Protecting wildlife in the back yard Homeowners creating sanctuaries for animals

August 31, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

In Annapolis, organic gardener Jo Ann Alspaw shares the fruit she grows on her one-third-acre lot near Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with birds. In turn, they eat bugs and leave droppings for fertilizer.

Near Manchester, Bennett V. Bray Jr. and his wife, Barbara, are digging up part of the lawn on their 9-acre property to plant water gardens and shrubs for the wild animals who share their land.

In the Lake Walker neighborhood of Baltimore, Alison Gillespie gets excited when she sees worms, bees, butterflies and birds in her "tiniest back yard imaginable" behind a city rowhouse.

All over the state, in small rowhouse yards and expansive suburban lawns, a growing number of people are creating backyard nature preserves, plots they hope will help restore wildlife habitat to some of the 1.5 million acres the United States loses annually to development.

"Some people have been doing this for a long time. But I think there's an urgency now because we're coming to realize that development is destroying so much wildlife habitat," said Thomas D. Patrick, president of the nonprofit Windstar Wildlife Institute. He has spent nine years developing a 29-acre demonstration wildlife habitat near Jefferson, in Frederick County.

Other agencies also help people make their land suitable for wildlife.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has registered more than 3,500 backyard habitats in its 7-year-old Wild Acres program.

"We're finding it hard to meet the demand," said Dana Limpert, a program biologist. "There are a tremendous number of people out there interested."

The National Wildlife Federation, which has certified habitats ranging from an apartment balcony to a 6,500-acre forest, registered its 20,000th backyard wildlife habitat, 4 acres at a Ronald McDonald House in downtown Cleveland, Aug. 18.

Bray, Alspaw and Gillespie were among 28 Marylanders selected from 125 applicants for a three-day, grant-financed program offered in the spring by Windstar. They learned how to meet the four basic needs of wildlife -- food, water, cover and space -- and how to encourage others to create habitats.

Although interest in wildlife habitats is growing, the suburban standard is still a house perched on a carpet of fast-growing fescue.

"If you have a perfectly manicured lawn and a few trees, a lot of people like that. You're certainly not going to have any wildlife problems," said Jonathan S. Kays, a Cooperative Extension Service natural resources specialist.

While some animal species have dwindled or disappeared, others have adapted to subdivision living. Canada geese, deer, raccoons, rabbits and squirrels set up housekeeping in parks or yards.

Deer have become abundant in many suburban neighborhoods, said Kays, who conducts workshops in areas overrun by the animals. His solutions include plants that deer find unappetizing and invisible fences.

In 1976, Bray, his wife and their 4-year-old son moved into a rancher landscaped with acres of grass and one apple tree. The first morning, he walked outside.

"I watched a fox work his way across the yard. I watched quail work their way through the multiflora rose, and I thought, 'Oh, this is beautiful,' " he said.

The couple planted fast-growing hybrid poplars to shade the backyard play area, pines for a windbreak, flowers and vegetables. More houses went up nearby. The pheasants, quail and foxes disappeared for years.

But they're coming back. Two herds of deer run through the pines and eat from the apple tree. A fox has a den in the brush at the edge of the property. A groundhog lives in the back yard. And recently, Bray heard pheasants call for the first time in six years.

In Baltimore, Gillespie is buoyed by her success in attracting hummingbirds to the nectar-rich plants she put in.

Baltimore orioles live in the sycamore trees, a hawk lives by a nearby stream, and snakes and salamanders are in the back yard.

"I've even begun counting wild bees," she said.

Pub Date: 8/31/97

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