The Effect of Urban Sprawl on
Wildlife and Home Gardening

Kay Hinkle
Adams County Master Gardener

Anyone who lives in or near Adams County has witnessed first-hand a real building boom that is taking over farmland and open space. Did you know that the earth’s population increased at a more since 1950 than since the beginning of time? As this trend continues, it leads one to wonder how the many species of wild animals and birds native to Adams County will survive and where they will go when displaced by development.

In November, you may have read my article on nesting birds and an effort by home gardeners to provide nesting sites for native birds. Today’s article focuses on managing effects of urban sprawl and native animals displaced by development. I hope you find it helpful in managing the changing environment and ultimately, wildlife habitat.

Some scientists estimate that one third of the nation’s animal and plant species are at risk of extinction as a result of urban sprawl. A few examples are the Florida panther, black-tailed prairie dog and Pacific salmon. None of these animals are native to our area, making the threat of extinction to our native wildlife less concerning here at home.

However, population growth has had an effect on the migration patterns of the black bear as evidenced by several recent stories of bear sightings in South Central Pennsylvania documented in area newspapers. Ultimately, bears that move from bird feeder to garbage can as primary food sources become a nuisance to homeowners. In rare cases the black bear may endanger residents, most often as a traffic hazard. We all benefit by keeping the black bear in remote areas of the state where foraging for bugs and berries as nature intended keeps them safe, healthy and out of trouble in the human domain.

When it comes right down to it, as gardeners, most of us appreciate wildlife but want to protect our landscapes from wildlife damage. Some four-legged visitors are not at all appreciated. Take skunks, for example. They feed on grubs in the ground. Those grubs turn into Japanese beetles that destroy plantings as they emerge to devour the plantings. By treating the entire lawn with milky spore, a natural bacterium introduced into the soil, one eventually eliminates those grubs, Japanese beetles become less of a problem and the skunks go away because their food source disappears. Using milky spore is a prime example of Integrated Pest Management, a practice that reduces the use of pesticides by utilizing methods more friendly to our environment with similar results.

White-tailed deer may be the most visible of our native animals displaced by development. The need for herd reduction on National Park Service lands demonstrates just one of many challenges in managing the deer population in developed areas. Regardless of your position on this controversial issue, the fact remains that deer have done their best to adapt to their changing environment and we may need to adapt as well.

Long term, the white-tailed deer will most certainly face the reality of a diminishing food source as open spaces turn into urban developments. Wildlife in general, beyond deer and bear, will face similar challenges. The food chain that is a natural phenomenon will most certainly be disrupted in some fashion.

Numerous national organizations focus on managing land use in the United States in a manner that balances growth and development with a need to preserve open space. By creating reserves for wildlife management and protecting watersheds that preserve freshwater ecosystems, these organizations promote a balanced approach to development.

Local residents concerned with urban sprawl and effects on wildlife can partner with the National Wildlife Federation to create a certified safe haven for native birds and animals on privately owned acreage. Concerned residents can contact legislators to encourage smart growth in communities.

For home gardeners with small planting spaces, choosing particular plants that deter deer, will allow for a nice landscape in spite of roaming deer populations. It is important to note that these plants are only deer resistant, not necessarily deer proof. A combination of aromatic plants and those that are less than tasty will deter deer from making a meal of your landscape. Using a combination of these plants in a ratio of 2-to-1 with other plants allows the home gardener to camouflage those that are neither aromatic nor bitter.

The following are a few examples of deer-resistant plants are widely available at most area nurseries:

Asparagus Fern Yarrow Snow on the Mountain
Lantana Cardinal Flower Joe-pye Weed
Oriental Poppy  Obedient Plant Blue Larkspur
Goldstrum Rudebeckia Dusty Miller Globe Amarantha
Lamb’s Ears Comfrey Foxglove
Wisteria Calla Lilley Zinnia
Tansy Lily-of-the-Valley Russian Sage
Boxwood Dogbane Ox-Eye Daisy
Juniper False Indigo Oregano
Various Culinary Sage Butterfly Weed Mountain Pink

Trees suffer two types of damage from deer: the foliage may be eaten to the browse line (5 ½’ from the ground) or rubbed by the antlers of a buck to remove velvet from the horns – often on resilient sapliings and multi-trunk ornamentals. Until trees mature, it is wise to protect them with an evergreen scent barrier or a wire cage.

Populations will continue to increase if we are fortunate enough to enjoy prosperity on this earth of ours. I predict that development will continue at a rate similar to population growth. With good land management practices, wildlife can continue to flourish. The wise gardener will simply adjust to incorporate into the landscape a variety of plantings that work for all who inhabit the earth – of both the two-legged and four-legged varietiess!

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