We’ve written a lot about turning our modest suburban yard into a contributing part of the ecosystem, and it’s been really rewarding to spot critters and bugs that we otherwise wouldn’t see, not to mention just being able to enjoy the beauty of the native plants we’ve added. But it only goes so far to create a little island for wildlife; we need our neighbors to join in as well.
We’ll never get back the unbroken tracts of wild lands and habitat that once took up the whole east coast, but if enough of us welcome wildlife into our yards and shared public areas, going piece-by-piece in a huge patchwork quilt, we can mitigate the habitat loss and massive declines and even extinctions that so many wildlife species have suffered.
Lindsay wrote about how our town is trying to mobilize residents to take the plunge, and people all over the country are doing the same thing. There’s a great web tool out there that aims to document these efforts and make connections within and across communities: Habitat Network.
Habitat Network is a citizen science project designed to cultivate a richer understanding of wildlife habitat, for both professional scientists and people concerned with their local environments. We collect data by asking individuals across the country to literally draw maps of their backyards, parks, farms, favorite birding locations, schools, and gardens. We connect you with your landscape details and provide tools for you to make better decisions about how to manage landscapes sustainably.
Habitat Network is also the world’s first interactive citizen scientist social network. When you join you are instantly connected to the work of like-minded individuals in your neighborhood, and across the country. Together you can become a conservation community focused on sharing strategies, maps, and successes to build more wildlife habitat.
Even beyond the ability to share this information with scientists and the public, their yard map is a great tool to understand your own property. I’ll give you a warning though, you might not like what you learn.
You can use their map overlays with satellite images of your home to indicate exactly which parts of your hard are what types of habitat. You can even indicate what species of trees and plants you have.
Here’s our property mapped:
We’re pleased with how our yard has been coming along since we moved here. We ripped out a big section of lawn for replacement with a meadow, removed invasives, planted natives, and we already had some nice mature trees on and adjacent to the property. But I can’t say I was thrilled when I finished mapping our yard and saw this breakdown:
There’s nothing we can do about the footprint of the structures, and we plan to remove the portion of pavement in front of our garage as soon as possible (it hasn’t been used for parking for many years). But even after starting our meadow (that’s the “grass” section), nearly 30% of our property is still unproductive lawn. That’s nearly as much as is covered by the productive habitat portions: the “grass” meadow and our native flower beds.
As a reminder, turf grass provides almost nothing in the way of food and habitat for wildlife, and though we manage ours organically and never water it (except when establishing new seed), it’s generally resource intensive. We want some for chasing around Mae and yard games and such, but seeing these numbers really hit home that we can do a lot more about reducing ours.
We already have plans next year to put in more native shrubs, a shade garden, and expand our existing flower beds, all of which should greatly shrink that percentage by this time next year. And as those plants grow and spread, and others are added, we’ll keep whittling down that lawn percentage to make room for more habitat in our yard.
If you want to learn something about your own property and be a contributing citizen scientist, take a few minutes and map your yard. Then figure out what you can do to make it better.