|A volunteer plants marsh grass at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. Credit: Steve Hillebrand / USFWS
This year, take action on Earth Day with the Service’s 20 Eco Tips where you will find a range of easy activities. There is plenty you can do with your families and friends at home, in your neighborhood or at school. Plant a tree, pick up litter, remove invasive plants, clean-up a beach...the opportunities are endless! Click here to get the short list!
Imagine banding birds at a National Wildlife Refuge, raising fish at a National Fish Hatchery, conducting wildlife surveys, leading a tour or restoring fragile habitat. With close to 42,000 volunteers contributing in excess of 1.5 million hours, our volunteers perform a wide variety of tasks. Our volunteers are individuals who want to give back to their communities, parents who want to be good stewards of the land and set examples for their children, retired people willing to share their wealth of knowledge, concerned citizens of all ages who want to learn more about conservation and passionate people who enjoy the outdoors and want to spread the word about America’s greatest natural treasures.
2) Plant native
How ‘green’ is your garden? Well now may be the time to ensure that it is truly sustainable. You can order seeds of wildflowers native to your region that will give you low-maintenance blooms next spring and all summer long. Not only will they thrive — they’ll support native birds, insects and other pollinators that depend on familiar, home-grown species for a healthy ecosystem.
3) Pick-up litter
Don’t litter. Trash tossed carelessly outside washes into storm drains, which empty into rivers and streams that eventually flow to the oceans. Trash adversely affects the habitat of marine and other aquatic environments causing death and injury to seabirds, fish, marine mammals, turtles and other species through swallowing and entanglement. Common litter includes plastic bags, paper, candy wrappers, fast-food packaging, bottle caps, glass bottles, plastic six-pack rings and plastic straws. Spend one hour picking up litter. Organize a team of family, friends, or co-workers to pick up litter in your local neighborhood, wildlife refuge or park. Enjoy making a difference, getting exercise, getting to know people better and having cleaner surroundings.
4) Create schoolyard habitat
Schoolyard habitat helps teachers and students create wildlife habitat on school grounds. Habitat is the collective term for the food, water, shelter and nursery areas that all wildlife needs to survive. The loss of habitat is one of the greatest threats facing wildlife today. Many habitat features can be added to an existing site, such as a garden, wetland pond, or nesting boxes.
- Gardens: A wide range of gardens are possible. Planned garden areas should be included in the school design.
- Signs: Identify projects with signs to help with community recognition. Signs will help publicize the project and can help offset complaints about the wild appearance of natural habitats.
- Trails: Trails should be an integral part of any project. Make sure wheelchair access is incorporated into trail design. A nature trail could eventually wind throughout the entire schoolyard.
5) Prevent stormwater runoff
Poor water quality can harm fish, wildlife and their habitat. Many things are known to cause poor water quality, including sedimentation, runoff, erosion and pesticides. Stormwater runoff occurs when rainfall flows over the ground. Stormwater runoff picks up debris, chemicals, dirt and other pollutants from hard (impervious) surfaces and washes them into storm drains. Anything that enters a storm drains flows often untreated into the rivers and streams that we use for swimming and drinking water. How you can help:
- All vehicle fluids are toxic and extremely harmful to the environment. Recycle used oil in a clean, sealed, plastic container.
- SWEEP! Hosing off pavements washes pollutants into storm drains leading straight to the river.
- Deliver old paint, pesticides, solvents and batteries to your local hazardous waste drop off facilities. Pouring hazardous substances down a storm drain, onto the ground or into a stream creates a danger to all, as well as the environment.
- Street litter, such as styrofoam, plastic, and paper can be prevented from blowing into inlets by keeping trash bins covered and by not littering.
- Yard waste, such as grass clippings, tree trimmings and leaves can be composted and used for fertilizer around the yard.
6) Protect pollinators
Each year we celebrate National Pollinator Week in recognition of the importance of pollinator species to agriculture, forest and grassland environments and other ecosystems. This year it will take place on June 20-26, 2011. There is increasing evidence that many pollinators are in decline. However, there are some simple things you can do at home to encourage pollinator diversity and abundance, such as planting a pollinator garden. Consider the following when choosing plants for your garden:
- Choose native plants that flower at different times of the year to provide nectar and pollen sources throughout the growing season
- Plant in clumps, rather than single plants, to better attract pollinators
- Provide a variety of flower colors and shapes to attract different pollinators
- Contact your local or state native plant society for help.
7) Reduce bird strikes
The Audubon Society estimates that in the United States and Canada, as many as 1 billion birds die each year due to collisions with windows in homes and modern office buildings that often use insulated and reflective glass. The primary cause of birds colliding with glass is due to reflection. When birds become confused or startled they see escape routes and possible safety zones mirrored in reflective glass and fly unaware into windows. There are many ways to reduce bird strikes at windows. Objects or ornaments hanging in windows will reduce the reflection by breaking it up. Hang ribbons or other material in strips no more than five centimeters apart on the outside of windows for the full width of the glass. Keep houseplants away from windows as they can appear like trees.
8) Clean up pet waste
Clean up after your pet to reduce pollution in local water bodies. Poor water quality can harm fish, wildlife and their habitat. Pet waste left behind may be washed into waterways by rain or melting snow carrying disease-causing organisms that make water unsafe for swimming or drinking. Water that drains off of agricultural sites and into surrounding ponds or ditches can cause the build up of toxins in shorebirds, waterfowl and fish. What should you do with waste you pick up? There is no perfect answer, but here are a couple options:
- Pick it up and flush it down a toilet.
- Put it in a plastic bag and throw it in the garbage can (just make sure the bags do not have any holes and is tied tightly.)
9) Avoid cat predation
There are more than 90 million pet cats in the United States, the majority of which roam outside at least part of the time. Cat predation is an added stress to wildlife populations already struggling to survive habitat loss, pollution, pesticides and other human impacts. Cats are a serious threat to fledglings, birds roosting at night and birds on a nest. Research shows that de-clawing cats and bell collars do not prevent them from killing birds and other small animals. For healthy cats and wild birds, cats should not be allowed to roam free. Also, spay or neuter your cats before they can produce an un-wanted litter, and never abandon cats you cannot care for.
10) Let’s Go Outside
“Let’s Go Outside” strives to promote environmental awareness while reconnecting Americans with nature – encouraging healthier lifestyles and helping to ensure future generations appreciate the natural world around them. Let’s Go Outside encourages children, educators and parents to get outside and enjoy nature and wildlife. Experiencing nature can be as simple as visiting a local wildlife refuge, state park, bird watching in your own backyard or even taking a walk around the neighborhood to see wildlife. Watching wildlife is an extremely easy, fun and free way to enjoy the environment, spend family time or just to relax.