Backyard Prairies--Why Create a Wildlife Corridor?

By Lisa Biehle Files

Oak Park residents Pam Todd of West Cook Wild Ones and Ana Garcia-Doyle of One Earth Film Festival will talk about how their organizations have worked together to increase awareness about wildlife corridors at the Wild Things Conference, January 31, at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Ginkgo Trees and Caterpillars

Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, is foundational to understanding the need for wildlife corridors, according to Pam:

“He explains it this way.  A ginkgo tree (non-native) supports five species of caterpillars and the traditional, native oak tree of the prairie supports 500 species of native caterpillars.  Most bird species feed their young caterpillars.  So planting non-native species impacts the entire ecosystem.  Many populations of birds and butterflies and every kind of wildlife go into decline without native plants.”

Birds and Butterflies

Environmentalists agree that preserves, nature conservancies and parks are helpful, but isolation and fragmentation can cause genetic stock to deteriorate.  Having a connected system of native plants ensures the survival of diverse and enduring wildlife, according to experts.

“Doug Tallamy’s idea is for everyone to plant native species in their backyards, to create a connected system, or corridor among habitat,” Pam explains.

At an earlier Wild Things Conference, Pam met Doug, and he suggested she start a local Wild Ones chapter because she wanted to do more to help.  After meeting with a group of people who were interested in gardening, she and others were able to gather enough volunteers for a Wild Ones board (see below).

Making It Happen

The West Cook Wild Ones’ primary goal is to create a wildlife corridor from Thatcher Woods in River Forest, all across Oak Park, to Columbus Park in Austin.  They have taken several steps in that direction:

  • Applied for and received a grant from the Community Foundation.

  • Created an online Google map.

  • Asked people if they are willing to be on the map by planting native species in their backyards.

Finding native plants that don’t contain systemic pesticides can be challenging, so Wild Ones hosts a native plant sale every spring.  Order forms will be available on-line at the end of January, and plant pick up will be in May.

In addition to co-sponsoring the Green Community Connections Native Gardens tour in the fall, West Cook Wild Ones will host its own Native Plant Conference on May 17, featuring, who else, but Doug Tallamy as keynote speaker, at Dominican University.  Groundcover and native plant experts and suppliers will demonstrate how to create artful designs.

In addition, monthly meetings draw experts on a range of topics, such as Stephen Packard, former director of Audubon Chicago Region.

For an organization that just formed in June 2013, West Cook Wild Ones is off and running, educating the public about bringing a piece of the prairie to every backyard.

“What makes Wild Ones unique is that we really get plants in the ground,” Pam says.  “And people find that beautifully designed native gardens are just full of life.  They change all the time.  They have a kind of wild beauty.”

West Cook Board Members

President Pamela Todd

Vice President Stephanie Walquist

Secretary Ginger Vanderveer

Treasurer Sharon Storbeck

Membership Laura Clearwater

Website/Newsletter Stephanie Walquist

Directors Katerina Berin and Erik Malone

Scientific Advisors Marni Curtis and Carolyn Cullen