When we think of saving wildlife, we picture protecting animals in far-off expanses of vast untouched wild places. We support legislation, we vote, we send money and wait for news of how the work of organizations that are the lifeblood of preservation for all manner of Earth’s wild creatures is progressing.
In a way, our everyday lives are disconnected from that beauty. While protecting our last wild places and animals is important, equally as important is the wild we have in our own backyards (or even small patio or balcony spaces).
Sadly, urban wildlife doesn’t have the allure for many that romantic figures like bears, wolves or mountain lions do. Raccoons, squirrels, bats, opossums, birds, bugs and, yes, even rats and mice all live out the daily struggle for survival in the urban jungle we have created for them (and us).
It’s always seemed strange to me that the animals who’ve had the most success coexisting with us are also the most reviled. We’ve labeled most of them pests and waste money and time trying to exterminate the species we’ve decided don’t deserve a place beside us on this planet.
These efforts are missed opportunities. Rethinking how we set up our outdoor spaces can change our relationship with nature in our everyday lives. And this in turn can help to mold our attitude toward our urban wildlife into a positive one, as well as benefit the animals in our forests unable to cope with concrete and chain link fences.
Among many others, the National Wildlife Federation, as well as the Humane Society of the United States, both offer a program where participants can certify their outdoor space as a wildlife habitat. The four components required for certification are: food sources, water sources, cover and a place to raise young.
1. Food Sources
Examples of food sources include bird feeders, native vegetation, fruit trees or bushes. One of the best ways to restore your property’s mini-ecosystem to one that will benefit wildlife is to get rid of some or all of your lawn.
According to the University of Texas, lawns cover more land in the United States than any commercial agricultural crop. And those 40 million acres of lawn consumes about 800 million gallons of gas, $700 million in pesticides and $5.2 billion of fossil-fuel derived fertilizers. And especially here in Southern California, those manicured lawns come at a high price. Up to two-thirds of our drinking water goes to quench our yellowing grass.
Replacing some of your lawn with native plants will almost eliminate the need to water, as well as provide food and habitat to native animals and the insects who feed the animals and benefit the plants. For a list of plants native to your area, visit Native Beauties plant search.
Fruit trees and bushes will lessen your ecological footprint by lessening your reliance on big agriculture and the ecological havoc it wreaks on ecosystems. The University of California reports that “of any single factor, large-scale water development perhaps has had the most negative impact on California’s wildlife,” and most of that water goes to large-scale agriculture.
2. Water Sources
These can be something as simple as a small bird bath, or as intricate as a pond. Make sure to build areas where wildlife that may accidentally fall in can crawl out easily.
Bird houses are great for birds, and bat houses will give your kids (and you) a thrill most people only get through vampire movies. Creating rock piles, thickets and allowing leaves to stay where they drop are also examples of cover for creatures existing in a world you will now get to be part of.
4. Places to raise young
The elements that create cover are also great places for animals to raise young. Dense shrubs and vegetation will give a little more cover needed to successfully raise baby creatures.
Even a small balcony or patio can provide water, a bird feeder and house, and plants, like milkweed, to provide food for butterflies. The bigger your outdoor space, the more opportunity to give yourself and your children that connection with nature that rural folks are always complaining we’ve lost.
And don’t forget to create spaces for your family to enjoy the new perspective on how the drama of nature plays itself out in a million tiny ways right before our eyes. We only have to take the time to see.