Our Yards: A “Last Frontier” for Wildlife & Biodiversity?

In the past couple of years, I’ve come to believe that voluntary conservation efforts in residential yards and other private lands may be our best hope at protecting biodiversity and tree cover. I call my idea “Infill Reforestation,” analagous to the concept of “Infill Development.” My conviction about this has only intensified with the rollbacks of Federal environmental protections for wetlands and riverways.

The voluntary aspect of conservation — harnessing people’s innate passion and compassion for wild nature — is what’s going to be the lifesaver and the dealbreaker. Here in my home state, the Florida state legislature has overturned the ability of local governments to regulate tree removal on private property. (This is part of an overall disturbing trend of the dismantling of home rule here in Florida, and maybe in your state too.) Now that we can’t keep property owners from removing even old-growth trees, the conservation efforts of those of us who recognize the value of wild biodiverse spaces become all the more important.

Over the past few weeks, several articles have reached me via my social-media newsfeed, that reinforce my idea that there is a lot you and I can do, and must do as much as we are willing and able.

The state of Minnesota is paying residents to transform their lawns into bee-friendly landscapes: “Minnesota just allocated nearly a million dollars in incentives for people to transform their lawns into bee-friendly wildflowers, clover and native grasses. The state is asking citizens to stop spraying herbicide, stop mowing so often, and let their lawns re-wild into a more natural state. … The loss of native prairies and forests across the country has made pollinators more dependent on urban and suburban lawn flowers, says James Wolfin, a bee habitat researcher at University of Minnesota.” (from ReturnToNow.net)

• And another one to give you moral support: Evidence that land clearing leads to rainfall reduction (something that a lot of us land-carers have known or at least suspected for years now). “A team of water experts has identified a correlation between widespread land clearing and a decline in rainfall in Western Australia’s South West region.” This is “something that also individuals can assist with on their own vacant land or on farms and unproductive land.” (Thanks to ABC Australia for covering this issue.)

“How To Re-Oak Your Neighborhood.” Enumerates the rich benefits of native oaks, and offers tips for reintroducing them into our neighborhoods. Although the article From Los Altos Online is targeted at California residents, Florida conservation gardener Ginny Stibolt comments that “To have a more sustainable & climate-wise landscape plant more trees, but all trees are not equal when it comes to shade, transpiration rates, and carbon sequestration. Live oaks are the best choice for many reasons. This article is for California, but it applies equally as well here in Florida” (and in other states as well, I would add).

Worry About Your Own Property, That’s Where Conservation Happens: “Despite widespread habitat destruction that shows no sign of abating, regular home gardeners can make a difference for insects by growing the right kinds of native plants.”

Declining Insect Populations Threaten Birds: Intimidated by HOA rules and other pressure from the turfgrass mafia? Use this article to remind yourself that you’re doing essential work by preserving biodiversity at all levels. “Do we ignore insect declines to our detriment, or change some of our most destructive day-to-day routines, which seem to be modifying our world into a more sterile place?”

• And finally, another gem shared by Ginny Stibolt: 10 Garden Ideas To Steal from Superstar Dutch Designer Piet Oudolf. “Landscape Designer Piet Oudolf has greatly influenced the definition of what a beautiful garden should look like. He uses mostly native plants, which are allowed to grow to their own shapes. This article summarizes 10 ideas that we can adapt and use in our own yards and in our communities.”

I hope you find the above articles helpful. At a time when bird populations are drastically declining, and pollinators and other wildlife are disappearing rapidly, it is in our best interest to expand our standards of what’s beautiful in a landscape. Our aesthetics, especially here in Florida, have come to favor a landscape of sharp edges, extreme pruning, spraying, and de-diversification that is ultimately bad for all of us.

Right now, natural gardening on the household and neighborhood scale has much potential to help turn the situation around (as well as adding much-needed charm and shade to our streets). Let’s turn residential landscaping into a real art — one that honors our unique bioregions, and is firmly rooted in science and nature.