Rural Pennsylvania possesses an amazing natural beauty, and everyone I’ve met in this area loves it. We may focus on different aspects, the birds, the woods, the lakes and streams, farms, etc., but we realize these things are bound together. Another ethic common to Pennsylvanians is that we are a community.

We work best when we work together. Across national political boundaries, we share common cause in caring for our surroundings.

Some key concerns are water, wildlife, family, jobs, and growth. Hunting, fishing, and farming are major traditions, along with community activities via churches and abundant local not-for-profit organizations.

In recent years there has been a new understanding of how population growth can change our area in surprising ways. We cannot stop growth, it will happen. But there are ways that individuals and groups can help deal with some of the negatives. If enough of us work together we can even make improvements during growth.

One particular threat that’s been emerging is the loss of insect life, especially native insects. For most of us this doesn’t sound like a problem. No one likes getting bitten by teeming masses of tiny insects, some maybe carrying nasty diseases.

But our beautiful bird population depends heavily on insects. Typically, adult birds can eat seeds and fruit and other things, but most of them depend on insects to feed their babies. A shortage of insect life has a profound and negative impact on the local bird population, and can affect other native plant and animal populations as well. The web of life is deeply interconnected.

This brings us to one particular problem with population growth, the increase in wildlife “deserts” known as lawns. Lawns are notorious for many reasons, for example, water doesn’t penetrate lawns very well, which can threaten groundwater and/or increase pollutants entering our streams and lakes. And, very few insects or other animals can live in lawns.

As land is divided and individuals put up housing, they also tend to put in more lawns. Lawns are very satisfying, and few people argue that we should (or can) do away with them completely. However, it is possible that by replacing some lawn with native plants to create a patch of meadow or forest an individual can help native wildlife. Even better, if groups of individuals living near each other can coordinate their efforts they can create “wildlife corridors.”

These small efforts have benefits locally and more far-reaching as well. Native birds depend on native insects which depend on native trees and plants. Native trees and plants grow well, provide shade, provide habitat to other native animals, and protect our water resources.

Penn State Extension offers a wonderful online class “Woods in Your Backyard.” It provides ways to think about how you can help. Globally there are companies that help, so there could be entrepreneurial opportunities for local landscapers. Web search “Akira Miyawaki” and read of his techniques in use around the world. And enjoy the birds.

Cliff Frost is a member of the Watershed Alliance for Adams County.

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