Certified wildlife habitats allow wildlife to thrive in Newark yards
Sunset Road is aptly named. And not because of any particularly beautiful sunsets.
It’s appropriately named because it fits the bill for roads, complexes and towns named for natural wonders in places where nature is shoved into window boxes and mowed into pristine lawns.
However, one yard refuses to be tamed. It’s overflowing with fauna, teeming with animals and bursting with life. It’s wild.
Newark resident Amy Roe saw the need for habitats in Newark, took action and transformed her yard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Roe was certified through a national registry of gardens and yards that meet specific standards and encourage people to have habitats for wildlife.
“It’s tremendous,” Roe says. “We have a place where wildlife can live and thrive in our yard and—look at Newark––and the development and the sprawling pavement. Wildlife is getting sort of pushed into little corners, and they need safe places.”
As Newark develops, cement suffocates the living, breathing earth.
Douglas Tallamy, entomology and wildlife ecology professor, says development poses a great threat to humans, in that it confines nature and habitats, leading to ecosystem collapse and ultimately, humanity’s collapse.
“Let’s focus on the U.S.: 53 percent of land is agriculture and only 5 percent is really, actively pristine, so the rest are places like Newark—suburbs, cities, airports, shopping malls,” Tallamy says. “There is very little nature left out there. It gets chopped up into tiny habitat fragments, which can’t maintain habitats for long, so that leaves all the space in the in-between like our yards.”
92 percent of area in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland is lawn, Tallamy said.
“Lawn is not habitat,” Tallamy said. “It’s not supporting much of anything.”
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) certifies anything from balconies to farms, provided that they meet the requirements to create a wildlife-friendly garden.
The NWF will certify property as a wildlife habitat if it provides “food, water and a place for wildlife to raise their young,” according to the organization’s website.
“The criteria is really simple, you have to have water for birds and animals and that can be like a fountain like we have here, which birds come by and drink from all the time,” Roe says.
Likewise, Robert McDowell, a Newark resident and environmental science teacher at Newark High School, says the qualifications for certification are simple and easy to accomplish.
“Educationally, I’m trying to get people and my students to understand that it’s very important to have a diverse habitat in your yard that actually supports wildlife and that it’s very easy to do,” McDowell says.
McDowell worked to convert what used to be a smoking area when Roe attended Newark High School into a Certified Wildlife Habitat, which now doubles as an outdoor classroom.
He says he uses the area to teach his students about environmental processes, such as testing biodegradation, studying different types of fauna and observing ecological succession.
Tallamy says habitat certification is a step in the right direction, but that one of the greatest detriments of landscaping is a human disconnect with nature.
“The basic attitude is that nature is some place, and humans are in some place,” Tallamy says. “People never think of blending the two. We need to learn to share the places where we live, learn and study or our ecosystems will collapse.”
In 2007, Tallamy published his book, “Bringing Home Nature,” which discusses the importance of incorporating native plants into gardens. Tallamy says this is an integral part of maintaining ecosystems as 80 percent of landscaping plants are from Asia and are purely decorative.
“The biggest problem is when people use plants just as decorations and pick them for decoration value only, not thinking about the ecosystem services a plant might provide,” Tallamy says. “We think of aesthetics only and not function.”