Erasing nature

Photo by Zoe Rodriguez Photography

“acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow.”

These are the words that have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

“attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.”

These are the words that have replaced them.

This is not a new controversy, but the first I’d heard of it was during a moving and enthralling talk by author Terry Tempest Williams, given last week as part of a local lecture series by internationally known authors. It’s called Babel and is put on by Just Buffalo Literary Center.

These replacements of words associated with nature correlate well with the ongoing threats to protected natural spaces, including US national parks and monuments. First, there are the dangers imposed by nature—wildfires, coastal erosion, and flooding. Then there are those that have long been imposed by man—pollution, oil drilling, mining, development, and unregulated recreational uses. Then there are the new threats to reduce the size of certain monuments and/or open them to more commercial uses. Tempest Williams’s latest book, The Hour of Land, is a poetic celebration of America’s national parks. During her talk, she spoke of her favorite parks; she also spoke of recently designated monuments that are threatened by the current administration.

In a recent review of twenty-seven national monuments, there are vague plans to reduce the boundaries of six and allow “traditional” uses (drilling and mining) of four. Among the threatened monuments are Bears’ Ears, a red rock expanse in Utah; Gold Butte, a place of petroglyphs, canyons, and desert in Nevada; Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon/California, which would be opened to logging; and several areas in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans that are homes to reefs, atolls, and islands filled with protected species.

The current thinking in the administrative branch seems to be that commercial/industrial needs are more important than all other needs and that all lands, even lands as wild as these, are there for us to use or denude as we see fit. It’s not just the national monuments, either. Coal-fired power plants are undermining the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Grand Canyon National Park has long been challenged by pollution, and the Everglades is a mess. Is it likely that agencies now led by those who have long opposed regulation will do much to mitigate these conditions?

Sadly, I have visited all too few of the parks Tempest Williams writes about in her book—and none of the monuments she discussed during her talk. But I agree with her when she says (in a recent interview): As we watch this administration undermine decades worth of environmental laws and regulations …. dismantling and discrediting science, including forbidding government employees from even speaking the words “climate change”—we can rise up and speak out against these injustices. We can call Congress, we can write letters and opinion pieces, we can attend community meetings, and we can meet these direct assaults on all we hold dear, each in our own way with the gifts that are ours. But we must act.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Those of us who care about these issues need to make our voices heard. We can’t sit back. Once they take the land away, it is gone for good.

    Here in Maryland, there is a new plan to put a high-speed SuperConducting MAGnetic LEVitation (SCMAGLEV) right through the last piece of large green space between Washington and Baltimore. This is where I have my nestbox trail for declining insectivores including American Kestrels. Records from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, a massive annual data collection effort for more than 400 bird species overseen by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Canadian Wildlife Service, show the kestrels have declined by an estimated one and a half percent each year between 1966 and 2010. The long-term loss is almost 50 percent of the population. I had 5 active kestrel boxes this year, nothing like Hawk Mountain, but our best year yet. We are bringing the kestrel back to Maryland. They need this last open space.

    How did I know about the train plan? I sign up for email alerts from my representatives. I will attend meetings and will make my voice heard. I will push for the third route option offered away from this last space.

    Our community fought against a 500 unit apartment complex nearby two years ago. We showed up for hearings and testified. We won.

    We have to win this before it’s all gone. Future generations are counting on us.

    • Not to be the cynic, but that 500 unit apartment complex is going to be built somewhere, despite the fact that you successfully kept it out of your community. People have to live somewhere. It seems we always want the development to stop as soon as WE move in. Our house is okay, but then nobody else is allowed to build anymore.

      • It might, but the market for multifamily housing in the US dropped year-over-year by a whopping 35% in August. The owners of the property should thank us because the interest in this type of residence is plummeting. It was big 3 years ago when we fought it, but not now. Secondly, the county council heard our numerous reasons why THIS particular project was unsuited for THIS particular site as reflected by the county’s “2035 county proposal” and the previous master plan for the area, both approved after extensive citizen input. It was an easy vote for them after we did our homework.

        I know people have to live somewhere, but just to say that, not get involved, then complain after the fact, makes going through life kind of funky. As citizens, it is our duty to make our voices heard.

  2. This makes my heart hurt. To have leaders long ago understand the importance of these beautiful, natural places and to now have leadership that doesn’t care just makes me so sad.

  3. Participating is a good idea. However I would caution anyone who gets information from an environmental activist to thoroughly research the subject yourself. There is an extraordinary amount of misinformation and confusion in the environmental activist world which is white unfortunate.

    • Karen; Can you give as an example, some information given by environmentalists that is incorrect, misleading or otherwise untrue ?
      Talking points have far more in common with ”alternative facts,” as opposed to facts.

        • We’ll have to see how this plays out as, on the surface, it doesn’t look good. Let’s see if the panel had reason to conclude that the studies removed were poorly designed and thus, invalid. However, this news piece you link us to, in reality, has nothing to do with the topic of “Erasing Nature.” Sure, environmentalists, like myself, have come to the realization that the average individual doesn’t understand or truly care about the importance of a healthy ecology for us and other beings with whom we share this planet. So, scientists have to do studies like this one in order to come through the back door to save flowers, insects, birds, waterways, etc. which we already know is deeply affected by herbicides. (BTW, according to the EPA, the average American spends 93% of his or her life indoors, 87% of life is indoors, then another 6% of life in automobiles. That’s only 7% of your entire life outdoors. That’s one half of one day per week outdoors.) If you can’t get someone to care about the natural world, get to them with a word that will never be removed from the Oxford Dictionary: cancer. It’s unfortunate, but that’s seems to be the nature of our tech-driven lives.

  4. It’s no longer time to sit back. Here are some things I did this year to battle the astonishing loss of insects.
    New study suggests insect populations have declined by 75% over 3 decades.

    “For those of us who look, I think all of us are disturbed and all of us are seeing fewer insects,” said Scott Black, executive director of the Portland, Ore.-based Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental group that promotes insect conservation. “On warm summer nights you used to see them around streetlights.” ven in the face of studies such as this, Black said, it’s not entirely doom and gloom. “Although I get depressed every time a study like this comes out,” he said, “I see tens of thousands of everyday people engaged in managing their own little piece of earth in a better way.”

    Helping these tiny helpers can take only a small effort, he said. Habitat restoration can be as simple as a garden with plants that flower throughout the year. Unlike mammals, insects don’t require vast tracts of land to be satisfied — a back yard blooming with native flowers will do.

  5. I agree agree with a Reuters investigation and think it points out that a lot of arguments are not actually evidence-based. Having said that I strongly believe in gardening with native plants and avoiding pesticides herbacides and other chemicals whenever possible. I have a lot of amphibians on my property and in my garden. I just had 3 large truck loads of free chips from the tree trimmers delivered to day that I mulch my garden with.

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