By Paula Musto
Naturalists, conservationists and scientists all warn us: Humans and human activities impose the greatest threat to the well-being and survival of wildlife today. But the good news is that there are things each of us can do to make a difference. With a new year upon us, here are some actions that Western North Carolina wildlife enthusiasts suggest for the coming year to benefit the other species that share Planet Earth.
Go outside and look—really look—around.
COVID restrictions have meant many of us are spending more time outdoors. What an opportunity to take a daily walk and turn a keen eye to the wildlife that surrounds us: birds, reptiles and mammals of all sizes. Turn your yard, or any outdoor space, into a more hospitable spot for wild creatures. That might mean hanging a bird feeder or replacing invasive plants with native varieties. Learn to identify wildlife. You can purchase a guide, or borrow one from the library, to take on walks to identify various species by both sight and sound. Check out smartphone apps that can also help you connect to the wildlife that surrounds you.
Get rid of the harmful stuff.
This means not using toxic sprays on your ornamental plants and forgoing weedkillers. These chemicals harm our native animals and interfere with the food chain. Say no to the throw-away culture and wean yourself off of disposable plastics. Millions of tons of discarded plastics end up in our oceans and waterways each year. The trash is not only ugly but dangerous to marine life. Pick up litter—yours and that of others. Carelessly strewn fishing hooks and netting, eating utensils and discarded food containers, empty soda cans and bottles are just some of the items that cause serious injuries to animals.
When driving, especially in the early morning and late in the day, be mindful of wildlife attempting to cross the road. A major mortality factor for many species is fast-moving cars through wildlife areas. Often the animal killed is a mother caring for its young, now left orphaned to slowly die.
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.
One of the gravest dangers to wildlife is pollution. Carbon dioxide emissions have an outsized impact on many animal species. The World Wildlife Fund warns that up to half of the animal species are at risk of extinction due to climate change if carbon emissions continue to rise unchecked. We can help reduce greenhouse gases by driving less, consuming less and eating local foods. There are free online tools to help you calculate your household’s carbon footprint; learn more at epa.gov, nature.org and CarbonFootprint.com.
Take advantage of educational programs to become more aware of ecological needs and issues. Netflix and other media platforms have excellent documentaries on nature, including prize-winning filmmaker David Attenborough’s recent A Life on Our Planet that documents humanity’s impact on nature. Read books on nature and conservation. If you have children, resolve to expose them to more outdoor activities to foster a better appreciation of the natural world.
There are many nonprofits that support wildlife habitats or help injured or orphaned animals. They need your time, talents and money. Look into local organizations such as the Western North Carolina Nature Center, the Blue Ridge Chapter of the National Audubon Society and Appalachian Wildlife Refuge. No matter what your skill set, you can contribute, whether it’s working with animals, participating in a bird count or helping maintain habitats, to name just a few volunteer activities. These organizations depend on donations, so contributions are gratefully received.
“People can make a difference,” says Carlton Burke, a Mills River wildlife rehabilitator and educator. “There are billions of us on this planet. If everyone does just a little thing, or two, to help wild creatures, it would add up to making a tremendous difference in conserving and protecting our native wildlife.”
Paula Musto is a writer and outreach volunteer for Appalachian Wild, a nonprofit whose mission is to help injured or orphaned wildlife, to support WNC’s wildlife rehabilitation network and to provide wildlife conservation education. Learn more at AppalachianWild.org.