Creating a Humane Yard

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
May 2021

Our grass turf lawns are causing Florida and the world a lot of trouble.  In the U.S.:

  • 64% of drinking water goes to irrigation (88% in summer)
  • 800 million gals. of gas and oil for lawn equipment
  • 41 billion lbs. carbon dioxide emitted from blowers & mowers 
  • 13 billion lbs. toxic & carcinogenic air pollutants
  • 100 million lbs. pernicious lawn chemicals & fertilizers 
  • $45 billion lawn care 

But what about our friends, children, pets, and wildlife? What does it mean to be Humane?  Some define it as exhibiting tenderness, compassion, and sympathy in a manner that causes the least harm to people or animals.

I would like to give a great shout out to the Humane Society of the United States, which is well known for protecting animals that share our homes and are a huge part of our lives, from pain, suffering, and neglect. In addition to this important mission, like Audubon, the Humane Society promotes and wants us to create humane backyards that protect our wildlife and, similar to our pets, also visit us and give us pleasure:

  1. Provide fresh water year-round, like a birdbath or a small pond.
  2. Offer natural food sources: native plants, bushes, and trees have fruit, seeds, and they draw insects for wildlife.
  3. Skip the lawn chemicals: avoid using chemical-laden fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that are harmful not only to wildlife but to pets and children.
  4. Make your windows bird-safe as 2 billion US birds fly into them and are killed annually.
  5. Shrink your lawn.  Plant native plants or stop mowing parts.  This creates less work for you plus better habitat for wildlife. 
  6. Build a brush pile out of leaves, tree limbs, and other yard debris to provide extra shelter for wild animals. This recycling provides insects for birds and saves our landfills.
  7. Be a friend to bees. These pollinators are vital to farms and gardens but are in serious decline.  Put up little bee abodes. Nothing to fear.  If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.
  8. Put up a bat house. Bats pollinate plants, disperse seeds, and eat insects. Thus, give them a safe place to roost.
  9. Make your swimming pool safe for children as well as wildlife.
  10. Help out bugs (they are animals, too).  Insects make up 70 percent of the animal kingdom. Most of them are harmless, essential food for nestlings. Attract beneficial insects to your yard, garden, park, place of worship. Use eco- and animal friendly approaches to insect control.
  11. Keep cats inside for their own safety as well as that of wildlife.  Cats kill 2-4 billion birds every year!
  12. Change with the seasons; keep your yard wildlife friendly as the seasons change.
  13. Find humane solutions to any wildlife problems.  Birds, bats, and squirrel’s outdoors are great, but not so much in our attic. Have effective, humane solutions to any wildlife problems you might encounter.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all followed these humane ways to create a Humane Yard?  Unfortunately, many folks are not aware of how to adopt these Humane actions.

We definitely need to have new landscaping and tree ordinances in our county and cities to support this.  PIAS is working with others to bring Indian River County, Vero Beach, Fellsmere, and Sebastian landscape and tree ordinances up to aid nature.  

To provide for a humane yard, the Florida Native Plant Society has created a model landscape ordinance intended to assist communities in developing local ordinances that will encourage use of native plants in the urban landscape, conserve water, and honor the natural heritage of Florida. Check out the Model Native Plant Landscape Ordinance Handbook:  Changes include:

  • For private property, the city or county shall require a minimum coverage of 80-90% native vegetation in all newly landscaped private areas.
  • Require the property owners to remove any invasive plant and tree species that are deemed to be a public nuisance. 
  • It shall be unlawful for any person to remove, destroy, or permanently damage any existing appropriate native tree that is four (4) caliper inches or larger without first obtaining a Tree Removal Permit from the appropriate local government. All existing appropriate native trees designated as remaining in their original placement as a part of the landscape plan shall be protected during construction and land clearing from permanent damage to any part of the tree. A landowner who removes any native tree species  from a site shall replace that tree with a replacement tree or a number of replacement trees in sum that are equal to or greater to the diameter of the tree that was removed inch for inch.
  • No permanently installed landscaping irrigation systems.
  • Adapt the Gainesville Turf Swap Plan that compensates existing homeowners to remove turf grass to reduce water consumption. 

In spite of all the political division, let’s work to have a Humane Yard for us and all animals and plants to enjoy.  Come to our Audubon House to get your Trees for Life/Plants for Birds!  Please join and/or support our efforts to get the above landscape and tree ordinances and Turf Swap Plan passed and enforced in your community. Let’s manage storm and wastewater runoff and take individual actions that will  reduce our climate change and biodiversity loss problems.  We now risk losing up to 50% of all land-based species in this century.

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