Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Do your duty: Create habitat for biodiversity.

For Vince Fiorito, founder of Friends of Sheldon Creek Watershed (Burlington), creating pollinators and wildlife habitat could be the single most important action individuals can take in tackling the devastating loss of biodiversity in our communities.

Loss of habitat caused amongst other factors, by urbanization, land conversion for agriculture and logging practices, resource extraction, as well as climate change and the spread of invasive species, threaten entire ecosystems—to the point where seriously degraded, they will cease to be effective at cleaning our soil and water, or producing oxygen.

“Ecologically, our natural areas are becoming overrun with invasive species," Fiorito says; "they are not going to be a refuge for wildlife. Our forests are transforming into buckthorn, our farmlands are toxic to pollinators."

Fiorito points out that invasive species are a global problem, which is leading to the "McDonaldization" of ecosystems: "Eventually it won't matter where you go. Every ecosystem with become variations of the same one."  Sort of like how you can get the same hamburger at a McDonalds anywhere on the planet.  "All "natural" areas globally will eventually all look more or less the same and consist of more or less the same plants and animals."

What's left?  For Fiorito, “our urban areas have high potential for planting native species and attracting pollinators.”
by Madeleine Kay
That's why Fiorito's life purpose is to raise awareness for environmental and ecological consideration –trying to convince people to restore habitat and grow native plants.

Originally from Thunder Bay, Fiorito had a rural upbringing, hunting and trapping since the age of fourteen (drop him anywhere in Ontario with just a knife and he'll survive). This is where he became interested in creating habitat for the species he was tracking so as to improve the quality of the trap lines.

Currently, his day job is teaching software for cloud computing to corporations, but the rest of his time is dedicated to environmental activism. “I love to teach. The software thing is a wave that is going to happen--but trying to cause social change is significant."

Fiorito says he is focusing on high school kids and schoolchildren because "the adults are programmed to think that yellow flowers in a green lawn is ugly."

Get rid of your lawn.

The lawn. Ah. The lawn. In North America, its sacredness is comparable to that of the automobile. But the lawn is death. It has no intrinsic value as a functional, diverse ecosystem.

Sterile, devoid of bio-diversity, “even a pile of rocks would be better,” Fiorito says, since it has that more habitat for insects to crawl under.

Fiorito is ready to argue that as a whole, the development of the Athabasca Tar Sands will be less destructive than our current landscaping choices are (he calculates as much as 190,000 square kilometers of lawn and sterile gardens of alien/exotic ornamental flowers).

He is not joking when he says that “tulips, lilacs, daffodils are cruel practical jokes we play on pollinators.” They have nothing to offer by way of food.

“But for every single ornamental plant we have, there is an equivalently beautiful native one.”

Seed balls!

One way to teach and reach wide audiences is by having people make seed balls.
Fiorito uses a seed mix—donated to him by Acorus Native Plant Nursery—designed to handle very poor soil. In particular, the mix includes Ontario Native prairies grasses—a species that has all but disappeared from Ontario not only due to the obvious reasons but also because we don’t practice “slash and burn,” (we fear the smoke this produces) a way to control invasive species and enhance this type of species.

Wild flowers in the marble-sized pellet include pearly everlasting, blazing star, stiff goldenrod, sky blue aster, little blue stem, round headed bush clover (endangered), and twenty different native mints, all mixed up with clay and topsoil.

Fiorito has made several thousand seed balls, and plans to make another 10-20 thousand over the next couple months. He offers seed bomb give-aways to volunteers who participate in his stewardship program.

Describing himself as “a force of nature,” Fiorito practices guerilla gardening, tossing these seed balls around railway tracks, and disturbed sites. When asked if he shouldn't be seeking permission to do so, he replies, "Do the birds have to ask permission to poop?" “Maybe this is the problem,” Fiorito reflects, “instead of fighting nature, we should be cooperating with it.”