Rewilding Suburbia

Posted on Oct 30, 2016

woodlandA shocking new study by the World Wildlife Fund finds more than two-thirds of the world’s wildlife could be gone by 2020. According to WWF, there has already been a 58 percent overall decline in the numbers of fish, mammals, birds and reptiles worldwide. WWF conservation scientist Martin Taylor told CNN, “This is definitely human impact, we’re in the sixth mass extinction. There’s only been five before this, and we’re definitely in the sixth.”

This is due, in large part, to the fact that we have made our own yards uninhabitable for wildlife. Yards all across America constitute a vast, nearly continuous, and terrible impoverished ecosystem for which we ourselves, with our mowers, leaf blowers, shears and misguided choices of plants, are responsible.

What is one to do with a quarter-acre lot?

The truth is that the natural ecosystems of our land is lost. Everywhere diversity is a list of missing plants and animals. One can, however, plant naturally or at least in a way not alien to the ecosystem in which one lives. The suburban landscape can be teased to control its own pests, maintain its own soil, conserve its own water, and support wildlife.

But first, one must make space.

House sizes have grown faster than lot sizes in suburbia and the cheapest way for a developer to leave the scene is to throw grass seed and perhaps some decorative plants in his wake. The finished effect, in which the lawn serves as background to some baubles of exterior decoration, seem so normal to us that it is hard to view a piece of land in any other way. The more we extend these spaces, the less we see of the birds and butterflies until there are none.

A blank space of a lawn can be cut here and there to create beds of tall native grasses, wildflowers and shrubs that provide food and shelter for wildlife. Think of the possibilities – A back corner can be filled with a grove of trees underplanted with shade loving shrubs. A tiny pool surrounded with ferns, rushes and sedges can create a bog for fireflies while also providing much needed water for wildlife. Berry bushes planted along the edges could provide food for songbirds and privacy for the homeowner. A low stone boundary wall, laid without cement, can be a safe harbor for toads and lizards.

Were the larger landscape of suburbia to be rewilded this way, as much as half the acreage could be returned to its former inhabitants.