resilient and there are 91 species of oak trees that grow in different sizes, including dwarf varieties and species that simply stay small.

[00:21:53] And Mary Phillips agrees on this concept.

[00:21:55] Mary Phillips: if you have the space to add shrubs and trees, a lot of times people are like, I’m just gonna do a flowering perennial garden, which is great, but to add those shrubs and trees, because they’re the. Big super plants.

[00:22:09] Griff Griffith: There are a few other key points. Be sure to understand the water requirements of your plants and when you buy your plants, make sure they aren’t treated with pesticides.

[00:22:18] Many growers pre treat plants and even seeds with pesticides such as neonicotinoids that can persist for years and even leach into neighboring plants. If your garden center can’t definitively answer that the plants they are selling are pesticide free, , then they probably aren’t.

[00:22:34] Also in the fall, you don’t have to rake up all the leaves. Leave as much as you can in place because many important insects overwinter in leaf litter. When you blow leaves in the pile and put them all in bags, you are sending your moths, fireflies, and other insects away from your yard and probably to their death.

[00:22:51] Leslie suggests,

[00:22:52] Leslie Inman: leaving the leaves in the fall is something so simple, just rake it off your little and put it under your bushes. Birds thrash through those and look for insects and helps the fireflies.

[00:23:03] Griff Griffith: Also,

[00:23:04] Leslie Inman: turning off the lights is huge, you know, so easy. Don’t string your whole backyard with lights. With, I know that’s pretty and you can use it when you have a party, but to leave those on every night. It’s very disruptive ,

[00:23:18] Griff Griffith: In the same way that millions of lawns become destructive, so do millions of lights. Certain wavelengths of light are particularly attractive to insects and disrupt their navigation. These insects can literally get stuck, transfixed, unable to tear away from that light. They flutter around it and around it all night and die of exhaustion.

[00:23:36] In this way, we are harvesting countless insects every summer night Motion sensors or even yellow wavelength lights that are designed to not attract bugs are great alternatives.

[00:23:49] And what if you add a bird feeder to improve your yard habitat? Well, you might be surprised that this isn’t such a straightforward thing. In fact, we decided to devote an entire episode to the subject. Tune in next week.

[00:24:01] In the meantime, we want to make planting native plants easy for you.

[00:24:05] This is perhaps the most convenient thing that you can do to make a difference for nature. And it’s entertaining. Gardening is interesting. Remember, you can also do this at your place of worship, your school, or place of business. Why not build community and start a native garden? A native garden can be a great addition to a food garden since it will support pollinators and predators that can restore balance and help you kick that insecticide habit.

[00:24:30] One of the best places to go to get started is on the National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder website. You can simply plug in your zip code and it will show you what is native to your very neighborhood. The NWF even sells some of those plants.

[00:24:46] And many of our guests recommend finding native plant sales at arboretums and botanical gardens near you. And most states have native plant societies that often have sales and seed exchanges and can support you in other ways. And once you get native plants or if you already have some don’t forget to celebrate your achievement by logging it on The Homegrown National Park Biodiversity Map at map.homegrownnationalpark.Org

[00:25:11] Be sure to check out the show notes for all of these resources and more at jumpstartnature. com slash podcast.

[00:25:18] And we also have in depth interviews with Dr. Tallamy and Leslie Inman on our sister podcast, Nature’s Archive.

[00:25:25] So go shrink your lawn, add some native plants, and start your journey to help wildlife and our planet. And have you already reduced your lawn and added native plants? Tell us your story. You can email us at podcast at jumpstartnature. com or simply reply to our social media posts about this episode.

[00:25:43] We’re at jumpstart nature on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

[00:25:46] Michael Hawk: Thanks to all of our guests today, including Leslie Inman, Mary Phillips in Dr. Doug Tallamy.

[00:25:51] Jumpstart Nature was created and produced by me Michael Hawk. Michelle Balderston is our associate producer and our host is Griff Griffith.

[00:25:58] Some of the music used in this production has done. So with permission via creative commons licenses. This includes the following songs. Horde of Geese by Alexander Nakarada. Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles, both songs are available from and full license information is in the show notes at

[00:26:18] Thanks for listening.

Listen to the Jumpstart Nature Podcast Trailer!

Prepare to shatter preconceptions and debunk myths about the world around us, all while uncovering the astonishing truths hidden within nature and climate. Embark on a transformative journey with Jumpstart Nature, an innovative podcast that melds captivating storytelling with cutting-edge science.

Join your guide, Griff Griffith, as each episode whisks you away on an immersive adventure like no other. From unearthing hidden wonders to sparking a passion for change, Jumpstart Nature promises to entertain, enlighten, and empower.

Are you ready to be captivated, surprised, and inspired to make a lasting impact? Tune in to Jumpstart Nature and experience nature’s mysteries as never before.

Beyond a podcast, Jumpstart Nature is a movement fueled by volunteers, igniting a fresh approach to reconnecting people with the natural world. In the face of our pressing climate and biodiversity challenges, we’re on a mission to help you discover newfound purpose and motivation.

Join us in this vital journey towards nature’s revival. Explore more and show your support at, and follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter.

For even deeper nature insights, delve into our companion podcast, Nature’s Archive.

Meet the Jumpstart Nature Podcast Team!

Michael Hawk – Creator, Producer, Writer
Griff Griffith – Host, Writer
Michelle Balderston – Writer, Producer

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Unseen by Phat Sounds
Free download:
License (CC BY 4.0):