Endangered species

Saving the Grasslands One Garden at a Time

In forest fire season, even the grassland hills are suffering in the smoke.P1420117Note how the golf course road zig-zagging back and forth here manages to take all the water away. Note as well that there are few species growing here: mostly cheatgrass (which is responsible for summer drought), sagebrush, a few mariposa lilies, the odd death camas, a few remaining desert parsleys, the odd thistle and a fair number of blue-bunched wheat grasses. Most of the flowers that bloomed here a century ago, and most of the medicine of the Syilx, are gone. What is a poor bee to do! Aha! Off to Harold’s place!

P1390103As I showed you yesterday, a few square feet of xeriscaping using wild flowers does a few powerful things. You don’t have to irrigate more than two or three times in a season. You don’t have to move the thing. You can have fun scything in the fall (scything is very fun). And birds, toads and insects thrive here. I posted a pair of goldfinches feasting on my catnip yesterday, and then I realized, whoa, just think (and I did): if the normal density of flowers on the grassland hill is about  one plant per square metre, my density of about 200 plants per square metre (I collect the seeds each fall and sow them back in, so there’s no expense) means that in my 25 square metres of wildflower garden I am providing the insect and bird habitat of about 5000 square metres of land up on the hill. That’s pretty close to one acre. Here’s the thing. In my little subdivision there are, oh, I dunno, about 100 houses. If we all took care of an acre like that, 100 acres of grassland could be saved. There are another 100 houses in the subdivision a mile back down the road, and 50 more in the other direction. Just above that one, there are 1000 building lots gouged into the grassland and doing magnificent service in destroying it. I’m thinking today, it doesn’t have to be a story of destruction. If each of these houses had one small wildflower garden, together we’d be helping to maintain some 1250 acres of grassland. If we went further and planted some appropriate plants along our roadsides and walking trails, we could easily double that. It might be that the grasslands are so compromised that they will not return, but that does not mean that we cannot live in them in new ways. It would take almost no water, and, I mean, really, when the alternative is this?


P1420192 … or this?

P1420179Walking Around the Old Neighbourhood

More life for less water, and the use of our dwellings to help the grasslands and to bring them close. There’s no downside. This is the kind of things a progressive city council could fix almost instantly. We would become rich.





3 replies »

  1. I love that walk around the Desert Centre at NK’Mip — the plants in their dry air, the bees, the abundance (though you have to pay attention to see it, as you do all the time!).


  2. Oh, indeed. I’m with you on that. Did you make it to the real desert there? (It’s on a point about 2 km from the desert centre, along the lake.) Can I tempt you to the desert walk in Dry Falls or the Lenore Lake Caves, both in the lower Grand Coulee? So amazing! I think you’d love the caves. To give you an idea of its scale, you could sleep a couple hundred people in the largest one. They are the spiritual centre of Plateau culture, that’s obvious as can be. All the stories come from there and are written in the rock across the coulee. I suspect that people sat there for a few thousand years, reading the rock and became those stories, then spread across the Plateau and retold them wherever they went. That’s so exciting! Still, I like this idea of saving something from the ruins by providing the missing flowers for the bees and beetles, to keep them alive while we carry ourselves over this current period of extreme drought created by invasive cheatgrass. Then we could build on that. For the moment, the flower-full yards below the hills, that have helped the insects since the 1970s, are no longer full of flowers, as the current generation wants zero-input gardening instead, i.e. landscaping with gravel. We could do zero-input landscaping with wild flowers, and maintain the hills while we figured something out. After all, every house that goes into the ruined grassland above my house costs a million bucks or more… even $10,000 from that could see a lot of native plants re-established. The strata fees for lawn mowing are around $300 per month, anyway. That’s $3600 that could be used to do something amazing… and it’s money that’s already there. I suspect that if those people knew that they could make a difference, some percentage of them would chose to do so. They don’t use those little postage stamp lawns anyway. They’re only visual, and since the visual being sold is a) provence, b) the US Southwest, and c) golf (in the sagebrush), I think a creative landscaper could do something life-changing. Perhaps the poets of B.C. are going to be gathering to make a pilgrimage to the Grand Coulee sometime soon, and not just this one is stomping around out in the bunchgrass at Umatilla Ridge. Have you been to Farwell Canyon yet? If not…road trip! Plus, a 100 metre-tall sand dune above 200-metre tall hoodoos, with the turquoise Chilcotin River below, what’s not to love!


  3. Yes, Farwell Canyon — ravishing. And so many parts of the long stretch from Osoyoos down to Lake Chelan, bypassing the resorts but lingering in the Methow Valley and the small towns with their little museums and weathered buildings. And yes, the rocks. The sound of water. The birds.


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