Sometimes we wonder: How can I possibly make a difference? Does my modest yard of native plants actually help to protect birds and wildlife? Is there more I should be doing? A look at the bigger picture may help piece this puzzle together.
The United States encompasses 2.3 billion acres and almost 60% of that land is under private ownership. The most common land uses are woodlots (28.8%), ranches and pastures (25.9%), crop and farmlands (19.5%), and urban use and yards (2.6%). These acres are owned by individuals playing a part in affecting the local environment. It is this collective effort of individuals that defines the current state of the environment. When common goals align, like using native plants or reducing pesticide use, a team is formed with the power and potential to change the landscape, improve environmental conditions and start trends that encourage others to join in.
Consider how you use the land; the applications of fertilizers and pesticides, the buildings, driveways, lawns and gardens, and how those uses affect:
Soil: health and erosion; What is being added, leached out, washed away, or blown away?
Groundwater: supply, infiltration; What is going into the supply through the ground, how fast is water being pumped out, and how much is lost to runoff?
Vegetation: Identification, monitoring, control; What types of plant communities are on your property? Are there non-natives and how do they affect habitat, and structure?
Adaptive Management is a planning process recommended by ecologists and conservationists to help land managers understand what works locally and what does not. It allows for evaluations and modifications to the plan, thus changing strategies to better achieve goals. Adaptive management has four stages that can help you make a plan for improvements:
“Where are we now?” Assess the state and condition of your site.
“Where do we want to be?” Determine goals and identify objectives needed to achieve them.
“How do we get there?” List the strategies and actions that lead to the objectives.
- “How are we doing?” Monitor the success of the strategy, make changes to the plan.
From dense urban neighborhoods to rural farmlands, all types of land use have dramatic potential to increase or reduce wildlife habitat and ecosystem processes. Land ownership, however, presents a plethora of opportunities to positively interact with the environment and be an important piece of the puzzle in conservation, restoration, and habitat improvements across the country.