Rewilding can seem counterintuitive for many homeowners. But it’s a straightforward land management practice with countless benefits. Unfortunately, myths about rewilding have prevented homeowners from considering it for their lawn. Let’s clear up some of these myths.
Myth #1: Lawns are better for kids
It’s the iconic American summer: kids in the front lawn run through the sprinkler while the ice-cream man drives past. A soccer ball that’s been kicked around all morning sits against the picket fence. Who wouldn’t want their kids to experience this?
Unfortunately, this scene is a fantasy. Most kids prefer to play video games inside the house, even in summer, rather than play outside. Nearly every house in the country has a lawn that kids could use, but they don’t. Kids need to play outside. So, where’s the disconnect?
The reality about kids and nature
Children love to explore, above all else. They don’t want to stand in the same grassy lawn they’ve stood in a thousand times and kick the same ball against a fence. They want to find out what’s under that rock. Or try to climb the big oak tree. They crave new experiences as they get to know the world more deeply. Rewilding isn’t just a source for educational opportunities, it’s also a chance for kids to feel free. They can explore secret places and make up stories about the things they find.
But what about outdoor safety?
Parents are hesitant to let their kids play in wilder places. There are seemingly higher risks, outside of the lawn. The outdoors is home to snakes, ticks, poison ivy, and other dangers. Isn’t it a parent’s duty to protect their child from these hazards?
Kids are going to become adults one day, and will need to fend for themselves. Learning to recognize risks like poison ivy will be important. As far as snakes and other animals, most encounters come from people harassing the animal. If kids are taught to leave wildlife alone, the risk drops to nearly zero. But what about bug bites and ticks? It’s true that being outside comes with the unfortunate reality of bug bites. But your kid will be OK, just itchy. Learning how to treat bug bites is another good skill for kids to have, and thorough tick-checks after play sessions will prevent tick-borne illnesses like Lyme Disease.
Myth #2: Rewilding is just letting weeds grow
Lawns across America are plagued by dandelions, clover, and crabgrass. Rewilding just encourages these weeds to spread out even more, doesn’t it?
Rewilding is definitely not a movement to grow more dandelions. In fact, the common dandelion, T. officinale, is not a native plant in the U.S. and so most successful rewilding efforts would not include it. It also happens to be edible and medicinal.
But dandelions aren’t a major factor for rewilding efforts. Instead, rewilding focuses on reintroducing native plants as much as possible. Homeowners may consider some native plants to be weeds, but most are beautiful, interesting, and unique.
The truth about weeds
The USDA keeps a list of the worst weeds in the U.S. It’s called the noxious weed list. This is a list of introduced plant species that are actively destroying the ecosystems of our country. Invasive noxious weeds displace native plants and provide limited or no benefit to native wildlife. Rewilding efforts fight hard to prevent the spread of these weeds by encouraging growth of native plants. These native plants are necessary for slowing the extinction of our native wildlife, especially birds.
When a landowner starts a rewilding project, they usually begin by removing all of the noxious weeds. Since these weeds are persistent, they usually need to be cut back or pulled several more times. Where are all these weeds coming from?
The source of all weeds
Want to know a secret? Every single invasive noxious weed in the United States was intentionally brought here. Every one. Homeowners who thought their house would look beautiful with a hedge brought privet from Europe that’s now found in every woodlot near a city. Sinophiles adorned their lots with the Asian ailanthus altissima or “Tree of Heaven” which immediately invaded our forests. Engineers planted kudzu across the southeast to control erosion. It quickly blanketed roadsides, choking out native plants across thousands of acres.
We can’t get rid of invasive plants now. Pandora’s box has been opened, and our environment has been damaged as a result. But we can help the environment heal by removing these noxious weeds and letting native plants grow in as many places as possible. Still think those dandelions are spoiling your neighborhood? Well, Bermuda Grass is on the noxious weed list, too.
Myth #3: Wild animals should be kept away from neighborhoods
Rewilding leads to healthier populations of wildlife. First the smallest things, insects, will move in to pollinate flowers and chomp on native plant leaves. Next, the birds, spiders, and other predators appear to snack on those tasty bugs. Eventually, larger members of the food web may appear to take their place in the natural ecology. But doesn’t that mean that bugs, spiders, and potentially dangerous animals will be right outside your door if you rewild?
Where are they now?
If you’re worried about wildlife getting too close to home, consider where they can survive today. Humans have destroyed or degraded nearly three quarters of the world’s land. Three quarters! With wildlife confined to only a quarter of the planet, can we really be surprised that we are entering the world’s sixth mass extinction event? Local wildlife needs as much space as we can provide.
Rewilding for habitat
Rewilding creates a habitat for native wildlife, and so homeowners will definitely catch sight of more bugs, birds, and small mammals. But those critters don’t want to come into your house. Mostly, they want to eat, mate, and shelter from predators and weather.
One of my neighbors relentlessly sprays pesticides in her lawn because she hates bugs. And guess what? She still has bugs. Bugs live outside. And they are the first link in the food chain. Bugs provide the invaluable service of converting plant matter into digestible food for other animals. Most insects are totally harmless to people, and even wasps and bees only sting when circumstances force them to do so.
Measuring rewilding success
Rewilding efforts immediately have a positive effect on local insect and bird populations. The sign of success is spotting some natural predators. If snakes and birds of prey appear in your neighborhood, it’s a success story, not a problem! If rewilding is widespread and successful, you may even get to see a fox or mink.
Starting to think about rewilding?
Rewilding is a huge decision for many landowners, but there’s no need to rush into it. Unlawning gives you the opportunity to rewild a small portion of your lawn while keeping the aesthetics and usability of your grass lawn. Check out our unlawning guide to learn everything you need to know to rewild thoughtfully.