How Can I Protect Wildlife in My Community?

NRDC conservation expert Sylvia Fallon offers tips for being a better neighbor to local animals.

Muscovy ducks in a yard

Credit: Stacey Muniz/Offset

Q: What are ways I can protect wildlife in my community?

—Lepa Chapa

A: It sounds like you’ve already taken an important first step by realizing we’re surrounded by wildlife in the first place. It’s certainly true—whether we live in the suburbs, big cities, or out in the country, animals worth protecting exist right alongside us. NRDC wildlife expert Sylvia Fallon has great ideas for sharing the land with wild neighbors.

Purposefully create habitat in your backyard.

Our ever-expanding human footprint often has the side effect of displacing wildlife, leading to population loss. But those of us with backyards can help rebuild that natural habitat by landscaping with diverse native plants that provide the food and shelter for bees, birds, and other critters essential to our ecosystem. If you’re unsure where to start, there are programs that can offer local gardening tips and even provide certifications for wildlife-friendly habitat.

Go pesticide-free.

While you’re at it, make sure any landscaping you’re doing doesn’t involve harmful chemicals. Although some gardening stores are phasing out neonicotinoid pesticides, ask store owners whether the plants you want to purchase have been treated with neonics, which can harm bees and other pollinators. Similarly, deal with weeds the old-fashioned way—by pulling them out by hand rather than spraying chemical insecticides and herbicides. These toxic treatments can affect wildlife and leach into water sources.

Lock food away.

If you live in an area near animals like foxes, coyotes, or black bears, double check that trash and other good-smelling lures are kept secure (there are many varieties of bear-proof and other carnivore-resistant garbage cans on the market). This will help reduce potentially negative run-ins and foster coexistence between your family, your pets, and neighboring wildlife.

Bird-proof your windows.

Experts estimate that in the United States alone, hundreds of millions of birds die each year from flying into our windows and glass doors. These surfaces can deceivingly reflect foliage or sky, and at night, lights inside your home can attract nocturnal birds, especially when it’s foggy or raining. There are various methods for addressing these issues so birds are less likely to hurt themselves. A few options include mosquito screens, grilles, and shutters. Frosted glass, window film, and taped or etched stripes and dots—placed either two inches apart horizontally or four inches apart vertically—all significantly reduce collisions as well.

Keep your cat indoors.

Cats that roam outside kill billions of native birds and small mammals each year. Keeping your cat inside, or at the very least putting on a collar with a bell that alerts other animals to its presence, can help save wildlife. (This might also save you from an unwanted “gifts” brought home after a neighborhood prowl.)

Speak up.

Not all community members may want, say, coyotes or foxes in their backyards. But you can set a strong example just by being a voice for wildlife in a kind, respectful way—whether you’re standing up for a struggling grizzly bear population in your neck of the woods or migratory songbirds winging their way through your city. Speak up at community forums where topics connected to wildlife or natural habitat are on the agenda, take local action, such as organizing a tree-planting project or a cleanup of one of your area’s waterways, or advocate for town ordinances that prevent pesticide use in parks or on lawns. All this shows fellow community members that we can peacefully coexist with the wildlife that share our surroundings.

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