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Conservation work has a place in your backyard


An Iowa resident composts scraps from his kitchen.

An Iowa resident composts scraps from his kitchen.

Watch a video on how homeowners can use conservation right in their own backyards.

Watch a video on how homeowners can use conservation right in their own backyards.

Backyard Conservation

Learn more about Backyard Conservation.

By Michelle Banks and Ciji Taylor

Whether you live in the country, on an average-sized suburban yard, or on a tiny plot in the city you can help protect the environment and add beauty and interest to your surroundings with backyard conservation.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service works with farmers and ranchers to make conservation improvements to their land, resulting in cleaner water and air, healthier soil and better habitat for wildlife.

“Conservation work is not just for farmers or ranchers. Anyone can help protect natural resources, whether your place is measured in acres, feet or flower pots,” said Kathy Pendergrass, NRCS plant materials specialist in Oregon.

In celebration of USDA’s conservation month, NRCS experts are sharing tips on how to create a conservation haven in your own backyard.

Planting trees provides homes for wildlife, lower heating and cooling costs, clean air, adds beauty and color, provides shelter from the wind and the sun and improves property values.

Welcome birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, bats and other wildlife to your yard by selecting the right plants. Certain trees, shrubs and flowers – especially those that are native to the area – can give wildlife the perfect food and sanctuary.

“Many people don’t realize how a single bush in their backyard can provide the necessary shelter and food for birds to survive through the winter,” said Jason Keenan, an NRCS wildlife biologist in Mississippi. “Even something as simple as a bird bath and bird feeder can open the opportunities up for our children to view and enjoy wildlife that are not normally seen in our growing urban environment.”

Another good way to invite wildlife to your yard is by creating a small backyard pond. Water provides habitat for birds, butterflies, frogs and fish. Plus, it’s a scenic addition to the yard.

Many yards can support a backyard wetland that benefits you and your community. Letting runoff from your roof, parking area and yard slowly filter through a mini-wetland helps prevent pollution of neighboring creeks and may help prevent flooding.

Wetlands also help recharge underground aquifers and, like the right plants or a pond, provide good homes for wildlife.

“Wetlands are the most efficient multifunctional environmental asset this country has,” said Cindy Neal, NRCS easements and Wetlands Reserve Program and coordinator in Arkansas.

Since all organic matter eventually decomposes, why not spare trash bags and town’s landfill by composting yard and food scraps? Composting, even with a simple compost pile, speeds the process by providing an ideal environment for bacteria and other decomposing micro-organisms.

“The final product, humus or compost, looks and feels like fertile garden soil and is perfect for your garden,” Pendergrass said.

More tips like these are available in our online Backyard Conservation publication. Free paper copies can be ordered from the NRCS Distribution Center.