Pollinator Protection Event Takes Center Stage in Polk County - TribPapers

Pollinator Protection Event Takes Center Stage in Polk County

Pam Torlina, Community Engagement Director for Conserving Carolina, speaks with attendees about the nonprofit's land conservation efforts.

Columbus – “This may be the largest group ever assembled to talk about moths,” joked Jim McCormac to a crowd of over 600 people attending the second Gardening for Life Celebration on March 30 in Columbus, NC.

A renowned botanist, birder, and photographer, McCormac’s topic for the hour-long presentation was Mysterious Moths and Their Outsized Role in Nature. Referencing his recent book Gardening for Moths, McCormac described the humble moth’s essential role in the environment and the simple steps attendees could take to protect the pollinator population.

McCormac’s presentation was the centerpiece of the day-long Gardening for Life Celebration held at Polk County High School. In addition to the talk, the event featured native plant vendors and exhibitors on a variety of conservation and wildlife topics.

One of the exhibitors was the recently formed nonprofit Champions for Wildlife. Dedicated to using art and education to encourage children to take an active role in wildlife conservation, Champions for Wildlife is on track to work with thousands of students in Polk, Buncombe, and Henderson Counties in the coming year, according to co-founder Loti Woods.

At the Gardening for Life Celebration, the Champions for Wildlife exhibit featured 750 native plant seed packets, each of which had been hand-decorated by a local student. Young volunteers were also on hand to pass out brochures and share their perspectives on the importance of conservation for the future.

Other exhibitors included Conserving Carolina, a major supporter of the event, and conservation nonprofits including Backyard Butterflies, DarkSky International and MountainTrue. The exhibitors were chosen to educate, inspire, and connect the different aspects of conservation.

“We can all make a difference in our own backyards. Protecting the Carolinas is so important, and it’s up to each of us,” said event co-founder Corrie Woods.

This was the second event led by the Gardening for Life leadership team consisting of Woods, Donna Wise, Vard Henry, Karen Bird, Donna Younkin, and Anita Saulmon. Born of conversations at the United Congregationalist Church in Tryon, the group came together to plan the first celebration in March 2023. Conservationist Doug Tallemy spoke at the first celebration about the benefits of using native plants. Tallemy leads the “Home-Grown National Park” initiative and was well-received by the sold-out crowd.

Based on the momentum of the first event, the Gardening for Life leadership decided to turn the celebration into an annual event. Event co-founder Karen Bird suggested McCormac as the speaker after meeting him through her work as the program chair of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society.

“His expertise and photography are so engaging,” said Bird. “He inspires a sense of the interconnectedness of nature.”

McCormac has given over 40 talks on moths and their importance to the environment. While speaking to the Gardening for Life crowd, he emphasized the insects’ unique place in the local food web, aided by fuzzy and fascinating images of brightly colored moths and caterpillars.

“My job here is to make a case for moths,” said McCormac. “The problem is their reputation. They’re not as appealing as butterflies, but they’re far better pollinators.” McCormac also noted that animals ranging from birds and bats to grizzly bears feed on caterpillars or adult moths.

Following the presentation, McCormac signed copies of his book and was appreciative of his first time in Polk County.

“This has been a real treat. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and this may be the coolest county in your state in terms of rare plants,” said McCormac.