Kids and adults constantly ask questions about how they can help wildlife. They wonder: Can one person really do anything to help? Here, in my state? How can I personally make a difference?
We get overwhelmed thinking about all of the threats that face wildlife and the natural areas that they rely on. Through amazing nature shows with breathtaking scenery and stunning footage, we see wildlife all over the world facing serious issues like pollution, climate change and overharvesting.
We’re hooked and we want to help, but we don’t know where to start. There is, however, great news. We don’t have to save the world all at once. It begins with small steps, right in our own backyard.
Palmetto state is blessed with special places
South Carolina is blessed with an incredible diversity of natural resources that are beautiful and accessible. There are many different habitat types, from mountain streams, the rolling piedmont to the sandhills with longleaf pine. There’s verdant and the coastal plain with bottomland hardwood forest as well as highly productive saltmarshes and expansive beaches. These diverse habitats provide for an incredible array of wildlife.
The southeast United States is a worldwide hotspot for reptile and amphibian biodiversity and holds an amazing number of salamanders, frogs and snakes. American alligators are common all along the coastal plain, and we have four species of sea turtles in the waters off our coast.
In addition, black bears are common in the mountains and in the upper coastal plain. Bobcats are abundant along the coast and now are also increasing in numbers in the piedmont.
We see hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds. Prothonotary warblers migrate from Colombia, South America, and breed here in our state. Purple martins migrate from Brazil, and the first and largest roost on the East Coast is right in the middle of our state on Lake Murray. Shorebirds like red knots and whimbrels migrate from South America all the way to the Arctic tundra and have critical stopover points on our beaches. Roseate spoonbills are increasing in number along our coast as their range shifts northward.
Monarch butterflies, which have seen drastic reductions in populations, migrate from Canada to Mexico, and have now been found to overwinter in South Carolina’s Lowcountry also.
All of our wildlife, the native plants they depend on and the amazingly beautiful places that we cherish for vacations, for outdoor recreation, for solace — all of this is in jeopardy. There are threats in the form of new housing developments, invasive species, pollution, increased storms, flooding issues and so much more, right here in South Carolina.
How you can help daily
Thankfully, there are small things that each of us can do which will really make a difference, especially when we educate others about our actions.
One step is right outside your own door. You can create a Backyard Wildlife Habitat with native plants, sources of freshwater and nesting boxes. Even a small yard can be certified by the National Wildlife Federation after providing food, water, cover and places to raise young. This action has a big impact for wildlife and gives you the opportunity to educate your neighbors and spread the word throughout your community. Habitat gardens can also be created at parks, libraries, churches, schools and businesses. Your entire town could be a certified Community Wildlife Habitat. You can find out more information about habitat gardening at: scwf.org/habitats
It also is important to think about all our actions and how they might impact wildlife. Children are watching, so demonstrate positive actions. Examples: Buy sustainably-sourced meat and produce, take reusable bags to the grocery store, skip the straw at restaurants, pick up litter. Even your morning cup of coffee has an impact on wildlife. Switching to shade-grown coffee protects valuable habitat in the winter range of many of our songbirds.
Take extra steps to disconnect kids from electronics and help them connect with nature. Take them to parks, subscribe them to Ranger Rick magazine and help their teachers find environmental education materials.
For more information on connecting with nature, visit scwf.org. Increase your impact even further by donating to help provide school programs, teacher workshops, nesting boxes and advocacy programs.
Sara Green, a longtime wildlife educator, is executive director of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, now in its 91st year. More: scwf.org