Vernal pool

Visitors explore a vernal pool at Kings Gap State Park in Cumberland County, PA. 

Happy New Year! Did you make any resolutions? Have you broken any yet?

I have never been a big fan of the whole ritual, mostly because I tend to choose New Year’s resolutions that are simply too hard to keep. But with a new year upon us, we often feel obliged to make changes in our lives or turn over a new leaf. So, if you’re like me and need to keep it simple and realistic, here are a few easy actions that will support your environment, health and community. 

Replace some lawn with native plants

To stay lush and green, lawn grass requires fertilizing, constant watering and mowing. Nutrients in chemical fertilizers, like nitrogen and phosphorus, can run off from yards into local waterways and eventually drain into the Chesapeake Bay, where they provide fuel for algae blooms. When you decrease the size of your lawn, you decrease nutrient input into the Bay — not to mention cutting back on water consumption and reducing air pollution by mowing less. Pound for pound, gas lawn mowers are far worse than modern cars when it comes to harmful emissions.

Also, native plants, shrubs, ground covers and trees that are already suited to your local conditions require much less energy and attention than turf grass — and they provide food and shelter for local wildlife.

Don’t litter

This may seem like a no-brainer, but take a walk along any street or country road and notice all the trash. It’s everywhere, and all it takes is a little wind or rain to move garbage from the edge of the road to waterways and the Bay.

Much of what you see are plastic products that don’t break down easily. Birds and fish often mistake plastic fragments for viable food. Even if you don’t litter, keep a bag in your car or boat or with you when you’re out and about. Don’t just walk past litter, muttering under your breath; bag it and dispose of it. Recycle cans, glass and paper, and compost yard waste.

Conserve and protect water

The more water we use, the more we must treat — either in wastewater treatment plants or septic systems. To reduce water use, repair leaking faucets inside and out.

Inside the house, consider replacing conventional faucets with low-flow types. The same goes for toilets. Also avoid doing small loads of laundry; fill that washer up to make the most of every gallon of laundry water. Everything that goes down the drain eventually ends up in waterways.

Household cleaning products, car care products and paints are just a few of the chemicals that people in the U.S. dump down their drains every day. Sewage treatment plants and septic systems can’t remove all of the substances from the water. Dispose of chemicals properly and, where possible, substitute environmentally safe alternatives to chemical cleaners.

Become involved in local issues

We don’t always like the decisions made by our county, city or local community. But often those decisions are about issues that we don’t pay attention to until it’s too late.

There are many environmental organiztions that provide citizens with information about local, state or national issues. Water-shed organizations focus their efforts on issues that affect the land draining into a particular waterway. By joining a local environmental organization, watershed group or community association, you can stay informed about local issues. And don’t settle for just being informed; insert yourself into the decision-making process.  

Experience your world

Everyday responsibilities consume so much time that we often lose connection with our natural world and its importance. Make an effort to get out and experience the natural world. If you have children or elders in your life, take them with you.

If there is a break in the cold weather, put on your rubber boots and explore that little stream that runs through the woods near your house. Turn over some rocks to see what is there. Listen for birds and frogs. Explore a marsh, swamp, forest or meadow. Trudge through the snow. Splash in the rain. Look for spring’s first blooms. Hike a hill. Watch a sunset. Lie in a field and look at the night sky. Catch a moon rise. The more we know and experience our home, our planet, the more likely we are to help conserve the things we love about it.

You may think these small actions won’t really help your local community, much less the Chesapeake. But consider this: Everyone living in the Bay watershed is within minutes of one of more than 100,000 tributaries that eventually drain into the Bay.

Today, more than 18 million people live, work and play in the Bay watershed. If each of us commits to simple changes, the combined impact can be huge.

Kathryn Reshetiloff, a Bay Journal columnist, is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis.

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