Monarch butterflies are on the verge of disappearing. The decline of other insects is also evident. Birds are also in decline. Since the arrival of Europeans, forests in the United States have seen a drastic reduction in their size. Approximately 99 percent of America's prairies have disappeared.
It can be tempting to give in to eco-anxiety during times of ecological disaster. What can one person do, anyway? Many of us won't be able to sit in front of a bulldozer, or tie ourselves to a tree. It is not possible to give up your car, which can be a gas-guzzling vehicle. Simple steps like recycling aren't very effective. Most of the waste we have sorted ends up in the trash or the ocean. To offset their environmental impact, even our reusable cotton bags would need to be used 20,000 more times.
Be careful before you become a nihilist. There is something you can do that has been documented to have an impact. You can even see it yourself.
Many people, including apartment dwellers and homeowners around the globe are creating wildlife habitats in their backyards. While animals struggle to make a living in concrete cities or pesticide-saturated suburbia, planting native species can provide them with food and shelter. These oases can be combined with larger restorations in rural areas and thoughtfully planted utility strips and forest preserves. They also become part of larger wildlife corridors that provide a network of places for animals to live, breed, and shelter.
A Mini Refuge
These refuges can be certified by a variety of organizations that offer guidance. There are programs offered by local chapters of the Audubon Society that can recognize backyard bird sanctuary. Monarch Watch and North American Butterfly Association sponsor initiatives to grow butterfly gardens. A network of smaller groups, such as Pollinator Pathways or Wild Ones, also promote wildlife gardening.
Michele Metych, a Chicago resident and contributing editor to Encyclopedia Britannicas Advocacy for Animals, said that the certification process was easy. This year, she certified her yard with Pollinator Pathways. They wanted me to confirm that my garden was populated by native plants and not invasive species, and to make a commitment to use pesticides in the future.
This movement has been led by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). In 1973, the magazine's eponymous published an article that laid out the principles for the Garden for Wildlife program. The NWF has since certified over 250,000 wildlife habitats on properties across all sizes.
David Mizejewski, a naturalist and spokesperson for the NWF, offers many tips on how to transform your space.
The Conservation Playbook
Mizejewski points out four key factors in creating a wildlife-friendly landscape. The use of native plants is the first.
Mizejewski states that plants and wildlife have co-evolved over many thousands of years, sometimes even millions. They are closely connected in their life cycles. They produce nectar when native pollinators require it. The plants are producing berries at the right time for migratory songbirds. For monarch populations in crisis, milkweed (Asclepias species) is essential for their survival. The caterpillars that eat only these plants are dependent on them.
There are many species of native shrubs, trees and herbaceous plants that can be used in residential landscaping, regardless of where you live. Audubon and the NWF both have databases that provide information on native plants that can thrive in particular areas. Gardeners are encouraged and encouraged to plant as many species as possible. Research has shown that pollinator diversity is best when at least 20 species are planted. However, even a few plants is better than none. A balcony container can hold a few natives while still providing some benefits to visiting insects.
However, not all natives are equal. Mizejewski encourages gardeners and other professionals to find what is known as local ecotypes, which are specimens of certain species that are native to a particular area. Because of their beautiful blooms, coneflowers (Echinacea species) are a popular choice. Even though they may technically be the same species, the plants sold in big-box garden centers might look very different to those found in wild areas. These differences can make cultivated varieties less useful for wildlife.
It can be difficult to find the right ecotypes in your area. Only a few nurseries and native organizations have them. Mizejewski recommends that gardeners avoid hybridized native cultivars. He suggests that we might cross a plant with a hybrid to get a double flower. You are making the nectar unavailable to pollinators by doing this. We might also breed plants to bloom in another color. This might have removed the ultraviolet spectrum which attracts bees.
He suggests that gardeners should not plant invasive species if they must use non-native ornamentals. Garden escapees are often responsible for the most serious pests found in natural environments. These include purple loosestrife, Japanese barberry (Berberis.thunbergii), burning bushes (Euonymus.alatus), and Japanese honeysuckle.
Lawn Gone Design
It is important to consider garden design as it has an impact on two other crucial factors, shelter and places for raising offspring. Layering plants densely creates natural growth patterns, which allows wildlife to hide from predators or conceal their nests. The beauty of leaving dead plants in winter is not only aesthetic, but it also attracts hibernating bugs. The contrast is the lack of care in many yards, which can leave wildlife exposed, making it less likely that they will take up residence and breed.
This is especially true for a feature that is almost ubiquitous on American residential property: the lawn. They are owned by 81 percent of Americans, and they cost billions of dollars to maintain. These green patches can be seen as either a symbol of suburban prosperity or a sign of depressing conformity depending on how you view them. They are ecological deserts, whether you love them or not.
Mizejewski stated that they are a waste space for wildlife habitat.
They require excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides to keep them in their viridian glory. These chemicals are harmful to all other grasses except non-native turf grasses. Because the typical lawn's clipped carpet offers little erosion control, these chemicals sluice from the soil and pollute waterways. This can lead to algal blooms and the poisoning of aquatic animals. Air pollution is also caused by gasoline-powered mowers and other lawn equipment. They can also cause noise pollution that can stress wildlife and make it difficult for them to spot predators.
You can transform a portion of your lawn to native plants. This creates a useful habitat and eliminates the need to use expensive pesticides or fertilizers. It also reduces runoff, which helps to replenish the water table. A perfect habitat includes water features. These water features provide water for animals thirsty. Even a small dish can provide enough water for birds to drink and bathe in if it is regularly cleaned. Larger features, such as ponds, offer habitat for amphibians or aquatic insects.
Improve Your Approach
It turns out that wildlife gardening is addicting in the best way possible. Wildlife will find you if you plant them. Gardeners are often compelled to plant more when they first see butterflies, native bees, and other unusual birds. Biophilia, which refers to our natural attraction to the natural world, is a real phenomenon.
We know that people who have personal connections with nature make it more special and important. Mizejewski said that they get more involved. People can find a way to connect with nature every day through wildlife gardens.
These connections allow us to gain a deeper understanding about how small gardens can have an impact on the natural world. Gardeners will be able to take additional actions that are beneficial for the environment and themselves once they have this information.
However, there are many obstacles to overcome. These practices may be controversial. Many neighborhoods have been fined for habitat gardens because the native plants are considered weeds. Metych chose to certify the yard because of this.
She says that I did it because my neighbor's milkweed garden was triggering them. It was important for them to understand why the garden looked so overgrown.
Mizejewski recommends that wildlife lovers who are motivated contact their local governments and homeowners associations to challenge laws against untidy areas and to explain the importance of creating habitat for wildlife. It may be worthwhile to start with a conservative design and build from there, especially in cases where wild looks are not feasible.
Mizejewski says that we challenge people to think of creating wildlife habitat gardens in ways that encourage others to do the same. The goal is to have these islands become archipelagos. This will be a complex of interconnected green spaces that attract wildlife back into our lives. Perhaps this will allow us to prove that there is some hope.