Thursday, September 23, 2010

Backyard Best Management Practices

It is reported by the Department of Agriculture that 70% of all land in the United States is privately owned and the majority of that land is managed by farmers and ranchers. A small fraction of the privately owned land (under 100 million acres) is associated with private homes. Farmers and ranchers use conservation plans and best management practices (BMPs) to meet their production objectives and protect soil, water, air, plant, and animal resources. Though, they represent a small fraction of total land in the nation, in suburban areas homes, neighborhoods and small commercial properties represent a significant portion of the land area and sources of nutrient and sediment run off impacting our water resources. In densely populated areas BMPs must be applied to homes and small commercial developments to protect our water resources.

Riparian buffers are the forested and vegetated areas adjacent to streams and wetlands that prevent erosion and sediment run off. These riparian buffers represent a basic BMP for preventing run off containing nutrients and sediment from flowing into streams, rivers and lakes. BMPs are the name given to these effective, practical, methods which prevent or reduce the movement of sediment, nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants from the land to surface or ground water.

The most basic BMPs is a forested buffer or backyard wetland that performs many ecological functions, that go well beyond clean water, erosion control and control of runoff. The presence of properly vegetated buffers provides biologically diverse habitats both in the water and on land. I maintain a seven acre forested buffer beyond my mowed yard. Watching the wildlife on the edge of the forested zone has provided hours of peaceful pleasure. The buffers are complex ecological systems that connect the upland areas with surface waters providing a transitional area through which both the surface and ground water flow.

These forested buffers are noted for their ability to protect and enhance water quality. A properly planted and healthy riparian zone can trap sediment, and reduce or remove nutrients and sediment from precipitation, surface waters and ground waters. Once sediment has entered the system it can be continually re-suspended as it travels downstream and should be prevented from washing into storm sewers and streams. However, one need not have acres of land to have a backyard BMP. Many yards can support a backyard wetland that benefits you and your community. Letting runoff from your roof, driveway, and lot slowly filter through a mini-wetland helps prevent pollution of neighboring creeks and may help prevent flooding.

Although it is unrealistic to expect that all nonpoint source pollution can be eliminated, BMPs and common sense can be used to minimize the impact of suburban homes on water quality and the environment and create a natural Eden around your home. Simple reasonable and cost effective steps can make your backyard home to many different types of birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, bats, and other wildlife. Trees, shrubs, and other plants provide both food and shelter for wildlife. The types of plants you use for food and cover will help determine the wildlife species attracted to your backyard. Windbreaks and tree plantings slow the wind and provide shelter and food for wildlife. Native plants will thrive with the least effort.

The flowers and lavender in my garden have clouds of butterflies, humming birds and bees. However, butterflies, birds, bees, and all wildlife are very vulnerable to many pesticides and other chemicals. Probably the best single thing you can do for wildlife is to minimize or eliminate chemical use. Pesticides, including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides, used to simply prevent blemishes and other imperfections on private and public lands are merely for cosmetic (or ornamental) purposes and truly pointless. The time has come to question the use of pesticides cosmetically. Our desire for yards containing uniform green carpets and perfect flowers needs to be questioned. Having come to live in a house late in life, I have never felt this compulsion.

Another blemish to the immaculate and synthetic garden is natural plant succession. Many people are not aware of the value of dead, dying, and hollow trees, as well as logs on the ground, for wildlife. Dead trees provide homes to over 400 species of birds, mammals, and amphibians. Fish, insects, plants, and fungi also benefit from dead and dying trees. Consider leaving standing dead and dying trees in your yard unless they pose a human safety or property hazard, and use downed woody materials in gardens and landscaping.

Clean, fresh water is as important to birds, bats, and other wildlife as it is for people. I am fortunate in having plentiful, natural flowing water on my land. Water in a saucer, bird bath, or backyard pond gives wildlife the water they need. Remember to change the water every few days to keep it fresh. In hot weather, it may be necessary to refill the container every day. Logs and rocks in the water provide drinking and basking habitat for turtles, butterflies, and songbirds. Stones with depressions that collect water will help attract butterflies. Saving the world and sustainable living begin in your garden.

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