Are Natives the Answer? Professor Cregg, Why Are You Asking?
Introduction by Laurie Sheldon
Article by Taryn Evans
The Seattle Department of Planning and Development is focused on long-term green priorities (water and material conservation, sustainable transportation and healthy landscapes) and working on a draft of some new "Green Code Provisions." These provisions were presented to the public on August 13, 2012. Comments and questions were encouraged.
The "Healthy Landscapes" component of the "Green Code Provisions" outlines the following initiatives:
Invasive Species and Native Vegetation (Regional Plan)Washington State University's Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., received an invitation to the public meeting. Rather than attending, she chose to voice her opinion about the "Healthy Landscapes" initiatives in a blog entitled The native debate continues... wherein she criticized the Planning Department's push for native plants, and concluded her blog with the following question: "What's wrong with using well-chosen nonnative plants that will tolerated urban conditions, support wildlife, and add some aesthetic interest?"
Who it Applies To: All new vegetated landscapes, or those being replaced
• Existing invasive plant species shall be removed and no invasive species planted.
• 75% of all new plantings will be native to Western Washington.
• A vegetation plan must be submitted for review.
• Existing native plant species shall be protected whenever possible.
Code Impacted: Code appropriate to jurisdiction
In response to Linda's post, Bert Cregg, another WSU professor, published Are natives the answer? Revisited. Cregg's comments were inflammatory, to put it mildly. Ginny Stibolt provided a link to Cregg's blog on the FNPS Facebook page, and in doing so, sowed the seed to the following narrative by Taryn Evans, President of the Marion Big Scrub chapter of FNPS.
Recently, FNPS posted a link on its Facebook page to an article posted on The Garden Professors blog. Along with the link, we were asked our opinions on whether the article added anything to a discussion about native plant usage in the landscape and specifically, I presume, about any debate on requiring their usage for a “healthy”, sustainable landscape. We were also asked whether native plant societies as a whole might be “off-base” or “extreme”. The comment I made in response on the FNPS page was that in actuality, the vast majority of the people I had met in local FNPS chapters were practical and clear-eyed. For many, I could also use adjectives like “knowledgeable” and “professional”.
|Bee on Florida native beautyberry flowers.|
Anyway, left to make assumptions of my own on what question he is trying to have answered, this is what I managed to come up with. He seems to have a problem with not just one part of this new “proposed” building code that apparently seeks to increase the usage of native plants and labels these landscapes as “healthy”, but the whole thing. His mocking, unserious suggestion that goats or armies of child slaves might be needed to remove existing invasive species gives me the first clue that he’s got a particular reading audience in mind as he writes, and they are not just someone seeking to know more about the pros and cons of using native plants in their yard. He goes on to ask a series of leading questions about aspects of the code, some of which may be valid, but others much less so. Nowhere does he say anything about the code being a “starting point”, “necessary”, “needing to be worked on and improved”. So, my belief is the question he wants answered is, and it’s admittedly convoluted, “This building code is bad and does not represent a “healthy landscape”. Can native plants really be the answer if they are part of this terrible code?”
|For many butterfly species, natives are the |
only choice for larval food.
OK…huh? So since exotics are not excluded from this code and natives are really great, what’s so bad about the code and why are natives not the answer? Well, he says that there are so many problems with the code and questions to be answered that he could “go on and on” and being forced to plant native plants, though in theory all well and good, is truly NOT the answer.
|Nectar from native plants provide food for hummingbirds.|
Cregg then goes on to “critically look at some of the reasons for planting natives according to the Washington State Native Plant Society.” I’m sure that any FNPS member would recognize them as similar to what our organization would give. But these are apparently the “lies” that we cherish, naively as truths. Only they aren’t actually lies at all, as he is forced to admit time and again. What you come to realize is that to Cregg, an actual fact does not qualify for his “Really True” Seal of Approval unless it contains all the nuances that he believes it should reflect, in his humbly assumed position as “smart”, even “professorial” native plant advocate.
|A wasp on native iron weed.|
As to the first question, I don’t believe he has any real point for what he writes, other than to muddy the water, so to speak, and thereby making any real discussion about the merits of and changes needed to improve the building code more difficult, by arming those with a predisposition to resent or oppose a “sustainable” building code. Why he would do this I can only speculate, but you would probably come to the same conclusions as I do. Certainly judging by the comments I read to his post, he was reaching his target audience of those who want politicians, bureaucrats and dogmatic treehuggers to take their public policy and put it where the sun don’t shine…again, so to speak.
As to the second question, I care because when a horticulture professor writes this type of post, it leaves people who are just learning about the positive benefits of native plants in the landscape with more questions than answers. It also leaves them with doubts about the real necessity for rethinking our concepts of what is a good, healthy, and sustainable landscape.
|Native landscapes even in closely-spaced retirement villages can offer imporatant habitat.|
Public policy is needed to give those who want to plant natives, or even “friendly” non-natives, the real opportunity to get approval from those entities that might withhold it otherwise. These policies could also increase the availability of native plants because more and more people would look to add them to their landscapes.
The Bert Creggs of the world, wherever they are to be found, try to delegitimize the public policy they disagree with by making caricatures of its advocates. We need to call them on their smoke screens that masquerade as informed commentary and recognize what they write as a load of hogwash.
|The native snow squarestem or salt & pepper attracts many pollinators.|
Editor's note: Thanks Taryn for your important post and thanks for being an active FNPS member spreading the word about natives.
Marion Big Scrub chapter of FNPS
Phone: (352) 821-0298
Meeting Schedule: Third Wednesday of the month at 6:30 pm
Meeting Place: Marion County Extension Services - Main Auditorium
2232 N.E. Jacksonville Road, Ocala, FL
Posted and edited by Ginny Stibolt