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Protect Fish, Wildlife and Open Space

A photo of an adult and younger moose in the forest
Individual areas of habitat,
when combined are valuable to wildlife

Habitat destruction and competition from invasive species are two of the most significant threats to New York's natural biodiversity. The loss and fragmentation of necessary breeding, foraging and shelter areas has pushed many animal species into endangered status. Our native plant communities are threatened by climate change, development and invasive insect and plant species that have no natural controls.

Fortunately, each of us can contribute in a significant way towards stopping the spread of invasives and creating essential habitats in our own backyards.

Create Habitat

  • Turn part of your yard into meadow
    Turf grass is an ecological 'desert' for wildlife as it provides little food, shelter or breeding area. Let part of your yard return to meadow and see how many species will return. Remember fireflies?
  • Get paid to not mow your grass
    If you own 10 acres or more of grasslands in certain parts of New York State, you may be able to receive technical and financial assistance to improve it as habitat for grassland birds. See the Grassland Protection Program for information about targeted areas and incentives.
  • Leave some dead trees standing
    Woodpeckers, owls, kestrels, flycatchers and chickadees and eighty other species of North American birds nest in dead or deteriorating trees called "snags". Leave some dead trees standing if they do not pose a threat to your home.
  • Use plants with high wildlife supporting value
    The same plants that beautify your yard can provide food, and cover for many birds and mammals. Eastern red cedar, American beech, Eastern Hemlock, Shadblow, high and low-bush blueberry, Arrowwood, river birch and many species of oak are of great value to wildlife.
  • Lure hummingbirds to your yard―naturally!
    If your yard regularly gets at least a half day of sun, plant bee balm, salvia, tall garden phlox, red-hot poker or lupines to attract hummers. For shadier yard, try coral bells, foxglove or cardinal flower.
  • Keep some "messy" areas
    Photo of a New England cottontail rabbit in the grass
    New England cottontail populations
    are declining dramatically due to a lack
    of the thickets and tangled underbrush
    habitat they prefer (Photo: Mass Div.
    of Fish and Wildlife)
    Thickets, brush piles, and other non-manicured areas of the yard are good shelters and nesting areas for wildlife.
  • Fertilize lawns in the fall
    Fall fertilizing (preferably between Halloween and Thanksgiving) helps lawns stay greener longer, survive winter's stresses, become green earlier in spring and remain vibrant through the sun and heat of summer. Use an organic mix with both slow and fast-release nitrogen in it, and be sure to water after applying it.
  • Mow smarter
    Use a side-discharge mower (without the bag), and begin mowing from the outer border of your yard so that leaves shoot toward the center. That way, they'll be cut multiple times. Do this regularly throughout the fall, and leave no more than a one-inch layer of mulch on the lawn.

Protect Native Communities

  • Don't plant invasive or potentially invasive species
    Some invasive species may still be available in nurseries - Japanese barberry, autumn olive, oriental bittersweet, and Japanese honeysuckle and the popular burning bush - to name a few. Be sure to ask about a plant's status before purchasing.
  • Buy firewood at campgrounds
    The emerald ash borer, Asian long-horned beetle, sirex woodwasp and hemlock wooly adelgid are causing enormous damage to our native trees. Don't transport firewood from more than 50 miles away. Invasive species or their eggs or larvae may be hiding in it.
  • Boaters - Watch out for aquatic hitchhikers
    Aquatic invasive species such as Eurasian millfoil, zebra mussels, and the algae didymo can be spread from one water body to another by various recreational uses. Keep boots, gear, motors clean and don't empty bait buckets from one area into another water body. To reduce the growth of algae and barnacles on your boat's hull, remove your boat from the water between outings. Also, use a soft brush to scrub off accumulations.
  • Help sustain fish populations
    Consider releasing the largest fish you catch and keeping other fish that are still in the legal size range. Larger fish are the best breeders, and smaller fish tend to be less contaminated.
  • Use certified or "safe" baitfish (per DEC)
    You'll help prevent the spread of disease and stop invasive bait fish from taking over native fish habitat. Dispose of unused bait and water from your bait bucket on land, not in the water.
  • Use circle hooks when fishing with bait
    Circle hooks catch fish in the lip rather than in the gut, increasing the survival rate of catch-and-release species. And you save a hook besides!
  • Recycle your used fishing line
    Used fishing line can be harmful and even deadly to birds and other wildlife that become entangled in it. Dispose of your line in the monofilament recycling bins found at many sport shops. Monofilament line cannot be included with other home recyclables.
  • Try biodegradable fishing line and lures
    Biodegradable line breaks down in only 5 years versus 500 years for monofilament line. Biodegradable lures-available for all popular fresh and marine species-keep both fish and water bodies free of harmful plastic.
  • Remove bird feeders after winter
    Bears exit their dens in March, when their natural food is scarce. They love bird seed, and even small amounts on the ground will attract them. Clean it up, or conceal its scent with ammonia or something similar.
  • Block the buzz
    Prevent mosquitoes from breeding by eliminating standing water in old tires and clogged gutters. Empty and refill kiddie pools and pet water dishes at least weekly. Install bat and purple martin houses; the inhabitants are ravenous mosquito feeders. Dress in light-colored (e.g., pale blue) instead of bright-colored (e.g., red) clothing, and avoid wearing scents.
  • Get the lead out of big-game ammo
    For deer hunting, switch to high-tech copper and monolithic solid bullets for a clean, quick kill that leaves no harmful lead particles behind.
  • Help wildlife in need
    Contact DEC for information about what to do for an injured or sick animal or one that is dead.
  • Protect your property from flooding
    Hurricane season can last through November. Check for advice on being prepared for flooding and shoreline stabilization techniques.

Make Your Yard More Inviting to Wildlife and More Beautiful Too.

A monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant
The monarch butterfly is attracted to
the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
found in fields and open meadows

You don't need acres of land or even a large yard to make your property a place that wildlife will be attracted to. Decide what you'd like to see and learn about the needs and preferred habitat of that species. Be aware that by creating wildlife habitat you may attract different 'visitors' in addition to the ones you had anticipated.

  • Turn a portion of your lawn into a wildflower meadow. Eliminate existing lawn without using herbicides by repeated tilling. Let the grass and weeds germinate, then till again. Seed directly in the spring or fall with a mix of local wildflowers and grasses or jump-start your meadow and use plugs (young plants) in the spring. New meadows will need to be mowed when 4"-6" tall several times during the first year to keep annual weeds from shading out the young perennials. Meadows attract birds and butterflies.
  • Plant a mixed hedgerow of native berries, fruiting shrubs, evergreens, small trees and tall perennials. The hedgerow can screen an undesirable view, provide privacy and add beauty to your yard while benefiting wildlife. Some suggested species: highbush blueberries, small fruited crab apples, shadblow or serviceberry, American cranberry bush, bayberry, elderberry, Eastern red cedar, hollies and other dense evergreens and shrub roses (do not use multiflora rose). This diverse planting can also be located at the edge of the woods and form a natural and wildlife-friendly transition from lawn to forest. DEC's Saratoga tree nursery sells wildlife species mixtures.
  • Provide water for birds, insects and other species. Water is essential to all creatures and especially valuable in winter when natural sources may be frozen. Try a bird bath, a carved depression in a rock or a mini-pond in a basin. Birds prefer shallow water so keep depth 3" or less. Rocks sticking out from the water will provide a place for birds or butterflies to perch. A "beach" of sand or pebbles makes a small pond more accessible to many species.

More about Protect Fish, Wildlife and Open Space:

  • I Love My Park Day - an annual event that brings together thousands of volunteers to celebrate and enhance New York's parks, historic sites, and public lands.
  • Links Leaving DEC's Website
  • Contact for this Page
  • Office of Communication Services
    625 Broadway
    Albany, NY 12233
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