My January column usually includes suggestions for New Years resolutions that could help create a healthier environment. Most people start by becoming more knowledgeable about wildlife in their local area, state, or country.
Exotic animals from exotic climes like Asia, Australia, and Africa are undoubtedly fascinating. What about native animals and plants, even those that live in your neighborhood? These are three suggestions to help teach you about them.
1. Find out which state wildlife symbols you have. Although all states recognize the same types of animals and plants, they have different categories. Are you familiar with the names of your state’s tree and flower? Each state has one or more. However, botanists are not able to name all of them. Even fewer residents can name both. Some botanists may think it redundant to have a State Tree and a State Flower, since trees, except conifers have flowers. Every state has a state bird. Is your state home to a reptile, fish, amphibian, or mammal? Some states do. What about an insect?
To go beyond the basics, you can study the ecology of the state’s chosen plants and animals. Many of these are not native species. In Alabama, for example, the native goldenrod was replaced by an introduced Asian species, the camellia. Sweet potato, a tropical American native, is the state vegetable. Sweet potatoes and camellias are both delicious. Alabama chose the Red Hills salamander to be the state amphibian in order to make up for the non-natives being used for state symbols. It is an outstanding choice. These salamanders are rare and unique, and they can only be found in one state. What animals or plants are only found in your state?
2. One resolution I recommend often is to get outside. Look around once you’re out there. Take a stroll through a natural environment. Wander through the woods, along a river or around a lake. There are many opportunities to see wildlife, especially in springtime, in most state parks and some city parks. Pay attention to the variety of plants, even tiny flowers and mushrooms. What number of animals can you identify? Keep in mind that animals come from different sizes. For insects and other small creatures, search under logs and rocks. Encourage children to participate if you can. The more you know about the world around us, the more you will love it.
3. You can see live animals at any place you visit and learn about their ecology. There are many options. Visit a botanical garden if you are interested in the plant life. A botanical garden is a great place to start your day. Get together with like-minded people to learn more about your local fauna and flora. Set a goal to identify at least one plant or animal that you are interested in learning more about its ecology. Make sure you only research on reliable websites when conducting internet research.
The U.S. Department of Interiors Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service offer many opportunities to appreciate natural habitats. Visit a national park or FWS wildlife reserve if you are looking for a wildlife adventure. If visiting a national park or nature preserve is impossible, you can find a state park that is within driving distance. Many are beautiful enclaves full of wildlife and well worth the drive. Although you might not see wild animals at every visit, you can still find native plants that are beautiful throughout the year.
These resolutions are simple to achieve for the coming year. All will be fun. All of these activities will help you to be more aware of the natural heritage of our planet’s animals, plants, and habitats.
Whit Gibbons, professor of zoology, is also a senior biologist at University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. If you have an environmental question or comment, email@example.com.