Beneficial Landscaping - Wildlife
Amphibians Need Our Special Consideration
Amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders, newt) are animals that typically hatch as aquatic larvae, which breathe through gills. The larvae then become adults with air breathing lungs. Growth and breeding take place in wetlands. But most of the year, amphibians live in upland forest, shrub, and other vegetated habitats. Upland, especially forested upland habitat, is just as critical to the survival of these species as are wetland habitats.
Though not all wetlands are safe from development, legal protections for wetlands are more common than for upland habitats. When land is developed, wetland buffers, which serve to protect the wetland ecological functions and values, are often required. But the buffers are of limited width and they vary in composition. Because amphibians may migrate hundreds of yards from wetland breeding sites, wetland buffers do not necessarily provide adequate habitat protection for them. Amphibians need adequate forest, shrub, and other natural vegetated upland habitat within a half mile of their breeding site, and safe movement corridors (habitat linkages) to access that habitat . So how can we help to meet these habitat needs?
- Protect existing natural areas (woodlands, wetlands, meadows, stream corridors, shorelines). Preserve wildlife habitat on your own property, encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same, and support public acquisition of greenbelts, remnant forests, and other wild areas.
- Protect buffer areas that exist next to streams, lakes, or ponds. The buffers protect the breeding habitat, and provide some upland habitat for amphibians.
- Be an advocate for maintaining or restoring native growth near wetland buffers to provide connections with suitable upland habitat.
- Preserve the leaf litter under trees and shrubs. Where amphibians may need to cross open lawn areas, leaves provide cover, moisture, and attract food organisms.
- Wherever possible, protect known paths between uplands and breeding sites from automobiles and lawn mowers. If amphibian migrations to and from breeding sites involve neighborhood road crossings, try placing signs to inform drivers during spring and fall migrations. If a new road is to be constructed in migration areas, work for installation of amphibian crossing structures, such as small tunnels under the roadway. Contact us for more information regarding crossing structures.
- Leave a portion of your grass unmowed, especially in areas that adjoin a wet area, forest edge, or any other distinct habitat. If you must mow in these areas, first survey the area and move any animals to a safe location prior to mowing. Set the mower blades as high as possible, or use a weed-eater and leave grass 6 inches high.
- Consider building a small, fish-free (fish eat all stages of amphibians) pond for frogs, toads, turtles, and salamanders. For more information on pond construction, contact us or your state fish and wildlife agency.
- Avoid using pesticides and herbicides. Amphibians have skin that can absorb toxic chemicals from your lawn, and they can be poisoned through their food, such as slugs and snails.
- Retain stumps, logs, or other moisture-holding debris. With permission from landowners, you could also salvage these materials from cleared/logged areas and install them in your landscape. And,
- Celebrate when you have the good fortune to see and enjoy these amazing animals!
Attract Wildlife with Native Plants
Spring is a great time to re-establish our lovely native flora in landscaped areas to improve habitat for wildlife (and to reap the many other environmental, economic, and aesthetic benefits)! Joan Cabreza of EPA’s Aquatic Resources Unit, a seasoned natural landscaper and Native Plant Steward, has developed a wonderful list of pointers for this purpose.
- Work with your site, don’t fight it. Modification is not necessarily needed; identify the micro-habitats (every yard has them) and find plants that fit the special conditions.
- Strive to provide all four elements of ideal wildlife habitat: food, water, shelter, space.
- Use local native species when possible. They are less disease-prone; require less care; conserve water and energy; attract wildlife; and are attuned to local climate cycles.
- Strive for diversity of food sources and diversity of habitat. Food sources include seeds, nectar, fruit, nuts, pollen, and insects. Habitat could include deciduous and evergreen plants, rocks, and large wood.
- Use at least three layers: overstory, understory, and groundcover.
- Preserve existing vegetation and micro-habitats where possible to preserve healthy soil fungi.
- Use groundcovers; avoid creating areas of bare soil or bark.
- Minimize pruning to increase shelter/cover. Leave low branches on shrubs.
Look for the following micro-habitats, then choose plants according to the conditions and what function you want to provide in the garden (spring flowers, fall fruit, etc.).
• Sunny dry habitats
• Sunny wet habitats
• Moist shady habitats
• Dry shady habitats
• Really soggy habitats (saturated soil)
• Hedgerows and edges
• Large wood (stumps, old logs) habitats
• Stony habitats (rock piles, rock walls)
Also consider things like very windy areas, areas of really poor soil, pockets of cold, or areas of high foot traffic when choosing a plant, to be sure it can stand up to tough conditions.
- Avoid pesticides and other chemicals. Learn to tolerate some natural damage, and let a natural good-bug/bad-bug balance develop.
Installation and Maintenance of Bird Nest Boxes
By Ralph Thomas Rogers
Attracting cavity-nesting birds by providing homemade nesting sites is an ancient tradition. In Medieval Europe it was common practice to put out specially made clay or wooden flasks for birds to nest in. Native Americans hung hollowed-out gourds to attract Purple Martins.
More than fifty species of North American birds have been reported nesting in or on artificial structures (nest boxes, platforms, etc.). Over thirty-five species do so on a regular basis.
Making and locating a successful birdhouse is neither complicated nor difficult. Specific construction details and placement will depend on the target species (see references below). However, there are some guidelines that will both encourage occupancy and enhance your tenants’ welfare.
(1) Because the young of most cavity nesters are born naked they are particularly sensitive to temperature extremes. Therefore it is important that the design, location and materials used for your nest boxes do not increase the birds’ vulnerability to the elements.
(2) Most birds have strong territorial instincts which will normally deter them from nesting too close to other birds, especially ones of their own species. Studies show that, under natural conditions, 4 to 5 cavity nesters per acre seem to be average for many areas, and this may be a reasonable guideline to follow on your property. Make boxes that provide for a single nest (except for purple martins) and space them widely.
(3) Nest boxes should be located to allow for a fairly clear flight path to the entrance. Position the box so that the entrance hole is not exposed to the prevailing direction of wind-driven rainstorms. Make sure the box rests vertically or slightly slanted downward; if the entrance is tilted up it is more vulnerable to precipitation.
(4) Cavity nests provide easy prey for cats and other predators. If you or neighbors have feline pets, make sure your birdhouse is cat-proof. A metal pole with some type of “predator guard” should discourage cats as well as raccoons, snakes, and other potential egg and nestling molesters. Boxes fixed to trees rather than freestanding posts are generally more vulnerable to predators.
(5) To reduce nest parasites, some of which winter over in old nests, remove the contents of your nest boxes at the end of the breeding season. This chore can be safely done from November to February in our area.
(6) Finally, although it is possible to encourage certain species and discourage others by methods of construction and location, it is often difficult to keep house sparrows and/or European starlings from invading your nest boxes. If these species are present in your area, keep the nest box entrance hole blocked until the species you want to encourage has returned in the spring. If the starlings or house sparrows begin to build, simply remove nest material as it is deposited in the nest box. If eggs or young of these alien species are present, it is up to you whether or not to evict them, as they are not legally protected.
- Link, Russell. 2004. Living With Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press, Seattle.
- Weston, Shann. 2001. Naturescaping - A Landscape Partnership With Nature. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Portland.
- Wyzga, Marilyn C. 1998. Homes for Wildlife – A Planning Guide for Habitat Enhancement on School Grounds. New Hampshire Fish & Game Dept., Concord.
For more information about this or other topics in Beneficial Landscaping, contact Elaine Somers at 206-553-2966, email@example.com, or visit our website at www.epa.gov/r10earth/bl.htm.
A Proposal for Naturescaping Cemeteries
by Ralph Thomas Rogers, EPA
Cemetery -- an area set apart for or containing graves or tombs; burial ground; graveyard. Aside from Halloween, cemeteries are seldom a topic of conversation or a place most people would consider for a casual stroll or wildlife watching. While cemeteries are more often thought of as somber places, they are not only a respite from the city din but also provide habitat for a surprising variety of wildlife.
Cemeteries represent a considerable amount of open space in urban and suburban areas. For instance, at least 98 cemeteries are scattered throughout the four counties of the Portland-Vancouver Metropolitan region. As open space becomes increasingly rare in many urban areas, cemeteries afford an ideal opportunity to provide for wildlife habitat diversity within the urban fabric, without compromising their integrity and purpose.
Cemeteries as Habitat. A large cemetery that is near or adjacent to other green has the greatest potential to offer wildlife habitat. However, whether a cemetery is large and connected to existing habitat or small and isolated within an urban matrix, it can be transformed into a successful wildlife haven simply by providing the right kind of habitat. For example, strategic planting of native trees and shrubs that provide escape and nesting cover and year-round food sources, and providing patches of groundcover that are mowed infrequently and that are enhanced as butterfly gardens, can vastly improve habitat values for both resident and migratory species.
Many cemeteries lack adequate buffers around their edges to screen out traffic or other urban/suburban activities. Providing small tree and/or shrub hedgerows can provide additional cover and improve the use of the cemetery interior by wildlife. Finally, a source of water for wildlife is lacking at most cemeteries. Providing a water feature such as an artificial pond or a scattering of birdbaths would help to meet this basic need and serve as a focal point for watching wildlife.
Encouraging the Living to Appreciate Cemeteries. As a metropolitan region’s population increases, less open space is available for wildlife. All remaining open spaces, including cemeteries, will increase in value to local neighborhoods and to the region. It is possible that cemeteries, especially those that are publicly owned, could easily and more economically be managed to provide multiple values, including wildlife habitat, to the surrounding community. For instance, it might be feasible for a local school to “adopt-a-cemetery” and help establish and maintain the naturescaping, then study all of its values---historic, cultural, and natural.
There are tangible economic and environmental benefits from improving the habitat values of cemeteries. Once the native plants are established, the costs of landscape maintenance are reduced due to less mowing, less need for irrigation, and less need for chemicals that are commonly applied to the vast areas of lawn that characterize many cemeteries.
The next time you take an evening or weekend walk, check out your local cemetery. Cemeteries are interesting places to explore, and imagine how much more pleasant they could be, to mourners and hikers alike, when landscaped for the benefit of our cherished human and wildlife companions.
For more information about beneficial landscaping, contact Elaine Somers at 206/553-2966 or 800-424-4372, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website at www.epa.gov/r10earth/bl.htm.