PEC Tour Focuses on Restoring Local Habitats

The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) is offering a chance to see what Clarke County landowners are doing to improve wildlife habitats on their properties and at the same time improve the environmental sustainability for across our region.

“Increasingly, local landowners are taking  the initiative to restore habitat and they’re seeing real changes in the  landscape and the animals that use it“ said Rose Jenkins, communications specialists for PEC’s Albemarle county office.

The May 15 tour will stop at two privately owned Clarke County properties as well as the State Arboretum and is part of PEC’s new Sustainable Habitat Program  designed to help interested landowners  increase wildlife habitat on their land, be it hundreds of acres  or a small garden.

PEC hired Dr. Kim Winter a year ago to run the new program.

“From my  perspective as PEC’s Sustainable Habitat Program Manager, the objective  of our habitat/garden tours is to allow landowners the opportunity to see  conservation practices on the ground in their own communities” said Dr. Winter. “With  access to the internet, there’s no paucity of information about how to build a  pond, convert to native grasslands, farm organically, or restore a  watershed. But when provided with the opportunity to see an actual farm,  horse pasture, restored riparian buffer, or garden in its full springtime  glory, tour participants will light up with inspiration.”

Winter said that the tour will also give participants the  chance  to ask questions about what works and doesn’t work, get tips on how to get  started on their own properties, make a short list of the native plants  they  see and what species of wildlife they’ll sustain, and network with the  other visitors about what they’ve tried at home.

“The likelihood that participants in the tour will  take what they’ve learned and put it into practice is tremendously  increased  by having hands-on experience with habitat and with the wildlife” Winter said.

PEC’s Sustainable Habitat Program is particularly suited to Clarke County. Clarke’s rural landscape includes large stretches of river and stream  frontage mixed with many cattle and horse farms. Traditional farming practices that allow livestock direct access to natural waterways and sensitive vegetation areas have the potential not only to harm the local environment but can cause harm on a global level as well. Nutrient runoff from small farms has been cited as a major pollution source for the Chesapeake Bay. Widespread habitat destruction caused by indiscriminate land use practices has led to decreases in the population of many animal species and an overall decline on biodiversity across the Mid-Atlantic region.

A Bald Eagle soars over Clarke County, Virginia - Photo courtesy Beverly Pearce

PEC is hoping that an increased awareness of habitat restoration in Clarke County, as well as throughout the northern Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont, will begin to reverse past damage as landowners consider more environmentally sustainable methods for managing their properties.

“We are looking at this as an  opportunity  to highlight some model properties and connect Clarke residents with some  wonderful local resources – the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center and the Blandy  Experimental Farm – right there in their backyard” Winter said. “If residents choose  to put their land into conservation easement after getting more information  about the process, great. If they go an extra step and decide to convert  some of their property into native wildlife habitat that might also  connect the landscape into Blandy and other large tracts of protected land, even  better!”

Winter said that a major advantage of the Sustainable Habitat tour is that it will provide participants with a chance to see what works, as well as what doesn’t work, in an actual land use setting.

“One landowner that we will visit has done a lot of work to repair the riparian buffers along streams and ponds and now has seen an increase in fish and aquatic organisms” Winter said. “At the same time everything doesn’t always work out on the first try. The landowner also planted several hundred trees in the riparian areas and most did not survive. The tour will let participants see what works and what doesn’t work.”

Winter described another stop on the tour that will feature a property being converted from manicured English gardens populated by imported ornamental plants into food producing plots filled with native plant species.

The tour will also include a presentation by the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center featuring native animals that return to areas where habitat has been restored.

“Folks who attend the tour will also learn about the many animal species that can be attracted to their property when native plant species are restored” Winter said.

The Clarke County Wildlife-Friendly Habitats & Gardens Tour is Sunday, May 15th from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. A few seats are still available but participants are encouraged to register before May 10. The price for the event is $25.

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