GUIDELINES FOR ESTABLISHING OR ASSESSING HABITAT
Habitat can be defined as land that supports ecosystem services such as biodiversity, soil and water conservation, carbon sequestration, air quality and human benefit. Habitat can be multi-acre tracts, called mosaic, along waterways or right-of-ways, called linear, or small parcels when in proximity are called stepping stone habitat.
The value of habitat increases when enlarged and/or contiguous to form a greenway or corridor. Since so much land in the Chicago area is privately owned, there is more opportunity to expand habitat by engaging property owners to improve and link their land into viable habitat corridors.
Criteria for Viable Habitat
Habitat that provides ecosystem services includes:
- Native plants- forbs, grasses, trees and shrubs
- Water management-rain barrels, rain gardens, erosion control, water-loving plants, rain-permeable pavement/walkways, lake/stream bank buffer
- Wildlife habitat-sources of food for birds, butterflies and other pollinators, nesting sites, water sources, shelter
- Control of invasive species
- Reduced/minimal turf grass lawn
- Earth-friendly maintenance practices-minimal use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer, composting, appropriate mulching
The scope of these elements will vary with the size and location of the property. A small lot may have only a few native trees and shrubs, with perhaps a border garden of native plants. It could support a birdbath, a birdhouse and feeders and eliminate pesticides and fertilizer. A large lot- perhaps an acre or more- should aim to eliminate invasives and replace them with native shrubs and trees; over time replace the amount of lawn with native grasses and forbs and replace lawn under trees with native shade plants, native groundcovers or leaf mulch. In all cases, soil should be amended with compost, not fertilizer.
CLC will have available checklists of native plants for specific conditions, sources of native plants and seeds, maps of area preserves and privately-owned habitat restorations, established habitat development programs, and lists of experts to tap for advice or assistance in developing or improving habitat on private property.