May: Going Wild - Nature Observation Through the SeasonsApr 30, 2021 09:32AM ● By Natasha Herr and Tim Seifarth
For those of us that are listening and paying attention to the news and headlines, it is increasingly impossible to ignore the warning signs pointing towards serious global environmental degradation and a rapidly shifting climate. It can be hard to know how to process and respond to the knowledge that our human actions are contributing to drastic changes happening on the very planet we rely on for every aspect of our lives.
It’s also unsettling to feel complicit in a system that constantly presses us toward production over the health and well-being of all of the beautiful lifeforms in its midst, including humans. It’s easy to feel helpless and paralyzed to act. Helplessness is a painful place to dwell in for those of us deeply in love with the earth.
But there are things we can do to make actual, quantifiable changes. There is a way forward that involves real action we can all take. We can observe the natural systems around us and then we can facilitate the rewilding of the ecosystems that surround us.
No longer should we be satisfied with designing landscapes that just “look pretty” but offer little to no contribution as viable wildlife habitats. So many of the species of plants, trees and shrubs used in traditional landscaping are not native to our area, and do little to support the pollinators and wildlife that rely on healthy, intact ecosystems to survive.
Switching to using native plants is a simple way to boost the health and carrying capacity of our beloved natural areas. Rewilded outdoor spaces provide beauty and aesthetic interest far surpassing the “mulchscapes” we are used to seeing; the standard sea of mulch dotted with a few hardy but non-native plants. If we train our eyes to appreciate the beauty of landscapes that invite wildness, we find ourselves not only fulfilling our need for attractive yards and properties, but we fulfill the very real survival needs of the other living beings we share this planet with.
Planting trees is still one of the most effective and easiest ways to mitigate climate change. Their ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere is unmatched by any other technology science has been able to develop thus far. Trees are such a simple, ancient and effective solution to our climate issues. They are easy to access and acquire, require little effort to plant and thrive in all sorts of habitats and ecosystems.
But it will take a widespread and concerted effort to plant enough trees to make an impact in the turning tide of the climate situation; it is of the utmost importance that we all take the time to find ways to join the effort to reforest areas that have previously been denuded of habitat. A great place to start is in our own backyards, neighborhoods, parks and recreation areas.
Part of our job as earth lovers is to speak out about these subjects and also to lead by example. When we take the bold steps to remove traditional lawn and replace it with wildflowers, or a collection of native shrubs and trees, it can be an uncomfortable transition in the beginning. If you are the first person in your neighborhood to take such steps, you might find your neighbors are confused at first, or anxious about how the process will affect property and resale value. Be brave and don’t get discouraged. Often with a little education and reassurance, worries disappear only to be replaced by other neighbors replacing their lawns as well.
There are some incredible resources available locally to help facilitate the rewilding of our backyards, properties and wild spaces, thanks to a number of very passionate and dedicated individuals and organizations who have been working for many years to put these programs in place.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation focuses on rainwater management and protecting our local water systems. Pennsylvania’s 86,000 miles of waterways place it second only to Alaska in terms of states with the largest number of creeks, streams and rivers. Learn more about protecting our watershed: cbf.org/index.html.
The Lancaster Conservancy is dedicated to preserving precious wild land around our region. Due in part to their efforts, Lancaster County has recently become certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation’s Community Wildlife Habitat program. Contact the Conservancy’s Community Wildlife Initiative to become a part of this growing movement, and to have someone evaluate your yard’s potential for becoming a wildlife and pollinator habitat: LancasterConservancy.org/engaging-our-community/habitat.
Keystone 10 Million Trees is the organization and partnership behind a collaborative effort to plant 10 million trees in Pennsylvania by the year 2025. It’s a statewide goal, and there are many different ways to get involved including planting trees in your community. Visit their webpage to find out how: TenMillionTrees.org.
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is currently offering funding to help cover the costs of turning lawn into habitat. If you—or even you and your neighbors combined—have more than a quarter acre of land that is currently planted in turf grass, you may be eligible to participate in this program. Contact their lawn conversion team for more information: dcnr.pa.gov/Conservation/Water/LawnConversion/Pages/default.aspx.
This list just scratches the surface of the good work happening to support the wildlife and ecosystems in our area. When we invest time in healing the land, we heal ourselves and our communities in turn, through connection, education, awareness, and the sharing of common goals. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or would like more information on how to get involved—we’d be happy to help connect you to an organization that can help you get started.
Nature Awareness Prompts for May
Each month in these articles, we include a few nature awareness and observation prompts to help us tune into the season and the environment around us. These could include thoughts and ideas to look up and research, things to notice in the natural world according to the seasons, tips and methods for encouraging biodiversity and healthy local ecosystems and/or species and locales to observe.
Add one Native plant to your landscape. Seek out a native plant variety and add it to your landscape. A few fun ones to try that are easy to grow in most sunny/partial sun habitats are Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea or similar species), Bee Balm/Wild Bergamot (Monarda species), or Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). Look for nurseries that carry plants free of neonicotinoid pesticides, a type of chemical pesticide toxic to insects.
Let a patch of your lawn go wild. You can start small with this one. Pick a patch of ground in your yard and simply stop mowing it! Start with a tiny spot or a larger one and observe what happens throughout the growing season. What kinds of plants do you see there? What happens to the grass as it gets taller and longer? Do you see any insects visiting the area?
Send us a message. Follow Tim on Facebook at Earthbound Artisan, Instagram @earthboundartisanllc or email Natasha at [email protected]. We can’t wait to hear from everyone.
Tim Seifarth, with 24 years of experience as a landscape professional, opened Earthbound Artisan nearly a decade ago. Based out of Ephrata, Earthbound is an ecological land care company and native plant nursery specializing in organic land management, permaculture, native plant ecosystem design and installation, dry stack stone work and riparian buffer and rainwater management. For more information, visit EarthboundArtisan.com and EarthboundNatives.com.
Natasha Herr has more than 15 years of experience as a naturalist, earth care professional, writer and community educator. Her passion is helping adults and children strengthen their connection to the natural world. Learn more at NatashaTucker.org.