Environmental and Conservation Articles

For the Love of Birds

by Holly Kocet, The Garden Club of Newtown, FGCCT Environmental & Conservation Co-Chair

The arrival of spring brings a flurry of activity with birds returning to join our winter birds in preparation for a new breeding season. Here are few things to keep in mind to help our avian friends:

  1. Lights Out for Bird Migration – April 1 thru May 31. Most migratory birds travel over Connecticut at night because temperatures are cooler and winds less turbulent. They rely on dark skies, navigating by the moon and stars. Artificial lighting attracts and disorients birds which leads

    Night Sky

    to collisions with windows and other reflective materials. According to Menunkatuck Audubon, “the result is catastrophic: Almost 1 billion birds are killed in the United States every year.”

This spring, we can help prevent fatal collisions of returning migratory birds by flipping off the lights between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. LightsOutCT.org suggests the following:

  • Turn off all unnecessary outdoor and decorative lighting.
  • Extinguish spot and flood lights.
  • Down-shield exterior lights so they don’t spill over to areas not needed.
  • Install motion detectors and timers to control lights.
  • Reduce blue (cool) lights harmful to many animal species.
  • Turn off nonessential interior lighting, especially on upper floors.
  • When working at night, keep indoor light indoors, draw shades and drapes.

Minimizing outdoor lighting also preserves moths. Both adult moths and caterpillars are a large part of a birds’ diet.  Moths attracted to lights become exhausted and perish during the night.

  1. Cats need to Stay Indoors. It is estimated that cats kill hundreds of millions of birds every year. While cats are just doing what comes naturally, we humans can prevent this needless killing.

It is a myth that cats are not truly happy unless they can go outdoors. I’ve heard it said that outdoor stimulation prevents destructive behavior like scratching furniture. In fact, this destructive behavior is more an indicator of an underlying issue. Consulting with a veterinarian can be helpful. Often something as simple as adding a scratching post or playscape solves the problem.

Another myth is that if a cat has always been allowed outdoors, transitioning to indoors is impossible. Nothing can be further from the truth. Feral cats aside, outdoor cats can make this transition and they are healthier for it. Fluffer-nutter, a female longhair, was abandoned and living in an outbuilding for several years at my husband’s place employment. When it became possible, she was captured, taken to the Vet for a well visit and brought home. After only a few months, Fluffer-nutter settled in to her comfy new surroundings with absolutely no interest in going outdoors. This story has been repeated since with other rescues, both male and female.

And, indoor cats are healthier and safer. Allowing them to roam increases their risk of contracting an infectious disease, picking up fleas and ticks, and non-targeted poisoning. Other potential risks include cars and predators such as dogs and coyotes. The chore of cleaning a litterbox is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that our pet is safe while preventing the needless slaughter of innocent songbirds.

  1. Birds must have Indigenous Plants. Local natives provide the very best food, shelter and nesting sites that birds need for survival and reproduction. Plants introduced from Europe and Asia are not helpful. “Replacing native plant communities with non-native vegetation can devastate native insect

    Bird w berry

    biomass. When plants that share an evolutionary history with insect herbivores are replaced by non-native ornamental or invasive plant species, insect biomass per unit area can be reduced by up to 96%.” (Richard et al. 2019, Tallamy et al. 2020).

Butterflies, moths and other insects lay their eggs on indigenous plants because their leaves are food. Most rely on specific host plants in order to survive and prosper. Hungry birds seek out native plants to find these insects. Nestlings are fed caterpillars almost exclusively because they are soft, easily digested and nutritious.  It has been reported that between 6000-9000 caterpillars are required to raise a single clutch of baby chickadees. Additionally, adult moths are an important food source for many birds including, but not limited to, flycatchers and whippoorwills. So important are moths to the food web that they outnumber butterfly populations 16:1. We need not worry that plants will be defoliated however, because birds reduce this risk by the sheer volume of caterpillars consumed.

Food, shelter and nesting sites go hand in hand. And no plant illustrates this better than our native hawthorns (genus Crateagus). Hawthorns might just be the perfect tree for birds. Not only do hawthorns host 159 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars, but their dense branches keep nests secure during severe storms. Thorned branches add additional protection from predators. Finally, migrating birds returning home in spring will still find some berries to welcome them back.

Many native trees and shrubs have nutritious berries that are high in fats. Migrating songbirds rely on these plants to fuel their migration. Some high-quality berry plants include bayberry (Myrica (Morella) pensylvanica), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), spicebush, (Linderal benzoin) and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).

I recently read an opinion that opportunistic birds will readily make poor food choices; not unlike the irresistible temptation of a fast-food offering. I do not believe this is true for birds. A study published in Biological Conservation, (2020) shows that, even when exotic fruits are more abundant, “birds usually

Large seed Hawthorn

prefer and seek out native fruits,” Just as pollinators prefer plants they co-evolved with, birds do prefer plants with indigenous fruits, seeds and berries. Birds instinctively know they must choose fruits that contain the fats, carbohydrates and nutrients needed to survive the cold winter months. But when introduced plants from Europe and Asia are all they can find, they have to settle for nutrient poor berries. That is why we need to make better plant choices in our landscapes – adding indigenous plants, trees and shrubs.

There is nothing wrong with supplementing native berry and seed plants with bird feeders when temperatures plummet, especially during snowstorms and in late winter when many seeds and berries are depleted. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, nighttime poses a challenge for surviving cold temperatures. Birds can shiver all night and deplete their fat reserves. The next day is crucial for them to replenish these reserves so they can survive the next night. Supplementing with high energy foods like black oil sunflower and suet can make all the difference until the weather moderates and insects and supporting plants emerge.

  1. Water is So Important. Providing water all during the year is critical for birds, especially when no natural water source exists. Birds need water to rehydrate, preen their feathers to remove mites, and for reproduction. A birdbath or fountain with fresh clean water is important, especially when summer temperatures climb. Birds, like all creatures, need to quench their thirst. Water is often inaccessible in

    Bird at bath

    winter, under cover of ice and snow. Providing water for birds is even more critical during cold weather because water helps them align their feathers for insulation and waterproofing. Heated birdbaths work really well. Models that attach to deck railings are most convenient for monitoring and refilling as necessary.

 

Our reward in caring for birds is the thrill of watching our favorite avian flyer, be it cardinal, chickadee, or finch, taking sips or splashing around in a birdbath we provide. And with lots of native plants, trees and shrubs, you can be assured that birds will find your yard attractive. Often said and so very true, “if you plant it, they will come.”

Photos courtesy of Menukatuck Audubon Society, GoBotany, and Holly Kocet.

Japanese Knotweed –An Existential Threat

by Holly Kocet, The Garden Club of Newtown, FGCCT Environmental & Conservation Co-Chair

Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum syn. Fallopia japonica) is native to Asia and is one of the most invasive plants in the world.  An herbaceous perennial and a member of the buckwheat family, knotweed was introduced to North America in the 1870’s for its ornamental appeal and to stabilize streambanks. This plant is an aggressive invader of forest edges, wetlands, stream corridors, and drainage ditches in Connecticut and across the country.

Knotweed has several identifiable and unmistakable characteristics. Emerging in early spring, new growth is

Knotweed Foliage

bright purple with furled, spear-shaped leaves resembling asparagus. The stems of knotweed are bright green in color and flecked with red. Hollow bamboo-like stems can grow to a height of 11 feet. Leaf petioles have a reddish tinge and an obvious zig-zag habit. Leaves are shaped like a garden spade with a straight back and can be up to 6 inches long. Aromatic and finger-like blooms appear in late summer.

How does Japanese Knotweed spread? Knotweed reproduces primarily by vegetative regeneration of rhizomes, (horizontal underground stems) and above-ground crown material. The crowns on a mature knotweed plant can be massive but what’s going on below ground is even more concerning – an extensive network of rhizomes from which many shoots will sprout. Orange in color, rhizomes will snap like a carrot when attempting removal. Even very small fragments of above and below ground plant material can give rise to new plants. Knotweed thrives on disturbance, both by natural means and with human activity. Transportation of soil containing rhizome fragments is a major cause of knotweed spread.

What kind of problems are associated with Japanese Knotweed? While it is not believed knotweed damages structures that are sound, it is opportunistic. If there is a weakness such as a gap or crack in pavement or concrete, knotweed will infiltrate these areas. Damage can occur to pavement, walls, foundations and outbuildings. And, it is easily spread during landscaping and development activities.

Mature stands of Japanese Knotweed are aesthetically displeasing, especially as they accumulate litter along roadsides, parks and open spaces. Substantial in size, knotweed can be a significant sightline hazard for motorists. Eradicating large infestations can be a laborious and expensive. An infestation might devalue a property, or a new home buyer may unwittingly inherit a knotweed problem.

The ecological impact of knotweed is significant. It thrives in a variety of habitats. Once established, it forms large, dense stands, displacing native flora and fauna. It is a serious threat to riparian areas where it can survive severe flooding. Stems can wash into rivers and streams and quickly colonize shores and islands. Knotweed stands can restrict access to riverbanks. The litter that accumulates in knotweed stalks can also suppress native flora, thereby reducing habitat for wildlife.

Knotweed Infestation

What is it about knotweed that makes it so prolific? Well, for one thing, it is not fussy. It grows in a variety of soil types and doesn’t mind poor soil. It is an extremely hardy species. In Japan, it thrives in bare volcanic gravel and lava fields beneath Mount Fuji and even above the tree line. Knotweed is also an extremely active plant. A single stand of knotweed can produce more than 230 shoots. In this way, it forms monocultures, suppressing everything else.

What makes knotweed so difficult to deal with? 1) Rhizome growth is extensive – rhizomes grow laterally up to 7 feet from any visible growth and even farther if rhizomes follow a natural or man-made channel in the ground. 2) Rhizomes can reach depths of 3 yards or more, making removal even more difficult. 3) Knotweed rhizomes can actually remain dormant for up to 20 years.

The most effective control method for Japanese knotweed is to prevent its establishment in the first place – monitoring our yards, borders and roadsides and removing newly established plants before they become established. Proper disposal is important. Knotweed should never be placed in brush piles or town landfills. Green Shoots, a company that specializes in invasive plant control, suggests putting shoots in a black plastic bag in full sun to dry out before disposing as trash.

Japanese Knotweed is on the CT Invasive Plant List. As such, it is “prohibited from importation, movement, sale, purchase, transplanting, cultivation and distribution under CT General Statute 22a-381d.”

The CT Invasive Plant Working Group’s (CIPWG) Invasive Management Calendar cautions that cuttings left on the ground provide opportunity for regeneration and further spread. And a study by Jones et al. 2020, concluded that cutting and mowing doesn’t destroy knotweed. There are “No examples of successful long-term invasive knotweed management using this treatment program.” And because mowing is a very efficient way of spreading knotweed, it is concerning that road crews continue to mow knotweed along our roadways.

There is no question Japanese Knotweed is a serious threat to landowners and the environment. Large stands are difficult to eradicate. However, serious and thoughtful consideration should always be given when considering chemical treatments and their impact(s). That is why seeking the advice of a licensed chemical applicator with experience in the treatment of Japanese Knotweed and with an understanding the plant’s physiology is important. While a homeowner might want to get rid of this plant as soon as possible, it is a mistake to treat a knotweed plant too early when carbohydrates are being sent to new growth in stems and leaves. Any herbicide applied at this time will only cause top-kill and not be carried down to the rhizomes. A study done by Jones et al. 2018 determined that late season chemical applications are most effective in controlling knotweed. Knotweed control specialists agree that treatment is most effective when done in late autumn after flowers have passed but before the first killing frost.

Despite all the negative aspects of Japanese Knotweed, this is an invasive that might be controlled and even eradicated in our towns and cities. Unlike Japanese Barberry and Winged Euonymus (Burning Bush), that have overtaken our forests and wild areas, I do believe there is hope for Japanese Knotweed. But we have to let our representatives know of our concerns. Several state legislators have told me that if they don’t hear from their constituents, they focus their attention on other issues. Legislation is needed to address invasive species in our state and especially for Japanese Knotweed.

The United Kingdom has been dealing with Japanese Knotweed for many years. While it is not against the law to have knotweed on your property in the U.K., homeowners cannot allow knotweed to spread into wild areas or encroach on neighboring properties. Also, mortgage lenders in the U.K. are reluctant to lend on a property where knotweed has been identified. There is no question that knotweed negatively impacts the aesthetic value of a property. It should never not be allowed to encroach on neighboring property.

There are many groups around the state actively battling invasives…land trusts, gardeners, conservation groups.  I would like to take a minute to extend my appreciation to all the garden clubs and individuals who are doing this work in their towns. I would especially like to recognize the West Hartford Garden Club for their work at Spicebush Swamp Park, removing invasive Buckhorn and replacing with native species. I would also like to thank the Westport Garden Club for their work at Grace K. Salmon Park in removing invasives such as the dreaded Tree-of-Heaven and this hellish invader, Japanese Knotweed. Stars All.

Let’s Make Some Noise — About Noise!

by Holly Kocet, Garden Club of Newtown & Co-Chair, FGCCT Conservation Committee

In days long past, our neighborhoods were quieter, especially on Sunday. Noisy leaf blowers were non-existent so people raked their leaves. Dads made piles for kids to jump in and leaves found their way to the compost pile eventually. There wasn’t the expectation that every leaf remnant needed to be swept away. It was understood that mulched leaves were free fertilizer.

Things sure have changed. There is no argument that these power tools have made our lives easier but at what cost? Before the advent of these noisy machines, you could hear birds chirping and bees buzzing. Now it’s just a constant din of high-powered mowers, leaf blowers, string trimmers and chain saws.

And these machines have gotten louder. My neighbor’s Xero Turn mower sounds like a Boeing 727 taking off. Most lawn care companies use these machines too because they are fast and easily maneuverable around obstacles like trees and gardens. Because these mowers turn on a dime, the operator can really fly, effectively tearing the turf in the process, leaving scars resembling crop circles.

Gasoline-powered leaf blowers also have serious downfalls, not least of which is noise pollution, which can lead to permanent hearing loss. Popular commercial blowers emit low frequency noise that exceeds 100 decibels. Low frequency noise carries over long distances and even permeates structures. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), hearing loss occurs with prolonged exposure to 85 decibels.

High-power blowers and mowers also can cause respiratory harm when they stir up clouds of dust that contain pollen, mold, animal feces, heavy metals and chemicals from pesticides. And when gasoline and oil are mixed in these devices, they emit carbon monoxide and cancer-causing particulate matter inhaled by the operator and others in close proximity.

Environmental Harm. A recent study showed that operating a two-stroke gasoline blower for 30 minutes emits as many hydrocarbons as a Ford F-150 driving from Texas to Alaska. And while automobiles are regulated for carbon emissions, there are no regulations for any of these small off-road engines.

Blowing Leaves Kills Beneficial Insects. “The fallen leaf layer is actually really important wildlife habitat,” according to David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. “All sorts of creatures rely on [leaf cover] for their survival as a place where they can find food and cover, and in many cases even complete their life cycle.” This is true for native bees, butterflies, moths, fireflies and other beneficial insects that overwinter as adults, larvae or eggs. For example, a bumble bee queen overwinters all alone in a very shallow burrow, so leaf cover is critical for her survival. Moths and their caterpillars need protection because they are a hugely important food source for birds and other wildlife species. Wonder why firefly numbers aren’t what they used to be? In addition to loss of habitat and pesticides, we’re also blowing firefly larvae to smithereens!

It also makes good sense to leave the leaves in beds and gardens over winter to protect plant roots. Blowing leaves out of gardens is not recommended. Leaf cover protects plants from desiccation that occurs over winter when moisture is lacking as well as from the freezing and thawing that occurs in late winter. Leaves are also rich in nutrients, not treated with dyes as are commercial mulches, and they’re free!

Providing “soft landings” around trees is something people are catching onto for protecting beneficial insects. As E.O. Wilson put it, they are “the little things that run the world.” Planting under trees with perennials, ground covers and ferns and allowing leaves to fall where they may is ideal. Not only is this cover helpful to beneficial critters but the planted area acts as a buffer, protecting tree trunks from the overzealous weed-whacking that could damage trees. No need for mulch. Leaves not only offer protection but add nutrients that ensure healthy and beautiful plants. And soft landing areas also save time (and money) when most of us would rather being doing just about anything else than cleaning up leaves this time of year.

“Leave the Leaves” has become a popular slogan. Not to say heavy layers of leaves must be left on lawn areas. But leaves are nutrient-rich so leaving some mulched leaves will benefit the lawn. Small leaves like maples will shrivel as they dry and are easily reduced by mower mulching. Of course, when leaves are heavier, a mower bagger makes sense. Bagged contents can then be added to plant beds for added protection or placed in a designated compost area to create rich garden soil. We want to avoid leaf blowers when we can.

These days, we are asked to rethink our garden practices, especially for large manicured lawns that require huge inputs of fertilizers, chemicals and water. These are dead zones for any kind of wildlife and significant polluters of our streams and aquifers. Lawn chemical manufacturers effectively lure landowners with their promise of a healthy green lawn. In truth, their products are neither healthy or “green.” Reducing lawn areas is a healthier solution. And hopefully this will reduce the use of deafening leaf blowers that contribute to polluting our air and spoiling our communities.

Kudos to the Town of Westport for their ordinance, approved in January, limiting the use of gas-powered backpack and handheld leaf blowers. The ordinance specifies hours during which both gas-powered and electric-powered leaf blowers can be used. It further prohibits the use of these gas-powered blowers on any state and federal holiday and even prohibits their use on Sundays! Also, beginning in May 2024, residents may not use gas-powered hand-held or backpack blowers during summer months (May 15 – Oct. 15). While Westport’s ordinance doesn’t cover the large blower machines or restrict fall cleanup activity, it is certainly a step in the right direction and the only town thus far to address leaf blowers as a serious health concern.

There is no question we would be far better off without the disturbance caused by these high-powered machines. Our songbirds and other wildlife would not be subjected to noise that disturbs and frightens them. We would preserve overwintering beneficial insects. Even our pets, frightened by loud noises, would be happier. And our neighborhoods would be quieter, more peaceful and healthier places to live.

Protecting Our Watersheds, Our Aquifers, Our Water and Livelihoods

by Holly Kocet, Garden Club of Newtown & Co-Chair, FGCCT Conservation Committee

A watershed is an area of land through which rainwater drains above or below ground to a common low point, be it a stream, river, lake, or ocean. Since all land is part of a watershed, we all live on a watershed. Therefore, the actions we take on our land can impact (positively or negatively) the quality of water that flows from our watershed. And, as water flows through this system, the impacts are cumulative. This means that everything one does on their property can impact the water that flows to a neighbor downstream. Likewise, everything landowners do above you will impact the quality and quantity of water flowing through your land.

Most of Connecticut’s rivers eventually flow into Long Island Sound. According to Save the Sound, nitrogen is the primary pollutant threatening the Sound. Sources of nitrogen include waste treatment plants, septic systems, burning fossil fuels, and fertilizers used on lawns and crops. Excess nitrogen robs the waters of oxygen, a serious concern for fish, lobster and other aquatic animals that need oxygenated water to breath. High nitrogen levels also lead to harmful algae blooms which cause fish die-offs and destroy coastal marshes. Marshes are not only important to many wildlife species but they help protect our coastal communities from flooding during storms.

Within watersheds are our aquifers. These underground areas are empty spaces in rock, sand or gravel. They are natural holding tanks and the source of the water for both wells and a public water supply. Aquifers are recharged when water is absorbed and collected from permeable land surfaces. It’s easy to take our water for granted. When we turn on a faucet, our expectation is for plenty of fresh water. But with more and more land developed, there is also increased demand on our aquifers. Protecting and preserving this precious water source is of highest priority.

Our fresh water ponds and lakes are also impacted by high nutrient loads from detergents and lawn chemicals. Easily dissolved and held in solution by water, these substances impact all forms of life. Native bunch grasses, plants, and trees that grow naturally along ponds, lakes, and streams, trap and filter runoff before entering the water. But where lawn is maintained to water’s edge, there is no natural buffer so fertilizers and lawn chemicals find their way in. Creating buffers with native plantings, (a.k.a. riparian buffers), are effective in filtering pollutants. Buffers also keep the waters cool, reduce bank erosion and prevent silt from muddying the waters. Buffering can also be effective in preventing large gatherings of geese. Fearing predators, geese won’t walk through high grasses and plants to access water after grazing. Their droppings and those from other animal grazers are filtered by this buffer. This is extremely important because E-coli bacteria in water is a serious health risk. It has been traced to animal feces as well as leaking septic and sewer systems.

I am stunned by how many homeowners maintain huge lawn areas, which often means the use of pesticides including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides (known to be hazardous to children, pets and the environment), as well as chemical fertilizers. A staggering 67 million pounds of pesticides are used on lawns each year. And, according to the EPA, as much as 60% of nitrogen used to fertilize lawns ends up in surface and groundwater. Pesticides and fertilizers are major contributors to decline in water quality for streams, rivers, and well water.

Road salt, while necessary for public safety, finds its way into the aquifer and well water. Each winter, it is estimated that more than 20 million metric tons of salt are poured on U.S. roads – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, New York. High salt levels are already found in waters of some CT locations.

Another serious health risk is Polyfluroralkyl substances (PFAS). Also known as “forever chemicals”, PFAS compounds do not readily break down. They accumulate in the body and are associated with certain cancers prompting the EPA to set new standards for drinking water under the Clean Water Act. Most recently brought

to public attention when used in firefighting foams, PFAS are also found in non-stick cookware, stainproof carpets and fertilizers.

Wetlands and swamps while considered by some to be waste areas, nothing could be farther from the truth. They are hugely important for recharging our aquifers. As water demands increase, we need to be preserving wetlands, not diminishing them, and we need to keep them free from pollution and waste. Wetlands and swamps should never be filled in or used as dump sites. Not only are wetland areas important habitat for many birds and mammals, they too are critical for storm flood control.

Ways to protect our watershed

There is much that can be done to protect our watersheds and aquifers. Towns and cities need requirements for development plans that provide the lowest negative impact on the environment to ensure a stable and healthy water supply. Designs should limit impervious surfaces that prevent water absorption needed for recharging aquifers. And better solutions need to be found for the tons of salt spread on our roadways each year, threatening to contaminate our wells.

Individually, homeowners need to rethink their lawn practices and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that are often applied where no problem actually exists. Chemical companies are pretty good at promoting their products and we consumers make them very rich. I especially love the 4-step programs offered by lawn companies that only serve to make lawns more chemical and water dependent, contaminating our water sources in the process. It bears repeating that pesticides and fertilizers contribute to the decline of water quality in a major way. Other important considerations:

  • Septic systems are generally out of sight, out of mind, however they need to be properly maintained.

If a home is not on a town/city sewer line, a septic tank should be pumped every 3-5 years.

  • Our wetlands need to be respected, preserved and protected for the valuable benefits they provide.
  • Ponds, lakes, streams, wells and water sources need to be buffered against runoff containing harmful chemicals, fertilizers and other contaminants.

The best time to protect our watersheds is while our water supply is still healthy. Preserving the quality of our aquifers and their capacity to recharge will ensure a safe clean and an abundant water supply for years to come.

Artificial Light - A Cause for Concern

by Holly Kocet, Garden Club of Newtown & Co-Chair, FGCCT Conservation Committee

Less than 100 years ago, a person could look up into the night sky and see thousands of bright stars. Today, widespread and ever-increasing artificial light makes this impossible in many places across the globe. This excessive use of artificial light is light pollution. Just as with pollution of our water and air, light pollution can have serious environmental consequences for humans, wildlife and even our climate.

Plants and animals depend on the Earth’s daily cycle of light and dark. For animals, this is important for life-sustaining behaviors such as reproduction, sleep, and protection from predators. There is scientific evidence that artificial light can have deadly effects on many creatures from hummingbirds to wallabies. Birds that migrate at night are navigating by moonlight and starlight. Each year, artificial light is responsible for millions of deadly bird collisions with buildings and towers. Monarch butterflies also rely on darkness. This is when they process proteins that are key to their internal compass that points the way towards their wintering grounds and return. Researchers found that butterflies roosting near porch or streetlights are disoriented the next day. Amphibians like frogs and toads are nighttime breeders so lights interfere with reproduction thus reducing populations. Sea turtle hatchlings must get from the beach to the sea. They can only find their way by detecting the bright horizon over the ocean. Artificial lights draw them away from the water and each year millions die in this way.

This time of year, we are hopeful for witnessing fireflies blinking along woodland edges and in moist meadows as we did in our youth. But more and more fireflies are disappearing. Most researchers believe loss of habitat due to increased housing and commercial development is a main factor. Open fields and forests are being destroyed. Increased activity along waterways is also detrimental to these valuable critters whose larvae are hugely beneficial for controlling snails and slugs. There is no question pesticides are having a detrimental effect on all invertebrate species, especially fireflies. Mosquito spraying, for example, is totally ineffective for mosquito control but does kill fireflies and many other beneficial insects.

And, it should come to no surprise that artificial light is extremely harmful to fireflies who need to communicate with one another to find mates. Lights from homes, cars, businesses and streetlights, make it difficult for fireflies to signal each other, resulting in fewer larvae born the following season.

Much of our outdoor night lighting is inefficient and, in many cases, unnecessary. Artificial lighting is often overly bright and improperly shielded. Light spills into the night sky instead of focusing on objects for which the light is intended. According to a 2016 study, 80% of the world’s population lives under sky glow which is an artificial brightening of the sky. These polluted skies are of world-wide concern.

But unlike other forms of pollution, light pollution can be reversible if we take the appropriate steps.  Each one of us can make a difference. The International Dark-Sky Association indicates Five Lighting Principles for Responsible Outdoor Lighting.

  1. Use light only if it is needed. Consider how the light will impact wildlife and their habitats.
  2. Direct light so it falls only where it is needed. Shield lighting to point downward and so it does not spill     beyond the targeted area.
  3. Light should be no brighter than necessary. Use only the lowest light level needed.

4. Use light only when it is necessary. Timers or motion detectors ensure light is available as needed.

  1. Use warmer color lights where possible. Limit the amount of shorter wavelength (blue-violet) light.

Lights Out Connecticut, Lightsoutct.org, also suggests keeping blinds and shades drawn to keep light inside, especially on upper floors and when working at night.

Good news!  On June 27th, Governor Lamont signed Substitute House Bill No. 6607, Public Act No. 23-143 – An Act Concerning the Nighttime Lighting of State-owned Buildings at Certain Times for the Protection of Birds – requiring state-owned and leased buildings to turn off nonessential outdoor lighting during peak avian migration periods in order to assist in preventing birds from flying into the sides of such buildings. Nonessential outdoor lighting shall be turned off between the hours of eleven o’clock p.m. and six o’clock a.m.

There’s much more to do. It is important for our Garden Clubs to continue our efforts as leaders in our communities on all environmental and conservation issues.  Members are highly qualified with vast experience as gardeners, master gardeners, birders, activists and educators. The public isn’t always aware of the negative impacts of practices such as excessive use of artificial lights. As ambassadors, we can help bring awareness to this growing problem and inspire more people to take necessary steps to protect our natural night sky that will benefit us and the wildlife with whom we share this world. For more information, visit www.DarkSky.org