IN THE GARDEN: Gardening for wildlife

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 - 12:39

Concerned with the decrease of pollinators and amphibians, The National Garden Clubs reached out to their regions in a special two-year, (2017-19) presidential campaign called “Service in Action.” This project focuses on increasing awareness of the seriousness of the demise of pollinators and amphibians, in an attempt to encourage conservation and protection of these garden partners. We are asked to consider how, “the first bio indicators, amphibians and pollinators, by their presence, abundance or lack of, reveal the health of the surrounding ecosystems.”

Populations of amphibians have declined dramatically around the world. Sensitive to environmental changes, it is thought that possible causes include the intensified predation by introduced fish and non-native frogs, damage to immune systems from use of pesticides and other pollutants, UV-B radiation, disease, and habitat destruction.

A call to action is needed by gardeners close to the soil to garden for wildlife. By committing to gardening for wildlife, you can encourage a habitat to attract pollinators, amphibians and other beautiful wildlife to a safe zone to live and flourish.

Sustainable wildlife habitat can be established in backyards, community gardens, apartment balconies, school grounds, churches, senior centers and commercial buildings. The possibilities are endless, really, and gardeners are in a perfect position to help. By providing cover, water and food for wildlife, you provide shelter for them to raise their young and thrive. We can also encourage our neighbors and friends to do the same by modeling a friendly backyard habitat.

Alaska has only a small number of amphibians due to our climate. In the Southeast portion of Alaska, Ambystoma marodactylum, a long-toed Salamander and Ambystoma gracile, a northwestern salamander, can be found. We have one true toad, Bufo boreas or Western Toad, which can be found in parts of Southcentral and Southeast Alaska. In the last category of amphibians are two species of frogs called the Rana luteiventris, Columbia Spotted frog in Southeast, and Rana sylvantica, or Wood frog as it is known. The Wood frog has been found in Southeast, Southwest, Southcentral, Western and Central Alaska.

In Alaska, amphibians are managed and protected by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game under statute 16.05.030 in the legal definition of “Fish.” Fish and Game share our concern and the department has an ongoing volunteer Alaska Wood frog monitoring program. This program is designed to assess the current status of the Wood frog in Southcentral and Interior Alaska. If anyone is interested in participating, there are monitoring forms that suggest locations where documenting the presence of the Wood frogs would be helpful. Visit adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=citizenscience.woodfrog to help.

Since habitat loss is considered to be one of the top causes of pollinator and amphibian decline, we have a lot at stake. It is said that roughly 75 percent of all flowering plant production on Earth is dependent on pollinators; making them responsible for one in every three bites of food we eat.

Whether you are a farmer of many acres, a gardener with a small lot, or own a large tract of land, you can increase the number of pollinators in your area by your choices of plants and flowers that provide essential habitat, food and shelter to encourage their existence. Choose nectar and pollen-rich plants like wildflowers, perennials and a succession of blooming annuals in your garden. Every spring my bees and butterflies just show up and I am amazed that they live through the cold and wonder where they winter over. Artificial nesting boxes can also help increase the population of pollinators in your yard. You can drill half-inch holes in wooden blocks to encourage bee nesting. Bat boxes can be made to encourage a place for bats to nest and raise their young. A downed tree can be a place for pollinators to nest.

Bees, birds and butterflies also need water. A water feature, birdbath, or a catch basin for rain is very important for these little creatures during dry times

I was unaware of the severity in the decrease of pollinators and amphibians and how they affect our lives. I have taken for granted that they just show up and do their thing. In the future, my plan is to be a gardener that is considerate of these little partners in the garden and consider how my actions affect them.

Chris Wood is a certified master gardener from Eagle River who is president of the Greater Eagle River Garden Club and Alaska Garden Clubs. For questions or column ideas, write to her at chriswood_ak@yahoo.com

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