What you can do to help you nature neighbors.

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Look into conservation projects in your area.

This is probably the most beneficial to your local wild life areas. Here in Tennessee, there are 78 endangered species, 22 threatened species and 60 at-rick species according to the Fish and Wildlife website (on 9/16/2020). These numbers can and do change rather often. So if you really want to keep up with certain species or certain types of species, I would visit https://www.fws.gov/southeast/tennessee/ . You can also learn about specific projects in your area and with the species of interest that you want to help.

For example: The forgotten populations of freshwater mussels

The Cumberland Combshell (Epioblasma brevidens) is listed as endangered in Tennessee. It is found in the Clinch River and has been subject to a population decline as well as other bivalve mussels in the freshwater system of Tennessee. This species has been chosen to be used in experimental populations in specific areas, which can be found on the fws.gov website.

For example #2: If you like plants

The White Fringeless orchid (Platanthera integrilabia). This would be a great addition to a garden or a walking trail. This species does have a recovery outline on fws.gov that is worth a read. It is a perennial species that blooms from late July to early September. Typically likes flat, boggy areas around streams with acidic muck or sand according to the US Forest service. I used to see these plants along river banks, and as a child I imagined they were flower fairies (I know I was silly). This example leads me into the next topic.

Avoid using non-native plants.

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This is kind of a given but also kind of annoying to follow. You may have to do some research and ask some professionals. (Maybe after a few years I can be that professional). The Tennessee Invasive Plant Council has a master list and a lot of resources you can use. But mainly I want to point out two plants I see EVERYWHERE! First off is Kudzu. I see cities use it as vegetation for road ways and gaps in land. Honestly, I HATE THIS PLANT! It is super invasive and is known as “the vine that ate the south”! Now that I did my tiny rant for the day, lets talk about grass. You know you rEaLlY like that green soft lawns and golf courses. However, sometimes those grasses are actually invasive such as Scutch grass, Tall fescue, and Perennial ryegrass. Grasses such as these many look nice but can cause problems with the native grasses and flowers. One idea that I LOVE is using natural mosses in your lawn. They use less water and you don’t have to mow them. So WIN WIN. I will more than likely write an article about moss lawns soon.

Add feeders for birds and other small animals.

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You may think “why would I want to do that? I’ll have more squirrels!” Yes you will but you know what else you will have? Birds. Hawks. Chipmunks. Foxes. Deer. Any of those sound cute and cool? Yeah … alright then feed your squirrels.

There are over 100 common birds in Tennessee including small birds (such as finches, starlings and more), birds of prey (like hawks and BALD EAGLES!), turkeys, and water fowls. Many bird species have specific diets for the time of the year. So making sure you help your local bird friends find food may take some research. Also, it may be worth the note but some mixed seeds actually have invasive seeds in them so please please please do some reading.

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Tennessee is also home to 33 small mammals, such as rodents. Many of these species live in fields and under ground feeding on seeds, insects, plants and a lot of other things. Tiling in farms can harm these critters and their food sources. They also can serve as a food supply to larger animals such as foxes and hawks. You know how the food chain works. Plants get eaten by animals. Animals get eaten by other animals. And eventually we all get eaten by mushrooms and butterflies. (Yes butterflies can and will eat decaying flesh!)

Now as for large animals, please don’t leave food out for bears, coyotes, other large predators its very dangerous. This can get them used to not hunting and become dependent on humans for food. Which (now let me repeat my self) IS SUPER DANGEROUS! They will eat you if they want. Don’t make yourself their food source. If bears, coyotes, cougars, and wolves get hungry they can find their own food.

If you have a larger plot of land, plant crops that help feed herbivores.

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I suggest letting a small field be planted with corn, alfalfa, clover and other grasses, or any another mass food sources for deer and other critters. I also suggest planting berry bushes and fruit trees. However, this will attract bears as well so make sure to plant them away from your dwelling (and/or live stock if you have them).

Grazing mammals will also like to wander into gardens and crop fields to have a nibble or two. If you have small gardens, this could be damaging to yields. You can try to ward them off safely but lets be honest, a deer will eat what ever flower it thinks will taste good. Personally, I garden closer to my house and since I have dogs, I don’t seem to have a problem with greedy grazers.

If there is water (pond, stream, or lake) make sure it is “clean” and “stocked”.

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Take the time to have your water tested. There are multiple companies in Tennessee that do this. Some local governments may also do testing. Also, try and keep your water clean of litters, trash and other contamination. If you notice something wrong or weird contact the local FWS and EPA. You can also contact your local FWS to see if your pond can be stocked with aquatic species. Be it fish, frogs, freshwater mussels *cough cumberland combshells cough* or even salamanders.

Some farmers I know also allow TWRA and FWS to use their lands for wildlife management. I honestly have no idea how this works but it is something to look into.

Also, some things to keep in mind.

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Pesticides. Rain run off makes pesticides flow into local waters. So I advice organic growth. I know. I know. Organic comes with a lot weird rules and guild lines but it is worth it.

Farming. Like I said before tiling can be a problem. Add pesticides… (sigh) I just can’t push the idea of natural farming and non-harmful harvesting. But today’s world I do understand the draw backs and hesitation. It just makes me sigh.

Government protect projects and laws. Areas are different because local laws and projects. MAKE SURE TO CHECK WITH YOUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT! That way you don’t have fines for being nice to your nature neighbors.

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