Before we get into what green infrastructure is or what it means for you and your backyard, let me first provide you a little insight into the painstaking process that we went through to produce something fun for you to play around with. (Trust me; it’s pretty cool – even the County Executive is using it.)
After over a year of painstaking mapping in our Arc GIS system (mostly because our server was slower than 90’s dial-up internet speeds which led me to consider launching my computer through the window on an average of once per hour), we finally, FINALLY have a draft Green Infrastructure Network map! I can’t tell you how exciting it is to have completed a draft map and let my pupils fall back into place in my eye sockets. After a year of mapping this tedious, you would feel like a pug dog, too. And even cooler, thanks to the help of our GIS guys (who conveniently switched to a new lightning-speed server about a week before we were done mapping) we also have an awesome interactive online version for you to play around with and explore.
So what is this nonsense that almost cost more than one of us our eyesight and sanity? Well, it’s not nonsense at all. It’s basic ecology and biodiversity, which we know sustains life, provides disease resistance, food, shelter, water, clean air, and oh so much more. Protecting biodiversity and our natural resources is key not only so we can see the cute little furry creatures and beautiful native plants in our parks, but also so we have water to drink and food to eat. It’s a bit of a circular effect – we protect their food and water and in turn we are provided with food and water. Isn’t it magical how natural systems seem to have it all figured out? Ecology is an amazing thing.
Basically, a green infrastructure network maps out important natural resources (wetlands, forests, streams, etc.) that sustain various species – both plants and animals – by providing food, shelter, and water for these species to survive. It is important that green infrastructure be a networked system to allow species to move from place to place. Why do they need to move, you ask? Well, they may be forced to shift due to activities encroaching along the edge of their habitat, such as mowing too close to the stream bank or near a wetland might reduce habitat for reptiles and amphibians and alter the temperature of the water thus making it too warm for them to survive. Other reasons include facing fire, famine or disease, the species is migratory, and providing a population the opportunity to breed with other populations to create a stronger gene pool resistant to new diseases.
Imagine if our environments were switched. Think how difficult it would be to find not just food, but shelter, water and a mate if we had no roads or sidewalks and every open space and paved area was replaced with deep, dark, dense forest patches that we needed to bushwhack our way through on foot. As humans, it would be difficult for us to survive without being taken out by injury, disease, famine, or lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Now put yourself in the place of a Long-tailed Salamander or a Green Heron (pictured at right). They view our built environment – roads, buildings, and airplanes – just as we would view the deep, dark, dense forest patches keeping us from food, water, and shelter. Our cars and lawn mowers, fertilizers and smog become their lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
So we ask you all to take a step to become a better steward of our natural resources. Our online interactive map might be fun to play with and it might have taken a whole lot of effort to figure out what areas we need to work on protecting, expanding, enhancing, or creating, but most importantly we need you to help. Think about what you can do in your yard this year to make a difference and make a pathway for species otherwise stuck playing Frogger between patches of forest.
Plant a habitat garden for pollinators. Put up a bat, duck, or songbird box. Reduce the areas you mow, especially nearstreams and wetlands. Install a rain garden. Stop dumping yard waste in a Forest Conservation Area – get a free compost bininstead. Join a garlic mustard pull in a local forest. Kill one less bug outdoors this year (unless it’s a stink bug). Plant onlynative plants this spring. Join a community stream clean up. Remove an invasive, nonnative plant in your yard. Plant a tree. Plant another tree. Help your neighbor plant a tree. Plant five more trees.
Just one thing (maybe two for a gold star) and you’ll make a difference to a species near you.
More on our draft Green Infrastructure Network, including the online interactive map: Click HERE
Help us identify where species hang out by sending in images for the state-wide inventoryMaryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas
All photos courtesy of Sue Muller, Dept of Recreation and Parks. All photos were taken within Howard County and all are native species found here.
Photo gallery order:
Slaty Skimmer, American Toad Singing, Monarch Caterpillar, Long-tailed Salamander, Green Heron, Young Groundhog, Red Tailed Hawk