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In this issue: land management tips, YardMap help, butterfly bush, featured site
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The Dirt: News from YardMap
Joining together to break new ground for birds

June 2015

Private Land Ownership
Almost 60% of U.S. lands are in the hands of private owners.
Photo: © 2010 Pike, Smith and Kent. 

Management Opportunity

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:

  1. “Where are we now?”  Assess the state and condition of your site.

  2. “Where do we want to be?” Determine goals and identify objectives needed to achieve them.

  3. “How do we get there?” List the strategies and actions that lead to the objectives.

  4. “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.

Butterfly Bush
Butterfly bush taking over an abandoned field.
Photo by Hermann Falkner via Flickr

Just say NO to Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii)

Let us guess. Here’s why you love butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii):

  1. It is pretty and smells nice.
  2. It blooms for most of the growing season.
  3. Butterflies like it. (They do consume the nectar.)

These are seemingly good reasons to plant Buddleja or leave it in your yard. Unfortunately, these reasons are no match for the negative impacts of butterfly bush.

1. It’s invasive.
This plant can quickly take over in some areas. The seeds are dispersed by birds and wind. Large swaths of abandoned fields can be found covered in this plant, out-competing native plants.
2. It’s nonnative.
This plant is native to Asia. 
When a plant is a stranger in a strange land, the ecologically critical relationships between native insects, soils, and plants may be altered or collapse.
3. It does not provide productive habitat. 
Animals need food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young. The best plants in a habitat provide more than one of these. Butterfly bush only provides food in the form of nectar to butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. 
Native butterflies do not lay their eggs on this plant because the caterpillars cannot eat the foliage.

If you love butterflies, you need host plants that support caterpillars, not just plants that feed butterflies. For ideas on native plants to replace your butterfly bush, explore Benjamin Vogt’s article. Benjamin is a native plant garden consultant and the recent winner of our Yards of Hope Photo Competition, Judges Choice. You can bet Benjamin wouldn’t be caught with butterfly bush in his yard!

Improved Ecosystems, Marquette, WI

Improved Ecosystems
View of Improved Ecosystems property. Photo by Nicholas Weber

Improved Ecosystems is a model YardMap. Nicholas Weber has worked tirelessly to convert his land into a wildlife sanctuary. This hard work has paid off, as year after year he adds new features and native landscape resulting in more and more wildlife taking refuge on his land. The beauty of his completed projects are they require little maintenance or water. Nicholas’ long-term vision is to create a property where a short walk allows him to be immersed in native landscape, surrounded by thriving wildlife. Consider following Nicholas’ blog where he provides pictures and details on each project. Backyard enthusiasts will be impressed with his work and dedication.

Improved Ecosystems
Exemplary YardMap by
Improved Ecosystems.

LET US HELP
Improve Your YardMap

This month's featured site is an exemplary map. Nicholas Weber has invested a great deal of time depicting all the habitats and objects he has on his property, specifying species of plants and filling out characteristics. This data is vital to YardMap's citizen-science effort. If you would like support strengthening your YardMap, we'd like to offer our assistance. Please complete the short, online application to let us know how we can help your efforts. A YardMap staff  member will connect with you and setup a time to work together on maximizing your map's potential. Helping you feel successful and engaged in our citizen-science project is vital to our collective success.

Land Lubber

Along with aesthetic appeal, the benefits of well managed land can include:

  • Improved habitat and increased diversity of birds and wildlife.

  • Reduced tick pressure, by controlling invasive understory plants.

  • Increased access and visibility, for wildlife viewing and other recreation.

  • Long term stability from erosion, wildfire, disease, and invasive pests.

  • Government financial incentives like CSP, EQIP, or Conservation easements.

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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Cornell Lab’s website at http://www.birds.cornell.edu.

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