Manage your property for urban wildlife

Over 324 million people currently live in the United States, with 83% living in an urbanized environment (United States Census Bureau). With the American population projected to nearly double by the end of this century, urbanization pressures and consequences, especially on wildlife, are only going to intensify (United States Census Bureau 2000). Urban and suburban property owners and greenspace managers can make a real difference by developing an urban wildlife management plan.

construction of suburban neighborhood is the cause for the need of an urban wildlife management plan, Photo Credit: Sue Shimomura

Alteration of land to meet the needs of an urbanized population has been the single greatest force shaping the American landscape in recent decades.

aerial view of residential neighborhood the place for an urban wildlife management plan, Photo Credit: Richard

A large proportion of the urban footprint consists of developed residential neighborhoods.

An urban wildlife management plan can help with backyard ponds and plantings, Photo Credit: Andrea_44

Yards can provide stable wildlife habitat in an urban landscape, and when yards and neighborhoods manage habitat collaboratively, larger blocks of habitat and corridor systems can be created to allow wildlife to live and move across the landscape.

An urban wildlife management plan can help draw in wildlife like this Monarch butterfl

Creating, enhancing and managing habitat is not only good for wildlife, but is also beneficial for humans in terms of improved quality of life, aesthetics, recreation and increased property values, among other benefits.

Develop a Wildlife Management Plan

Now that you’ve got an understanding of the basics of habitat, it’s time to start creating, enhancing and/or managing habitat on your property to benefit and attract wildlife. Developing a wildlife management plan will help you create and manage habitat in a logical and efficient manner.

Step 1:
Inventory your current habitat

  • Grab a note pad and pencil and walk through your yard, noting the different types of plants that are present.
  • Doing this over the course of all four seasons will help you understand how the available habitat may change throughout the year.
  • If you’re not familiar with all the plants in your yard, plant identification books, knowledgeable neighbors and local garden centers or extension personnel can be of great help.
  • Don’t forget to take note of both naturally occurring and supplemental (human provided) habitat resources.
  • Sketch out a rough map of your property and note these habitat features, as well as any buildings or walkways. Be sure to note any buried cables, septic drainage fields or other hazards that may need to be avoided.

Step 2:
Define your objective(s)

  • This can be the most difficult step for many people, as it can be overwhelming to decide which wildlife species to manage for.
  • Be realistic with your objectives. It doesn’t make sense to attract species that aren’t in your area or ones that use more area than you can provide. A wildlife identification guide is helpful in understanding the wildlife species that may frequent your area and species-specific habitat requirements. Local wildlife biologists with the state wildlife agency or a nature center are also good resources.
  • Set management objectives that mean something to you personally, such as wanting to attract your favorite songbird or animals that will control pests in your yard.
  • Don’t set too many objectives. Defining 1-5 objectives at a time is a reasonable expectation.
  • It helps to set objectives that can be evaluated for success. An example of a measurable objective would be attracting at least 10 different species of songbirds to your yard or increasing the toad population of your yard by 10 percent.

Step 3:
Implement your management plan

  • Now comes the fun part. Once you’ve defined your objectives, you can begin to lay out the habitat requirements of the species you hope to attract and plan how you will meet your objectives.
  • Assess the habitat resources you already have available and what you need to enhance or add to your property.
  • Remember, habitat components can be added naturally or supplementally depending on your overall goals and objectives.

Step 4:
Evaluate your management plan

  • After waiting for a sufficient period of time, say 1 year, it’s time to see if your plan actually worked.
  • If you stated your objectives in a measurable way, then evaluating success or failure should be fairly straightforward.
  • If you failed to meet your management objectives, then it’s time for some detective work. You might find that something was missing or not provided in a sufficient amount. Once you’ve identified and added the missing piece, you can re-evaluate your success after another sufficient amount of time.
  • To accurately assess the success of your management plan, you should evaluate your objectives a number of times over a 1-year period. For example, the wildlife you’re managing for may be using the habitat you provided but may not be present at all times of the year.  If you look for the species only once compared to 5 times spread across the 1-year period, you may miss seeing the species of interest.