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by Ginger Baer
A new study shows 41 percent of insect species have seen steep declines in the past decade, with similar drops forecast for the near future. It is estimated that 40 percent of the 30 million or so insect species on earth are now threatened with extinction. The causes are not surprising, and have all been on the radar for decades. Deforestation, agricultural expansion and human sprawl top the list. The wide use of pesticides and fertilizer as well as industrial pollution are also taking massive tolls. Invasive species, pathogens and climate change are also getting punches in.[1]

‘Why is this such a big deal?’ you might ask, ‘I don’t need pesky mosquitoes all over me’… ‘Who needs those ants anyways?’… ‘Besides, those bugs are making a mess out of my garden. They make holes in my flowers’ leaves, and they mess with my lettuce and make it look really ugly.’

Ladybug devouring aphids
Ecosystems can’t function without the millions of insects that make up the base of the food chain.  We need those insects to pollinate our food chain. They are the sole food source for many amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Many insects are predatory or parasitic, either on plants or on other insects or animals, including people. Such insects are important in nature to help keep pest populations (insects or weeds) at a tolerable level. [2]

Birds need insects to fledge their chicks. Per Doug Tallamy (Bringing Nature Home) it takes 6,000 - 9,000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of chickadees.  Even hummingbirds need insects to feed their clutches.  They will eat upwards of 2,000 insects per day.

Hummingbird chooses bug over nectar
Bird populations have decreased 50-80% in the past few decades. Two groups of birds have been especially affected: grasslands species, which have been hurt by the conversion of their habitat into farmland, and insect eaters such as swallows and flycatchers, whose decline is less obvious but may be a result of falling insect populations.[3]

“So, what does this have to do with me? What can I do?” Plenty!  First of all, DON’T SQUASH THAT BUG! Next, take stock of what it is that you are planting in your garden. Native plants will support native bugs which will in turn support native birds. Ideally our gardens should have about 70% native plants in them. Flowers, bushes and trees that are native will support the native insect population.  Do you have holes in your plants’ leaves? Celebrate! You know that you have a plant that will support a local insect, that will in turn support a local bird.

Are you inclined to clean up your garden in the fall when everything is turning brown and dying back? Please don’t clean up yet.  Leave your plant material as it is until the spring. In doing this you will be leaving the seeds for the birds, areas of protection for the insects, and perhaps some structural interest in the bleak landscapes of the winter.

Healthy holey leaf
CSU Extension has a great FREE publication listing native plants for gardens above 7500’.

Some of my favorites that I grow at 8,600’ are: Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea), Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa), Catmint (Nepeta faassenii), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) and Wax Currant (Ribes cereum).

Remember, NO insects = NO birds, NO fruits and vegetables and NO HUMANS.


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