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Some relationship advice for humans and nature

Stratford Gazette

November 18, 2010

By: Tamara Harbar

Going Green

So, how are you and nature getting along? Are you on good terms? Or on the outs? Do your kids think nature is good or full of bad things?

Our relationship with nature can shape us, as Brendon Larson told about 90 people at Stratford Naturally's Nov. 9 workshop at the Kiwanis Centre.

Larson would know. He's been a naturalist since childhood, spending time bird-watching and peering at mosses. He has worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources, and these days, he's president of Ontario Nature and assistant professor at the University of Waterloo's Faculty of Environment.

Larson said some people look at nature from the outside, as if it has nothing to do with them. Other people see themselves inside the natural world, as part of nature.

How the next generation sees nature is a concern for Larson, especially with the changes happening in the environment.

Some species are losing ground, while others are gaining. Fast-spreading plants and animals that take territory away from other species are known as "invasive species." Invasives like garlic mustard, purple loosestrife, giant hogweed, and carp are all typically seen as harmful.

Larson pointed out the language used to describe invasives can even tip us into a war-like attitude. Invasives are called "alien" species that need to be "eradicated" because they're a "plague" on the landscape. But don't talk like that around Larson.

"Invasion happens," he explained. Humans, plants and animals have always been globe-trotting and colonizing new territory. Sometimes it's happened on purpose (when pioneers brought plants and animals to new lands); sometimes it's happened accidentally (when seeds hitched a ride on someone's clothes or on an animal's fur).

"Species come and go," Larson said. "They will change no matter what we do."

So Larson doesn't think bad-mouthing invasives is the way to go.

"What kind of message does that give to our children who will grow up in a world with many invasive species? What kind of relationship will children have with the natural world as a result?"

Larson's view is that we can't win the "war" against invasives anyways; they're here to stay. He said only a small percentage of invasives cause problems in the environment, and some native plants and animals cause problems, too.

Instead, Larson offered tips and examples on how we can connect with nature in all its biodiversity.

- Explore and Learn. "There are so many species you can learn about that it's never-ending," he said. Go to national parks or local natural areas. Learn about the fly that looks like a bee. Take a closer look at mosses.

- Share Experiences With Your Kids and Grandkids, even if it's only at the pumpkin patch every Halloween.

- Care. Stay on the trails in natural areas. One of Larson's slides showed a sign along a nature trail reading, "Nature can't say 'Ouch!'."

- Join and Be Active, whether it's Ontario Nature, the Stratford Field Naturalists, which sponsored and hosted this workshop, or other groups conserving and protecting nature.

- Hope. "That's what we really have to find within each and every one of us," Larson said. Whether you're on the ins or outs with nature, that's good relationship advice.

Web Peek of the Week: Support all of nature by signing the Biodiversity Charter for Ontario at www.ontarionature.org/biodiversity.

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