Isn’t it great when doing nothing can help solve an environmental problem? If you stop mowing, stop trimming, stop removing dead branches, and let the weeds grow, you could be called lazy. Or, you could be called a climate and ecosystem activist. And both labels would be appropriate
Re-wilding is a win-win-win situation. Less work for you, more habitat for wildlife, and carbon capture far beyond what any manicured lawn can provide. I’m not suggesting that you let your whole yard go back to nature — well, I am, but realistically, most of us still want to get to the front door without using a machete.
I am suggesting that you leave part of your yard alone, as much as you and your spouse, kids, and neighbors can deal with. Not only will you have less work to do with a more natural yard, it will require no fertilizer, no mowing, no raking, no watering — almost nothing. And you will get a huge payoff by doing nothing. Birds will become more common and varied, native plants will return. You might even find more deer and antelope playing.
When people talk about wildlife and habitat preservation, they usually think of large-acreage tracts in parks, wilderness areas, or Nature Conservancy preserves. But the little spaces that you and your neighbors leave alone can really add up, and can really provide an upside for native plants and animals. I have several small groves of volunteer trees in my yard, and a lovely section of meadow, none of which ever needs mowing or watering. Birds and bees vastly prefer a mixture of plants over a one-species or lawn-grass monoculture.
If it sounds like I am making re-wilding sound too easy, I am. Invasive species like Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberries (which are actually Armenian blackberries) will need to be kept down. But over time you can manage a small area to make it more like a nature preserve and less like a penal colony for the chemical-dependent grasses and the non-native plants that fashion, not nature, dictate. You can keep parts of your yard more conventionally controlled (hopefully with elbow grease, not chemicals). It’s nice to have a spot to kick the ball back and forth with the grandkids. But my experience shows that young people often prefer the unpredictable wild zones to the “Hey, you kids get off my grass!!” manicured areas. How much fun can you have without a few dandelions to pick?
And you won’t be alone in your re-wilding. Many cities, including Eugene, have changed the way they manage parks and open space over the last 20 years. Herbicides are gone, the grass has a more diverse mix of plants, and those shifts have led to a greater variety of animals and insects than you will ever find in an unsustainably chemically controlled “park.” I don’t want my children playing on an herbicide-sprayed lawn. Do you?
At first, it can be hard to just let things be. Peer pressure and your own habits and expectations of order have a long history. But the wild landscape, or at least the wilder landscape, has a much longer history, and will undoubtedly take over when we are not here to keep it at bay. By spending more time in the hammock, and less time behind the weed whacker, you’ll be the first in line to go back to the future.