A Message From Wildlife To Humans: Our Recommended ‘Do Not Do’ List for 2013

Sometimes it’s as important to know what ‘not to do’ as it is what ‘to do’ in the wildlife garden. With that thought in mind, here’s some simple tips wildlife, if they could speak, would pass along to people:

  1. Do not surround your properties with fences.We have a hard enough time moving around and finding food. Plus, we get snagged and separated from our young.

    Collisions happen when wildlife can’t see fences

  2. Do not rake your leaves or pick up your sticks. We hide and feed in the leaf litter, and it creates new top soil.
  3. Do not plant bamboo and other non-native plants that displace our native plant food sources.
  4. Do not kill native vines like poison ivy, virginia creeper, and native grape vine. They provide us with important food.
  5. Do not dead-head your native perennials. Their seeds provide us with food in the winter.
  6. Do not plant bulbs like daffodil, tulip, snow drop, and crocus. None are native and they do us no good. Correction: There are native bulbs, such as Native Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum), Turk’s Cap Lily (Liliium superbum), Canada Lily (Lilium canadense) , Wild Leek (Allium tricoccum), Atamasco Lily (Zephyranthes atamasca )…any others.  If you include corms and bulb-like rhizomes (which most folks do not differentiate from bulbs), there are lots more including our Trilliums (Trillium sp.), Blazing Stars (Liatris sp.) and many others.
  7. Do not trap and kill us, even if we’re not your favorite creatures. We may look different and have undeserved reputations (snakes, bats, mice, raccoons, groundhogs, opossum, coyote, etc) but we all provide important ecosystem services.
  8. Do not take down dead trees, called ‘snags’. They provide vital cavities for nesters and perches for many species, including predatory birds.
  9. Do not use plastic erosion control netting. We get caught in it.
  10. Do not worry so much about aesthetics. Pretend you’re us when you plan your gardens. We’ll reward you with our presence.
  11. Do not give your wildlife ponds steep slopes. We can’t get out easily and often drown.
  12. Do not mow more often than you have to. Mowers cut us and lawns provide us no benefit. Meadows and shrublands are great alternatives and provide us with food and cover.
  13. Do not let other people dissuade you from following these tips. (Better yet, perhaps you have a simple tip to add in the comment section below.) Local township ordinances need to change if we are to survive.

Similar to a grizzly find in the fence surrounding a local nature center.

Invasive bamboo displaces all other plants and provides no benefit to wildlife. It should be outlawed.

Invasive bamboo displaces all other plants and provides no benefit to North American wildlife. Laws need to ban its use, as well as the use of other invasive non-native plants.


© 2013, Christina Kobland. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    My wife and I are always at odds on number seven.
    You’d think being married to a nature and wildlife filmmaker she’d understand that everything has a benefit and a role to play.
    We usually go round and round. Most of the time fortunately I win. So plenty of spiders, toads, snakes, ground squirrels and other assorted animals are safe until the neighbors convince her again how she needs to kill everything in sight.
    Kevin J Railsback recently posted..Wolves Keep the Ecosystem in Balance

    • says

      Kevin– Hurray for you! I’m never surprised, yet always dismayed, when wildlife ‘lovers’ have certain species they detest and want to harm. I’ll advocate for the animals every time, because I see the beauty in each and every native species. We’re the ones out of balance. Tell the neighbors for me to go pound sand:)
      Christina Kobland recently posted..Happy Holidays

  2. says

    It’s a great list, Christina. The “live and let live” approach (#2, #4, #7, etc.) is important advice to every gardener.

    The “no fences” guidance is a tough one, because there are situations where no other solution will do. I look forward to a future post on how to fence as safely for wildlife as possible when fencing is a must.
    Vincent Vizachero recently posted..New Post on the Downside to Biodiversity

  3. says

    Vincent — I personally found an invisible fence to keep my dog on-site works great.I’ve had it installed over 10 years on 3 acres with only one break in the line.

    I also fence in vegetation ‘tight’, surrounding just the plant in need of enough protection with a 5 foot tall fance to prevent its demise. Once vegetation grows above the browse line, the fence comes down.

    Here’s a good article from a super non-profit organization called Friends of Animals, entitled Unexpected Dangers: Fences and Deer. It applies to all animals. http://www.friendsofanimals.org/actionline/spring-2012/dangers.php

    The large fenced-in game parks in Africa cause major migratory disruption. Exhausted animals cannot reach their final destinations. High speed predators like cheetah break their necks colliding with fences they do not see. Similar migrations took place in this country, but we humans, through over development,poor planning, and slaughter to the brink of extinction have all but erased their patterns.

    I avoid fences at all costs and encourage clients to save their money and put it toward wildlife-friendly solutions.
    Christina Kobland recently posted..Happy Holidays

    • UrsulaV says

      I think electric fences are a worthwhile solution if your primary concern is keeping your own dogs in. I’ve had occasion, several times in my life, to live in areas with a substantial feral dog population though, and the carnage that even one feral dog can wreak on backyard livestock like rabbits or chickens is…well, pretty unspeakable. There is little public will to control the problem, unfortunately.

      Local to where I am now, feral pig populations are growing by leaps and bounds, and you run into about one farmer a season who has lost an unfenced (or inadequately fenced) field to feral swine. When pigs are done with a field, it might as well be the surface of the moon. Both pigs and feral dogs are considered vermin and may be shot without licenses at any time of the year, but this tends to be a reaction to damage rather than a prevention.

      In such cases, fences are about the only option that does not end in bullets. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the forms of fencing least detrimental to wildlife, in cass where they truly are unavoidable.

  4. says

    Well I do pretty good with all but number 1. I had no choice as we have a pond and live in a suburban development…the pond area was unsafe without a fence with so many young children all around us…but we have a picket fence. Let me say it keeps no one out but the humans. Animals jump it or squeeze through the wide slats so wildlife seems to be OK with our fence. With the Emerald Ash Borer we will be taking down some trees totally so we can replace them and then leaving some smaller snags where they won’t do any damage when they eventually fall over from this invasive pest…great list to remind us all to do as much as we can!
    Donna@ Gardens Eye View recently posted..A New Journey

    • says

      Fences are unavoidable in certain applications. I’d say in your situation you did the best you could with a picket fence. So much of this is common sense and if it looks like an animal could get snagged,solutions are necessary. My accountant sadly found his dog hanging dead from his chain link fence. His collar was caught on the top.

      I have really grown to love snags (dead trees left to stand). I think they’re one of the most underappreciated components of a healthy wildlife garden. I killed a grove of invasive Norway maple and I get much pleasure looking at their decaying skeletons. Sometimes they topple over and crush the native trees planted below, but I haven’t lost many. Many natives resprout from the base, including ash. So sad about the emerald ash borer. My forestry friends predict a rapid extinction of our glorious native ash.
      Christina Kobland recently posted..Happy Holidays

  5. Sue Sweeney says

    So, Christina, what is your solution for the white-tailed deer overpopulation? Do think it’s OK to let them strip the forests to the ground, killing the other animals and the forests themselves? Or to breed themselves to the point of starvation?

    • UrsulaV says

      Gotta agree with Sue–I think this is one of the points where people of goodwill can disagree. I myself am all for hunting, particularly as issues of Lyme and chronic wasting disease explode through populations deprived of their natural predators. Mind you, I am of the you-break-it-you-buy-it school of ecology—if you remove the predators and increase the food supply, you are honorbound to deal with the results!

      • says

        I agree, Ursula. We’ve wiped out the predators of deer and while reintroducing these predators might be a viable long-term solution (though I have my doubts) it isn’t a short-term solution.

        Fencing deer out of sensitive habitats is necessary, and reducing populations to viable levels via hunting is as good for deer as for people.
        Vincent Vizachero recently posted..New Post on the Downside to Biodiversity

    • says

      My solution to deer overpopulation is to bring back the top-line predators and to limit future human overpopulation. We humans have already exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity. Obviously, my solutions are considered radical in present day society and stand no chance of adoption.

      I am not opposed to sustenance hunting as I believe that’s nature’s way. Going out and slaughtering scores of innocent deer in one fell swoop, however, to me is inhumane and non-defensible. I live in a high density deer area and I study the family units they form. I see the disruption and change in their behavior when they lose their brothers, mothers and other family members. I am proud of the fact that I have this compassion, and I will never let anyone put me down for it. One lone fawn hung around here for weeks on end. It bothered me terribly.

      I also have never seen an emaciated or even underfed deer here, despite their high population density. The starvation argument in false.

      We humans set up a scenario that enables overpopulation of browsers. When the top-line predators are brought back, we wipe them out again, such as what happening with the wolves and coyotes.

      I don’t want to be pulled into this argument again. I have said my piece.
      Christina Kobland recently posted..Happy Holidays

      • says

        Christina, I do hope you won’t abandon the discussion–it’s only by talking about these things that we ever get anywhere!

        I recognize and respect your compassion for deer, however, saying “The starvation argument is false” based solely on lack of personal observation seems a trifle extreme. There are many, many DNR sites available to even the quickest perusal that lay out the issues with deer starvation in that particular region. Possibly your region is not laboring under such an issue, but a number of areas, including where my parents live (Michigan) suffers massive winter starvation among yearling deer.

        I would encourage you to continue the discussion, and also not to dismiss scientific findings out of hand–after all, how many gardeners have said “I’VE never seen that plant to be invasive?” over the years, to people grimly yanking out invasive weeds?

        • says

          The starvation argument in my area is false. I heard a local biology professor insist the Philadelphia deer were all starving. She lives in center city. I live amongst the deer. I have never seen a thin deer locally, let alone an emaciated one. So for my area, the starvation argument to validate their mass killing is false.

          As I said before, I do not wish to stray from my original purpose in writing this post to debate with others over the value of killing deer. It is counter-productive. Please respect my desire to keep the focus on the intended purpose of the post, i.e. what interested readers can do to benefit wildlife in their gardens.
          Christina Kobland recently posted..A Message From Wildlife To Humans: Our Recommended ‘Do Not Do’ List for 2013

          • says

            Certainly, if you wish! Just…well…be aware that the topic of wildlife management is near and dear to many of our hearts—we ARE wildlife gardeners, after all! So if you post a blog saying “Do Not Kill Wildlife” without noting possible exceptions to the rule, then odds are good a fair number of us, readers and writers both, are probably gonna jump in and say “Now hang on a minute, what about in this case, or this one, or this one? What about the nuanced case here and here?” and not consider it off-topic to the blog post at all.

            And frankly, I think the willingness to share different points of view is part of what makes this site a valuable resource for interested readers!
            Ursula Vernon recently posted..Starting the year with the Old Farmer

            • says

              I always hated the term wildlife management, and what it signifies. Some pretty despicable things have been done worldwide under the guise of wildlife management. If you lived in South Africa, for example, and elephants were invading your garden, would you kill them too? How about the wolves? The ranchers are upset about the increase in their numbers, and now they are subject to the killing spree. I can’t condone mass killing, in any form. It’s just not in my bones. I write about wildlife because I love wildlife. I cannot condone cruel measures when we are to blame.
              Christina Kobland recently posted..A Message From Wildlife To Humans: Our Recommended ‘Do Not Do’ List for 2013

              • says

                As I said, this is obviously a topic near and dear to many of our hearts!

                I won’t presume to speak to South Africa, since I know almost nothing about the forms of gardening best suited to the terrain, and live on a continent with only two significant large mammals prone to migrations (and caribou don’t come through North Carolina very often!) My personal expertise is worthless there, and I think each situation probably contains its own nuances.

                For wolves—particularly if we’re talking about introducing more of them as predators!—I think in low-population ranch land, my ideal solution would be to streamline the paperwork required to get government restitution for wolf-kills, combined with an agreement that if you are applying for such restitution, you will not be hunting or setting traps, subject to large fines and imprisonment. Such things being difficult to enforce, we’d also need to seriously beef up the task forces working on such things. I’d also make a big push to reintroduce shepherds as a necessary part of sheep-raising, which requires a cultural shift and will definitely up the price of wool goods. (Llamas are interesting, and might work as a second line of defense, but I think shepherds are gonna be essential in a wolf-heavy population.) Finally, I’d ideally like a substantial tax credit if you can prove that your land is currently part of a wolf pack’s territory, to make them a financial asset rather than a burden. (Possibly the DNR could pay “wolf-rent!”)

                None of that could happen over night, and would require a shift in the way ranchers think about wolves, since at the moment, they genuinely are an economic burden for some people right on the front lines, and unfortunately that’s led to a great deal of hatred and hysteria and belief that any dead animal must have been wolf-caused and all sorts of badness. I do think it’s fixable, but like everything else in this world, it costs money.

                As for reintroducing either wolves or cougars (who I’d think would be the go-to predators, as wolverines are very poor neighbors) to the suburbs to control the white-tail deer population, I think cougars are somewhat impractical and become acclimated to see people as food much too easily—but wolves…well, seems unlikely, but never say never. If we have this many problems when we reintroduce them to relatively low-population areas, though, I think it’s gonna be many, many, many years before I see them over my back fence. In the meantime, something has to be done about deer in areas where they’re suffering from their own success.

                My roundabout point here is that most of us here love wildlife. We clearly spend a lot of time thinking about wildlife. Believe me, I get that you hate the notion of wildlife being killed! Frankly, though, I don’t think any of us are out dancing in glee at the thought. I do not top off my martini with the blood of culled Canada geese. (I stick to gin.)

                But these are complex situations. Sometimes you have to kill the mongoose to save the flightless bird. Doesn’t mean anybody’s happy about it, but apply a broad ban on killing just leaves us with no flightless birds, and eventually, no mongooses either.
                Ursula Vernon recently posted..Starting the year with the Old Farmer

                • says


                  Sadly, you obviously have given this much more thought than the government has. You point out creative solutions to lower the devastating current pressure on the wolves, which I do think should be explored.

                  I think killing of wolves should be suspended while this matter is thoroughly studied by wildlife biologists with a deep understanding of the ramifications of loss of biodiversity. Their conclusions are the ones that should be acted upon, as opposed to those of politicians beholding to special interest groups. To me, this is an example of a ‘greater good’ issue. The importance of maintaining worldwide biodiversity — a ‘greater good’ issue — far exceeds isolated cases of economic burden. Your solution of compensating those who lose ranch animals to wolves would cost the taxpayers insignificant sums compared to the massive trickle-down environmental costs of killing these critical predators that keep populations of animals such as deer in check. If more attention is not given to worldwide land planning that includes preserving our precious biodiveristy, we will continue to lose what we have left, including a planet with the ability to support us humans.

                  Plus I like your idea of shepherds. I’ll bet many would find that an interesting lifestyle, given the overload of technology that is making some people’s heads go bonkers.
                  Christina Kobland recently posted..A Message From Wildlife To Humans: Our Recommended ‘Do Not Do’ List for 2013

  6. Bill says

    Thanks for your words and for your efforts. It’s difficult, sometimes, to allow the full ecosystem into our landscapes, but the rewards are great.

  7. Bill says

    I can’t imagine a garden without bugs and I don’t really see mice in my garden. I have plenty of squirrels, chipmunks and moles and they can all be irritating, but I let them be. OK, I do occasionally throw a pebble at a squirrel and I was happy to see a hawk carry one away not long ago.

  8. Jackie says

    Thank you for your ideas. We need to see these ideas in “regular” media as public service filler. They are always looking for stuff to put is extra space. What’s your take on bird feeders in the winter and year round??

  9. says


    If you have ideas on how to get this into the “regular” media, I’m all ears. It always amazes me how little emphasis there is on wildlife in the media. I’ve been working on a few ideas myself.

    Concerning bird feeders, I do feed year round. I do this because the birds have lost so much natural habitat and their food source has shrunk proportionately.
    Christina Kobland recently posted..A Message From Wildlife To Humans: Our Recommended ‘Do Not Do’ List for 2013

  10. says

    I love to see all the dandelions, clovers etc. growing in lawns. I know when I see this they are not using weed killers. I stress this to as many people as I can. The bunnies will take care of these weeds for you. The skunks will dig up the grubs and eat them. So what if you have a few holes in your lawn. Whats more important a weedless lawn or NATURE. Think about what damage you are doing to the beautiful gift we have been so fortunate to have in our lives “NATURE”

  11. says

    Thanks for this list, Christina! I’d like to use it in a ‘letter to the editor’ for our local paper. Would you mind? You’re not the only radical – there are many of us and it’s time we speak up! Let’s start working on those local township ordinances. We can do so much for wildlife by simply doing less…

  12. Bo Placebo says

    Are not cassia (bulbs) natives? Also, where deer are a problem we are suffering a downwards trendline in population so the statement about carrying capacity is just too complex to let pass without comment. Looking forward to hearing about the success of FlightTurf – what a great development!

  13. says

    Sadly, the no fence rule won’t work in my neighborhood as I need to protect my dogs from other dogs who are allowed to roam free and unleashed. But I live in the middle of the city, and there are no big wildlife migrations to be disrupted. The racoons and opossums (and feral cats) have no problems with my fence, and can scale it quite rapidly when the dogs are in the yard. There are no deer in my immediate neighborhood. I’ve got plenty of birds, butterflies, and native bees who are not bothered by my fence at all. So for me, a fence is a necessity. But my garden is full of many other wildlife habitat enhancements, so hopefully the benefits far exceed any negatives.
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Speaking at Todays Horticulture Symposium at Longwood Gardens


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