Every Backyard is Important …
|Photo by Lynn Betts, USDA NRCS
… as critically needed habitat in an increasingly fragmented landscape
The development of forests, grasslands, and farms for residential and commercial use consumes wildlife habitat, leaving sub-divided, barren housing plots, concrete buildings, and paved parking lots in its wake. An average of 2.1 million acres each year are converted to residential use in the United States.
Think about your yard and what existed there before you and your house did. What type of habitat was it? What type of wildlife lived there? Where are they now? What about the new house being built on the empty lot down the street. Or the new strip mall in town. What will happen to the wildlife that lived in those previously open spaces? Where will they go?
The most significant factors in the decline of bird populations are habitat loss and degradation. Less than 5 percent of tallgrass prairie habitat remains today as compared to pre-settlement days. Also gone are 50 percent of our wetlands and 90 percent of the Pacific coast old growth forests.
One solution to curb habitat loss is for each residential area (new and established) to provide birds and other wildlife the necessities for survival — food, water, nesting area, and shelter. It is increasingly clear that we must not only protect natural areas with high wildlife value but also must create a matrix of suitable habitat to buffer and connect those areas. By creating healthy habitat for birds and wildlife in our yards and neighborhoods, we can temper the habitat fragmentation and displacement caused by urban and suburban expansion by helping to build that matrix.
Your yard is an important piece of the matrix. Its singular importance is magnified by the combined efforts of others.
… and because what we do at home is intimately connected to the health of our larger environment.
Whether you live in an apartment building, a suburban subdivision, or on a country road, what you do to and with your outdoor space affects a larger ecosystem. Not only does your individual action — positive or negative — affect your surroundings, but combined with the actions of your neighbors, others in your community, others in your watershed, and so on, the impact is compounded and far-reaching. Sometimes the actions are admirable, such as when you plant natives or reduce water consumption. Oftentimes, however, the actions are harmful to the environment, such as when you use pesticides or fertilizers unnecessarily and potentially contribute to pollution of ground and surface waters.
How does pollution get from your backyard to the local reservoir or aquifer or river and beyond? Rain or snow falls onto your outdoor space and either soaks into the ground or flows away to find a body of water, carrying with it traces of everything you’ve applied to your landscape — including that spray you used to get rid of insects, that chemical you applied to kill weeds, that nitrogen you added to improve the soil. At least half the households in the United States use pesticides, fertilizers, or both in their yards. Pollution caused by storm runoff from diffuse sources such as backyards, parks and fields, and parking lots and streets is called nonpoint source pollution. It is a leading and widespread cause of water-quality degradation in the U.S., and impairs drinking water supplies, recreational opportunities, fisheries, and wildlife.
No yard is an island. Each property is interconnected, thus demanding us to be responsible stewards of our outdoor space and making each of our yards important.