“Forested and vegetated waterways provide a multitude of benefits to our air and water quality, flood resilience, our sense of community, and public health” according to Justin Bower, Principal Planner, Community and Environmental Planning, for Houston-Galveston Area Council. He also points out that “everything that happens on the land, including our yards, driveways, roads and open spaces, can wash pollutants and contaminants into our waterways when it rains.”
Explore the critical benefits of healthy forests, riparian areas (streamside vegetation) and waterways by attending the Smarter About Sustainability Seminar on Saturday, May 14 with Justin Bower. You’ll learn…
How riparian areas are the last line of defense for slowing and filtering stormwater before it reaches the creeks and lakes we depend on.
The direct link between our lawns and landscapes and healthy riparian zones and waterways.
Best landscaping practices for protecting our waters and riparian zones including adding native plants and organic fertilizing.
Opportunities to join community volunteer efforts.
Summer clouds over Bear Branch
We’ll also dive into the damaging effects of invasive species. Ashley Morgan-Olvera, Outreach and Education Director for the Texas Invasive Species Institute at Sam Houston State University, will fill us in on why keeping invasive, and destructive, animals and vegetation out of our community’s forests and stream areas enhances the benefits we gain from these critical ecosystems. Learn how you can make a difference by volunteering with our local Invasives Task Force to help remove invasives from our pathways and public green spaces by attending.
Riparian buffers – ribbons of vegetation alongside streams and lakes – offer a host of critical ecological functions. Depending on their health, they can act as safety nets, protecting sensitive aquatic ecosystems or they can devolve into conduits for pollution and actually degrade water quality, making life difficult for aquatic organisms. Proper management is key.
What does proper management look like? For one…where these buffers lack trees, streams tend to be narrower because of encroaching grasses and other herbaceous plants. Forested riparian buffers shade out an overabundance of these less valuable, and potentially detrimental, elements. In deforested buffers, invasive plants and animals increase from the loss of habitat diversity, while native fish and other aquatic organisms decrease because of the degraded habitat.
In forested riparian buffers, the diversity of all native wildlife – frogs, turtles, beavers, birds, mammals – is full supported for food, shelter, nesting, travel corridors and species richness. Songbirds especially are best protected when buffers are wide and diverse.
To learn more about what you can do in your own landscape to protect our riparian buffers, don’t miss an online workshop on February 19, 2022 on Invasive Species. This presentation of The Woodlands Township Environmental Services will feature Ashley Morgan-Olvera, Director of Outreach and Education with Texas Invasive Species Institute at Sam Houston State University. Registration is required to receive the Zoom link to the workshop.
Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, wrote in a2016 article in Bird Watcher’s Digest, “Some plants are far better at producing insect bird food than others. For example, oaks support 557 species of caterpillars (bird food) in the mid-Atlantic states alone, whereas non-native Zelkova trees from Asia support no caterpillars at all.
“Ninety percent of the insects that eat plants can only eat specific plants; if those plants are absent from our landscapes, so will be the bird food they produce. Unfortunately, this is the case in our yards and managed landscapes when we remove native plant communities that are good at making insect bird food and replace them with vast lawns and ornamental plants from other parts of the world that produce few insects in North America. This oversight must end if we want birds in our future.”
Are you telling me you’re removing some turfgrass to make way for native plants that actually attract insects? That’s really smart of you! In case a neighbor asks you why your lawn is getting smaller, tell them a lot of research is being done on why birds are in decline, and urban landscapes are proving to have great potential to help, see the article below.
Oh, and you can also mention that people who already feed birds are the most likely to transform turf to native plants that birds need. And, by the way, many younger homeowners are getting savvy to gardening for birds, too. So, you are definitely part of the in-crowd when it comes to forgoing the “old school” vast expanse of lawn for bird and wildlife-friendly plants.
Look back at this previous article and learn more about the critical ways native plants support local bird populations.
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Water thieves are afoot. They sneak in from foreign lands while our heads are turned, multiply their numbers to create trouble-making gangs, and refuse to leave. Who are these villains? Invasive plants – out of place, out of control, and gobbling up resources, including our most precious one, water.
By definition, an invasive species is “a species that is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” (U.S. Department of the Interior, Federal Invasive Species Advisory Committee) Invasives lack the natural controls that exist in their own native habitat. As a result, they’re usually fast-growing and rapid reproducers. These bad guys alter the forest in a variety of ways including sucking up A LOT of water.
Because of their heavy water consumption and their prevalence, many are concerned that might actually dry out our forests. Is the problem really that bad? According to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report, “invasive species are altering large portions of the earth’s terrestrial surface and are considered one of the ‘most important drivers of change in ecosystems.'” Although billions of dollars are being spent to battle invasives in the U.S., the report also predicted rapidly increasing negative effects in the future such as loss of soil health as these water thieves drain up to 250% more moisture than our native vegetation.
That battle against invasives is fought locally as The Woodlands Township crews and contractors spend about 200 days a year on vine and invasives removal and control. And for the past three years, volunteer invasives removal task force has joined the fray, with much success. During 2020 alone, nearly 100 volunteers spent 1020 hours removing three dump-truck loads of invasive vines, shrubs, and trees from along our pathways. Their participation freed up the Township’s contractors to work on larger areas of infestation.
Some of the worst crimes of bad guy invasives?
Disrupting ecosystem interactions and functions
Displacing native species and destroying habitat
Using 50% to more than 250% more water than natives
Let’s turn the tables and gang up on these water thieves invading our forest! To start, each of us can examine our own landscapes and kick out the bad guys, replacing them with natives that better serve us. Then help restore the health of forest soils by volunteering to remove invasives from our pathways and green spaces. If you’re ready to join the Task Force, sign up HERE.
For more information, contact Environmental Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 281-210-2058.
Learn more about invasives from these past articles:
Thousands of birds migrate through The Woodlands every fall. The reason – food. As days grow shorter, birds begin to head south in search of abundant food and warmer temperatures. Lucky for us, The Woodlands happens to lie right along the path that many species take on their journey south. Our warm climate and dense vegetation provides an ideal rest stop for swifts, swallows, hummingbirds, hawks, flycatchers, warblers and more. Our parks, yards and preserves are heavy with greenery, berries and flowers throughout the fall, but are they providing the food these migrating birds need?
The Early Bird Catches the Worm
…and the berries, insects, seeds and nuts. The most sought after avian delicacies varies with the season. Research shows that all birds, migrating and resident species, require different nutrition in winter than in warmer months. Summer is breeding season for most species and protein to produce healthy eggs and chicks is in high demand. Protein means insects and lots of them. Consider that a single pair of chickadees must find 6,000-9,000 caterpillars to raise their young!
As breeding season ends, birds shift their diet from protein to fat to help them survive cold nighttime temperatures. Fat intake is extra critical for migrators in preparation for the grueling flight ahead. Produce from Woodlands natives such as American beautyberry, wax myrtle, coral honeysuckle, native dogwoods and viburnums, and yaupon holly are prized. Right now, most of these species are in the early stages of their fall and winter fruit and nut production.
Our native plants (and insects) have co-evolved with birds over the centuries, meaning birds depend on the specific nutrition these species provide. So, not just any seed, nut or berry will do. Consider the popular non-native plant, nandina (heavenly bamboo). It produces a bevy of bright red berries – quite attractive to our eye as well as the bird’s. Unfortunately, nandina berries, like most non-native berries, are sorely lacking in fat and other nutrients. Much like feeding french fries to a marathoner, these imitation foods leave birds depleted, unable to complete their migration route or make it through a cold night.
Just like you and me, birds need the right food. Here’s how to help.
Fall in Love with Natives
Migrating birds face several threats to their continued survival: the greatest being loss of habitat. We often think of habitat loss as a paved over forest. Yet, despite the green appearance, our lawns and landscapes have the same impact if they’re devoid of native plants. Much like a parking lot, they become a food desert for birds and other wildlife.
The simplest yet most impactful action you can take to support our migrating birds this fall is to add native plants to your landscape. Remove non-native or invasive plants to ensure you’re providing only nutrient rich food, not french fries.
Not sure where to begin? use the reference guide below and consider joining our free, online Invasives Species Workshop from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, August 14, 2021, to learn how to identify invasive plants in our community. Register online here to receive more information.
For those who go one step further in helping our feathered friends with backyard feeders, consider that not all seed mixes are the same. Cheap mixes are full of milo, wheat, red millet, and various grains that birds can’t make use of. Most all of these “low cost” seed mixes contain little protein and almost no fat. The same holds for black oil sunflower seed. Cheaper seeds are often those which didn’t fully mature and lack protein and fat. Spend a little more on a quality seed and you’ll be rewarded with more frequent and healthier visitors.