By Ethan Proud | PREVIEW Columnist
Conservation — an interesting field of science filled with a myriad of specialists with backgrounds in hydrology, wildfire, native plant species, soil health and invasive plants — can seem out of reach for the mere landowner. But, the changes you make in your backyard can benefit local bird species, native pollinators and wildlife populations. When that effect is amplified to a neighborhood, or an entire homeowners association, the results can be incredible.
Each day I talk to backyard conservationists — whether they know that’s what they are doing or not. They want to reduce invasive plant populations, plant native and support pollinator species. So, how do you become a part of this movement?
You don’t have to kill your lawn and replace it with a prairie ecosystem, though that movement is picking up steam at the moment. The simplest way to ease yourself into backyard conservation is to plant a pollinator garden featuring native plant species. Native plant species better support our local pollinators compared to exotic species. Planting a pollinator garden will bring a variety of species to your yard which you can enjoy while you sip coffee in the morning.
In Archuleta County, we have a variety of milkweed species, which are a critical food source for monarch butterfly larvae. Milkweed forms attractive globe-shaped blooms and, after it goes to seed, it has winter appeal with its unique pod shapes. Livestock producers beware: milkweed plants are extremely toxic and should be managed near hay meadows and pastureland.
Another great way to practice conservation is to install xeric landscaping that does not utilize a lot of water. The first image that pops to mind when thinking of xeriscaping is usually a rock and gravel garden featuring cacti and succulents, but xeriscaping can be green and lush if you pick the right species. Blanket flower and penstemon both do incredibly well in our area with a limited supply of water.
Once you’ve mastered conservation in your backyard, it’s time to step out into the community and participate in wider projects, like the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, bioblitzes, Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (or CoCoRaHS) weather monitoring and weed pulls. If you are interested in joining a weed pull, reach out to the Archuleta County Weed and Pest Department and ask about the Weed Warrior Program and scheduled events.