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How to Make Your Home Wildlife Friendly

Panel from a new brochure for woodland homeowners. Illustration by j. w. smith designs

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program had distilled years of field research into a simple brochure to help homeowners and builders minimize the ecological influence of a home in the woods.

A house can affect salamanders, birds, and small and large mammals within 600 feet of its door. The noise, lights, pesticides, pets, driveway traffic and other changes we bring with our day-to-day lives cast a “wildlife shadow” over 15 to 30 acres, WCS scientists have found. The 10-panel publication “Make Room for Wildlife” is designed to help us reduce that shadow.

“We think that private lands provide important habitat for wildlife, even in the Adirondacks where we have a large amount of protected lands,” says Leslie Karasin, WCS’s local community planning project coordinator.

For example, research by WCS scientists Michale Glennon and Heidi Kretser indicates that things we do around the house influence what kind of birds live nearby. Residential development breaks the forest canopy and creates other conditions that favor widespread species such as blue jays and crows, while more specialized woodland birds such as warblers, thrushes and winter wrens become less common.

The information is especially useful for people thinking about building a home in the Northern Forest of northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, and it provides counsel on how to site new houses in wooded areas. Low-density residential development in rural areas is the fastest-growing type of land-use change in the United States and is transforming once-wild places, according to Glennon and Kretser.

But the brochure also has easy, helpful advice to improve the wildlife friendliness of any home in the Adirondacks, even in my semi-urban 100-year-old neighborhood in the village of Saranac Lake. For whatever reason, the backyard spruces on my street still host parula and some other neotropical migrant warblers as well as cosmopolitan robins and cardinals. The mammals tend toward the common: raccoons, skunks, white-footed mice, chipmunks, red, gray and black squirrels, and the occasional whitetail deer, gray fox and black bear passing through.

The brochure provides tips on how and why to downsize lawns, bird-proof windows, minimize outdoor lighting, and keep pets restrained—actions that reduce conflict and make peace with the natives.

WCS’s Adirondack Program previously published a similar brochure for local planning officials across the Northern Forest. The landowner guide is being released today, but Karasin says people have in the past reached out to the nonprofit organization for technical assistance, one couple even deciding against building on a certain property after doing some careful site planning.

“People move or build here because they care about the outdoors. They have a motivation to do right by it,” she says.

You can find a digital version of the brochure at the WCS Adirondack Program site, or to request a paper copy, email accp@wcs.org or call (518) 891–8872.

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