“We are part of this world. We can keep kind of tugging at things and changing things just a little bit, but sooner or later it’s gonna give to where we’re not part of the world anymore,” Missouri Department of Conservation naturalist Austin Lambert said.
Missouri aquatic turtles swim to the bottom of a pond and bury themselves in mud to get through the winter. However, most Missouri wildlife isn’t as lucky. They have to make it through the winter on what resources they can find. However, the trees you have in your backyard may not be helping them through this period.
Invasive species, non-native plants and human development has made winters tough on wildlife in the area. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) fights against these disappearing habitats by preserving the environment and promoting public awareness.
The MDC hosted a zoom event with guest speaker Kim Cole, outreach coordinator for Pheasants and Quail Forever. Cole spoke to over 100 concerned Missourians about what they could do to help wildlife during the winter.
“When we look at winter, there’s less places to hide, less places to reside. That can lead to more competition between wildlife,” Cole said. “They’re trying to find food sources, stay warm and get through to spring when those resources come back.”
Although some animals have adapted to winter conditions, like the aquatic turtles, most have not. Habitat loss is a big obstacle wildlife faces during the winter.
MDC naturalist Austin Lambert cites human disturbances as a major cause of habitat loss. Lambert works at the Runge Nature Center in Jefferson City.
“People coming through and cutting down all the trees and then plowing it is a major form of disturbance that really sets back what we call succession,” Lambert said.
Succession is the steps a habitat needs to take to return to its natural state.
Yard landscaping also blocks succession. Realistically, most yards are not going to return to their natural states. However, Missourians can still take simple actions to make a difference.
“If you have things like Bradford pear or Burning Bush planted in your yard, get rid of those things,” Lambert said.
Lambert warns emphatically against planting non-native plants. Instead, he advises to plant native trees and then landscape your yard with native wildflowers.
“Roses are pretty, but we have some things that are native that are just as pretty,” he said.
Native plants benefit wildlife by providing food sources, shelter from the weather and cover from predators.
“Diversity is key when it comes to those natives,” Cole said.
This diversity can be achieved through varying bloom periods, flower shape, color and plant structure.
Invasive species pose a worse threat than non-native plants. The most important invasive species to know about are bush honeysuckle, autumn olives and red cedars. Red cedars are native to Missouri, but they overtake habitats so easily that they are treated like invasive species.
Managing invasive species is a big part of Lambert’s job.
“We’re constantly either cutting or spraying those types of things,” Lambert said. “A lot respond to fire very easily. Fire really burns them up to where they can’t live anymore, while our native species have evolved with that ability.”
Knowing about and thwarting invasive species on your own property is an easy step to take. Simply putting out bird suet, fresh water and mowing your lawn less often will make winters easier on wildlife. These conservation tactics help secure a better future for the human race as well.
“We are part of this world. We can keep kind of tugging at things and changing things just a little bit, but sooner or later it’s gonna give to where we’re not part of the world anymore,” Lambert said. “It’s gonna respond to us and probably affect us in some major way and affect our survival.”