By Eleanor D'Aponte with help from Navin Bywaters

On August 26, author Doug Tallamy spoke at a community workshop and dinner event, Growing a Homegrown National Park. The event was sponsored by Vermont Alliance for Half-Earth, Vermont Natural Resources and American Flatbread/Lareau Farm. During the presentation Tallamy advocated for the critical role that individual property owners in Vermont can play in conserving biodiversity. He founded Homegrown National Park, a grassroots approach to conservation that starts in your own backyard based on scientist E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth solution to saving the planet. The Half-Earth Project is working to conserve half the land and sea to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity, including ourselves.



“In Nature’s Best Hope,” Tallamy vividly illustrates the intricate ecological web we humans share with other species, as well as some tangible and simple steps anyone can take right now to become a constructive web member.


Did you know that given a choice birds will choose a caterpillar for a meal over almost any other insect? Caterpillars are high in protein and fats for their size compared to aphids, ants, wasps, bees, grasshoppers, spiders, beetles or cicadas. Wouldn’t you rather eat an easy-to-find and yummy sausage-like meal over something with a tough exoskeleton and spiny legs that hides underground?


One rich narrative he traces is the caterpillar life cycle. Birds, he says, are so dependent on caterpillars that many bird species may not be able to breed at all in certain habitats without caterpillars. As you can imagine, like human parents, nesting birds are constrained to an area around the nest; therefore, nesting territories must contain an ample concentration of food. Tallamy’s research includes the collaborative creation of a database which links the best plant species to support caterpillars within a certain area. Typing your local zip code into divulges flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs that support species of butterflies and moths that will eventually become yummy caterpillar meals for birds. For instance, in the Mad River Valley, five native goldenrod species can support 122 species of butterflies and moths, and one species of crab apple can attract 258 species of butterflies and moths. Seems like we’ve got it covered, right?

But, everyone knows what has to happen before a butterfly or a moth becomes a protein-packed bird meal, right? Chrysalis screams every Vermont kid ever! Before entering the chrysalis stage, the caterpillar crawls away from its host plant to reduce its risk of being eaten by a predator. So, while you might have a crab apple tree or two, or even too much goldenrod for your taste -- if you have an impeccably mowed lawn with compacted soil (or concrete in more urban areas) around the base of your trees, finding haven for the chrysalis phase suddenly becomes a caterpillar nightmare. It's important that certain caterpillar species find loose organic matter like leaf litter, loose compacted soil, decaying logs or a pollinator garden for this next phase. Ninety-six percent of North American terrestrial bird species feed on insects and the majority of those are caterpillars, so providing these habitats is a simple and pleasurable way for Vermonters to share their land and improve the web!


One more thing. Once they emerge from the chrysalis as adults, Tallamy explains that butterflies and moths need to survive this phase long enough to mate and for the females to locate their host plant and lay eggs. Different species require anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks to do this. Many of these species keep up their energy with nectar from nocturnal flowers. One study revealed that insect visits to flowers in areas with artificial lights declined by 62%! To that end, keeping your lights on a motion sensor and switching to yellow lights can increase butterfly and moth survival.



Members of the 2020 Vermont Master Naturalist course worked with Curt Lindberg of the Vermont Alliance for Half-Earth. They studied which native plants work best to promote pollinators and restore natural landscapes in the Mad River Valley. They’ve learned that the best part is that by simply reducing the area that you mow and leaving leaf litter on the ground you will automatically be sharing your landscape with more living things. Better still, you can curate by planting a few natives and removing invasive species when they pop up in your space. They suggest these three steps to get started and get your yard buzzing with life!



Create mowed paths through your garden dedicating a defined open space to meadow and biodiversity. Flowers support pollinators and seeds feed birds. Brush hog every other year to avoid reforestation. Doug Tallamy recommends doing this in the late spring so you don’t destroy winter habitat and the seed source for resident birds.

Native Plants to Look for: Year 1, field thistle, chicory, fleabane, jewel weed, Dame’s rocket. Year 2, swamp milkweed, New England aster, common boneset, goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, and vervain.


Many pollinators need the fall leaf litter to enable them to winter over and as an environment for their eggs. Bee’s love these weeds: dandelions, creeping Charlie, creeping thyme, bee balm, wild geranium. Trees and shrubs to attract birds and other wildlife: dogwood, hop hornbeam, sugar and red maple, ash, red spruce, balsam fir, white pine, Canadian hemlock, oak, birch, ash, chokecherry, blackberries and raspberries, shadbush, nannyberry, and American beech.




Create habitats, build bird boxes, leave leaf piles, leave standing dead trees.

VMN MRV “Half-Yard” collaborators: John Dillon, Eleanor D’Aponte, Lincoln Frasca, John Hoogenboom and Sarah Zschau


Learn more about VMN and how to get involved:


Join the Vermont Half-Earth Alliance:


Read about Tallamy’s mission and help plant 20 million acres of natives in the U.S.:


D'Aponte lives in Waitsfield.