• Outdoor America
  • Featured

The Future of Conservation: How we can all support a richer world

Elizabeth D. Hilborn
Outdoor America 2023 Issue 3
Silver spotted skipper - credit Elizabeth Hilborn

We’ve lived on our family farm in central North Carolina for decades. When we first arrived, we cleared the invasive vines and brush that had grown up unnoticed at the edges of the forest, and along surveyor and fence lines.

Then, in addition to our orchard and vegetable gardens, we planted native fruit- and nut-bearing plants across the land. We didn’t know then how our efforts would pay off. But over the years, we watched as plants grew and wildlife populations increased. Today, those plants have become valuable habitat and provide food for wildlife of all sizes.

I described one experience in my book, Restoring Eden:

One night, in our early years at the farm, I learned to appreciate the multitude of small life from a lesson delivered by a peach tree in full bloom on a fine spring night.

As I approached the tree, I found it altered—the deep pink blossoms appeared pearly white under a full moon. Peach flowers shimmered with the fluttering of hundreds of moths—so many shapes and sizes. Backlit wings glowed in moonlight. The moths fed silently upon the peach blossom nectar and pollinated the tree in the process.

During those first years, I didn’t understand or appreciate the breadth of the work that insects do to provide us food, but now I know.

Those of us with memories spanning decades may remember how insects once covered cars after nighttime drives. Today, many of us may notice how we now have fewer fireflies and butterflies in summer. Fewer insects mean less insect food to nourish animals and fewer plants that are able to reproduce.

I’ve seen how my own gardens and orchard struggled, how birds, bats and other animals left our community when insect populations dwindled.

Support helpful insects with simple actions

Plant native trees, shrubs and flowers where possible. Filling pots with pesticide-free plants can add habitat.

Leave wild and dense areas of native plants where possible to do so. Even small areas can provide life-saving refuge for helpful insects to feed and nest.

  • Mow natural meadows once a year after flowering plants have set seed for the season. Flowering plants support wildlife of all sizes.

  • Leave brush piles and dead trees standing (where it is safe to do so) to provide housing for insects and birds.

  • Avoid using pesticides as they do not only kill pests, but many helpful insects too.

  • Retain forest and trees where possible and let natural leaf cover persist to enrich soil as mulch and to serve as butterfly and firefly nurseries.

Small changes we make at home add up to make a big difference. The more we can help insects survive during these changing times, the more we help ourselves, as well as the plants and animals with which we share the planet. Preserving our helpful insects will provide a resilient base to support us all during the challenges of the 21st century.

Did You Know:

  • Insects are the most abundant animals on earth with an estimated five million species.

  • Most insects help humans, animals, and the environment; only about one percent of all insect species are considered pests.

  • Pollinating insects support about 75 percent of flowering plants on earth; these include beetles, bees, butterflies, flies and wasps.

  • Insects support the web of life and feed many animals including important game animals such as birds and fish.

  • Insects recycle waste and help create fertile soil.

  • Helpful insects such as wasps, assassin bugs and lady beetles control pest insects.

  • We’ve lost many of our flying and other insects at an unprecedented rate in recent decades.

Top photo: A silver spotted skipper visits an apple blossom. Credit: Elizabeth Hilborn.

Elizabeth D. Hilborn, DVM, is a honeybee veterinarian, a fruit grower, environmental scientist and author of "Restoring Eden: Unearthing the Agribusiness Secret That Poisoned My Farming Community." elizabethhilborn.com