The work is free and the rewards are great

July 08, 2011
  • A great spangled fritillary, Speyeria cybele, on a purple coneflower.
Photo by Celeste Maiorana

July is truly summertime. We are having some fine blue-sky days but are also experiencing the white-sky, hot and muggy ones that make us long for air-conditioned interiors. Despite the discomfort to us thin-skinned mammals, life in the natural world is getting along just fine.

While vegetation growth is luxurious and young animal life abounds, all that green is obscuring some disturbing situations with our natural communities.

About 50,000 years ago the human species expanded out of Africa into Europe and Asia, eventually reaching and settling every habitable island and continent. Presently, the human population is so large, and moves its people and products around so quickly, that we have mixed up the world's plant and animal communities, disturbing the equilibrium of local communities.

By this time, it isn't really a matter of what is native and what is not. Rather than attempting to recreate or save what has been lost, we need to promote healthy, resilient and productive communities that will enable humans, presently and in the future, to live healthy productive lives within them. It is neither something we can leave to nature, nor that we can expect to happen without the involvement of people.

While there are many ways in which individuals can, through lifestyle choices, influence the natural world, I focus now on just one: challenging invasive plant species.

As with many things, the first step involves becoming knowledgeable. Learn which plants are actively harmful to healthy natural communities and avoid growing or harboring them. Because some of these species are widely spread and well-established, there is a great need to get rid of those which are harming habitats in our public spaces — our beloved city, county, state and national parks and wildlife management areas.

Budget cuts and personnel reductions have created difficult conditions for the management of our parks, even while the demand for their enjoyment is always increasing. There is a great need for citizen volunteers to play a part in keeping our parks and wild areas healthy and flourishing.

If you visit websites devoted to parks, trails or wildlife management areas, you will probably see links for volunteers. Please volunteer. Beyond that, become aware of the problems that are around you and become active in any way you can think of. Communicate problems and solutions to elected representatives and responsible government agencies. Create or join community groups dedicated to healthier communities.

Environmental reports can be pretty bleak. But I like to think that we, collectively and individually, will realize that the future is in our hands; that we will assume an active role in shaping our communities; and that humans, along with the trees and flowers and butterflies that we know and love, will persist into the indefinite future, each playing a productive, noninvasive part.

Celeste Maiorana is a member of the Washington County Forest Conservancy District Board. Visit the board's website at to learn more about forest communities and projects you can do.

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