1. Water Quality
Only 4% of Delaware waterways fully support standards for swimmable waters and only 29% fully support standards for fish and aquatic life. Currently the biggest threat to our waters is not pollution from industry, but contaminated runoff from individual yards, farms, roadways, and construction sites, known as nonpoint source pollution. Much of region's water supply comes from surface waters, which means what we do on the land directly affects the quality of the water we drink. Backyard Habitat can help to ensure clean, safe drinking water for people and wildlife by creating a habitat-friendly environment using native plants, limiting the use of lawn chemicals, and reducing stormwater runoff.
2. Biodiversity Conservation
Through the Delaware Biodiversity Conservation Partnership, the Delaware Nature Society, The Nature Conservancy, and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control are working, with guidance from the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) of Washington, D.C., to develop a statewide strategy for integrating protections for biological diversity into state laws, policies, and institutions. In their 1999 research report, the ELI identified the management of privately owned lands as a key component to the conservation of biological diversity in Delaware. As 87% of Delaware land is privately owned, backyard conservation efforts are fundamental to the Biodiversity Conservation Partnership. Currently, in the United States there are 20 million acres of lawn. Composed primarily of three non-native species, lawns compete with and often exclude native plants, resulting in the loss of habitat for many animals. Compared to natural habitats such as meadows, lawns are virtually void of biological diversity. Backyard Habitats can help provide more natural habitats and encourage a greater variety of wildlife species.
3. Habitat Fragmentation
The ELI also identified habitat fragmentation as one of the biggest threats to biodiversity. Like many other states, Delaware has experienced a dramatic increase in urban/suburban development over the last two decades. While providing residences, schools, and other infrastructure necessary for the growing population, the rise in development has resulted in degradation and fragmentation of many of the remaining natural areas. As a result, 25 species of birds, reptiles, insects, and mussels have not been seen in Delaware for over 15 years. The "edge-effect" created by fragmentation has also made many areas vulnerable to invasion by alien exotic species, such as multiflora rose, oriental bittersweet and mile-a-minute plant.Consequently, 25% of Delaware's flora is non-native. Delaware has lost more native plant species than any other state in the nation. The loss of these native plants often means the loss of the insects, birds, or animals whose lifecycles depend on them. Through the creation of backyard ponds, meadows, and wooded areas using native plants, individuals can restore much needed wildlife habitat while beginning to form the connections and corridors many species need for survival.
Governor Ruth Ann Minner launched a Livable Delaware agenda to address sprawl and its impacts. Through legislation and policy changes, growth will be directed to areas where the state, counties and local governments have planned for it to occur. Building in areas that have the capacity and infrastructure to support growth not only eases traffic congestion, but also helps reduce air and groundwater pollution, soil erosion and storm water runoff, while protecting the State's natural habitats. Backyard conservation efforts that provide places for retreat, recreation, and enjoyment complement and support the Governor's Livable Delaware program, improving the quality of life for all citizens.
5. Water Conservation - Drought
Out of the 3% of the Earth's fresh water, less than 1% is available as drinking water. Delaware's drinking water supply, and much of that throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, is threatened due to the continuing drought conditions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 30% - 60% of urban fresh water is used each year to water lawns. Reducing the size of turf areas and replacing them with a native plant garden is a great place to start. Because native plants are adapted to local climatic conditions, they require less water than non-natives. Homeowners can also collect roof runoff in rain barrels attached to their downspouts to water lawn and garden areas or create rain gardens comprised of water loving plants to collect runoff and allow it to slowly infiltrate. Conservation landscaping through the Backyard Habitat program can help to reduce the water requirements for home landscapes.
6. Air Quality
Lawnmowers create as much air pollution in one hour as driving an automobile for 350 miles. By reducing lawn areas and the associated mowing, homeowners can help reduce air pollution. Property owners can also protect air quality by reducing their reliance on fossil fuels for heating and cooling. Deciduous trees planted around a home can save 10-50% on summer cooling costs while evergreen trees block winter winds and can save 20% on winter heating needs.
In addition to providing many environmental and aesthetic benefits, conservation landscaping through the Backyard Habitat program can help property owners save money. Each year Americans spend an estimated $950 million on fertilizers and $1.5 billion on pesticides. Planting native species that require less fertilizer and pesticides than exotic species is a great way to save money. In addition, homeowners can create their own organic fertilizer by composting lawn and garden debris.