Sharing Our Space with Wildlife
Eileen Berger Indian Trail Master Naturalist
Sometimes the most basic truths in nature are the hardest to remember. Our ancestors who settled in North America found a land with a bounty of animals and plants. All those plants and animals were here because they were suited to the terrain, climate and requirements for success. Plants or animals that could not find a particular food or shelter need either migrated elsewhere, or died off. Those that remained did not require man to help them survive. All the nutritional requirements were satisfied by elements in the soil and water, as well as humus from leaf litter and decomposing dead plants. Birds, mammals,reptiles, amphibians and insects migrated to new areas seasonally to find climates and food supplies when necessary.
Although only 250 years or so have passed since this country’s founding, we have occupied almost all of the land. We have plowed, scraped, or covered with asphalt or concrete a huge area of what was habitat for the native plants and animals that were here before us. Areas beside roadways, utility easements and land that floods are about the only places that we have saved for wildlife. Yes, we have parks, but most parks are groomed as if they are golf courses, and discourage wildlife from inhabiting them because of lack of appropriate plants, lack of cover, and lack of water. All animals including man require food, shelter, water and space in an appropriate arrangement for each species.
Some animals have adapted to life in our world. Squirrels, cottontail rabbits, armadillos, opossums, skunks and raccoons may all be seen in towns and cities. Some birds such as cardinals, robins, mockingbirds, crows, English sparrows, starlings, grackles and pigeons are common. Ants, spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, and some butterflies and moths can live in harmony with humans. However, many species of animals can not find the basic necessities in our yards. The reason that they cannot is that our yards have no native plants that these animals need for food and shelter. If we want to help native butterflies, birds, bees, toads, lizards and mammals, we must increase the native plants and decrease the introduced species.
Using native plantings is not just good for wildlife. Native plants, when established, do not require much water other than rainfall. Native plants are naturally beautiful, and one can find plants with almost every color in the rainbow. Planting natives, providing a reliable water source year round, leaving some leaf litter under shrubs, providing small piles of brush or logs, and perhaps stacking stones with spaces in between can replicate natural areas. This does not mean that one should just forget about mowing the yard or cleaning up fallen limbs. Beautiful landscapes that are also wildscapes are becoming more numerous in all parts of Texas.
For ideas about landscaping for wildlife a good source is Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and a good book is Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife by Kelly Bender. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department encourages homeowners, schools, and businesses to help restore habitat. It provides guidelines and an application process which can lead to certification of an area as an official Texas Wildscape. If you are interested in applying go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/wildscapes. The animals will thank you.