There are more than 89 million dogs living in US households, and a dog is an excellent companion for adults and kids alike. It’s great to take your dog for a walk in the wild, where he can experience the wonders of nature. However, problems can ensue when dog ownership is coupled with absolute freedom.
Our much-loved pets can become a severe threat to wildlife due to their inherently predatory nature. When your domestic dogs competes for food in the wild, he will potentially upset the ecological balance. Aside from its deadly impact, leaving pet dogs on their own in a natural habitat can have non lethal impacts as well such as disturbance of other animals, hybridization, and transmission of disease. Here, we offer some tips on how you can help conserve wildlife through responsible ownership:
Spare The Leash, Spoil The Dog
Just like you, your dog needs exercise, but that doesn’t mean a free-for-all. It’s your responsibility to keep your dog under control, for his own safety as much as that of the local wildlife. For example, leaving your dog prancing in the wild can easily lead to contact with a diseased rodent. The onus is on you to check what your dog does around him. The foolproof solution is to keep your dog on a leash. Ensure the collar is not too tight around his neck – you should be able to slide two fingers comfortably under it – and consider a retractable or extended leash to allow your dog to roam comfortably when it is safe to do so.
Make Sure Your Dog is Well Trained
Even if you keep the dog on a leash, accidents happen and he might get loose. Under such circumstances, your dog should be responsive to auditory cues, either if you call or whistle, so that you can get your dog back under control safely and without incident. Some breeds of dog are easier to train than others – for example, Labradors are generally eager to please, while Huskies are famously strong willed and while they understand the command, they tend to decide for themselves whether to obey. But any and every dog can be trained. If you have real difficulties making progress, seek help from a professional dog trainer.
Look For Alternatives
Even if your dog is not actively making a nuisance of itself and upsetting or chasing wildlife, its very presence or any excessive barking can disturb and scare other creatures. Ultimately, it makes sense whenever possible to look for alternative places where you can spend time together with your beloved pet, such as a public playing field or at the beach, where you will not be causing a disturbance to the wildlife.
A dog is a man’s best friend, and man should be nature’s steward. As soon as you step into a wildlife habitat, remember you’re stepping into their territory, not the other way around. You can still have fun with your beloved dog while respecting the ecological balance. Responsible dog ownership means taking into consideration how your beloved pet affects others.
Plant native plants in your backyard. Native plants provide crucial food sources and habitat for everything from pollinators to mammals. Being native, these plants are adapted to our specific climate, competition, and herbivores, benefitting our environment. You can purchase native plants through our Native Plant Sale or at a local supplier:
Local Suppliers: http://www.indianawildlife.org/wildlife/sources-indiana-native-plants
Remove invasive species from your yard and local natural areas. Invasive species are exotic species that spread quickly and overcome native plants. Being from another ecosystem, these plants have few, if any, natural predators. They are able to grow rapidly, forming dense colonies that are detrimental to the environment. Even if they just start in your yard, they can spread everywhere! Find a list of invasive species here.
Build feeders or homes for wildlife that you want to attract. There are many types of different feeders, catering to pollinators, different bird species, and mammals. In addition, you can build bird houses for your yard that can house anything from owls to cardinals. There are even bug houses, bat boxes, and toad abodes you can build if you want to attract these species. We have plenty of ideas for these activities on our Pinterest page!
Certify your yard, trail, or campus as wildlife habitat or a sustainable space. Through our Habitat Workshops, Sustainable Trails Initiative, and Landscaping the Sustainable Campus program, you can learn about the best ways to create a sustainable space for humans and wildlife. We offer certification programs so you can know the best steps to take in your process and show off your success when finished.
Volunteer through local conservation organizations or through citizen science efforts. Local conservation groups like IWF can always use volunteer help,. Want to help the conservation cause by participating in a fun citizen science project? Join our group on YardMap where you can plot your yard and everything in it, share advice with others, and see what kind of positive impact you’re having on wildlife!
Visit state parks and other natural areas throughout the state. Indiana has a plethora of state parks and state forests that offer a variety of recreation opportunities. There are trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Indiana also has great fishing and hunting opportunities, so don’t forget to purchase your license. Check out other areas in Indiana like the Hoosier National Forest and local land trusts that offer recreation opportunities too!
Connect kids to wildlife through the IWF Kids’ Contest, Indiana Children and Nature Network’s Nature Play Days (keep an eye out for IWF’s event!), and these activities provided by National Wildlife Federation. These fun educational games are a great way to draw kids’ attention to wildlife that surrounds them.
Enroll in a Master Naturalist Course to take your identification skills to the next level. These courses offer certification level training so that you can become a pro outdoors, identifying all types of species. These courses also offer a great networking opportunity where you can meet some of the most experienced naturalists in the state.
Monarch Butterfly – The Monarch butterfly is known for its iconic orange colors and its incredible migration journey from Mexico to Canada and back again. Protecting Monarch habitat in this range will benefit all pollinators, benefitting our food system and natural beauty as a whole. The Monarch is reliant on different types of milkweed for food and reproduction, as they only lay their eggs on milkweed and only feed on milkweed leaves during their larval stages. This makes milkweed hugely important to the continued survival of these beautiful creatures. Want to help the monarch butterfly? Contact your mayor and ask them to sign on to the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge! IWF helped 12 cities and municipalities sign on already, and together we can get more! You can also plant milkweed in your yard or purchase a butterfly kit from our native plant sale to help monarchs in your yard. You can find out more about U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s efforts and how you can help here.
Cardinal – The state bird is a frequent flier throughout the state. These birds spend most of their lives in their mating pairs, through both summer and winter. The iconic bright red bird is the male, whereas the female has much more subdued plumage. Cardinals are often seen along hedgerows and wood margins, and nest among shrubs and saplings. This beautiful bird has a lovely singing voice that can brighten the mood of any day. These qualities have earned the bird the right to be the Indiana state bird, and are even protected nationally.
Sandhill Crane – Sandhill Cranes are another migrating species that pass through Indiana biannually, with some residing for longer. In late fall and early spring, these cranes can be seen in massive quantities in areas like Jasper-Pulaski FWA, in numbers exceeding 10,000. These birds travel a huge distance, from Mexico to the northern reaches of Canada. Some of these birds even cross the Bering Strait into Siberia for breeding purposes. Other birds are solitary, residing in Cuba or Florida without migrating. Every year Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County hosts Marsh Madness. This annual event celebrates the sandhill crane migration through Indiana with an assortment of events and viewing opportunities. Find out more here. View the video below for more information regarding the migration through Jasper-Pulaski FWA.
Hellbender Salamander – The Hellbender Salamander earned its name for its uniquely ugly appearance. With a broad head, baggy skin, large tail, and a color to match the murky river beds where it resides, this salamander is not a pretty sight at first glance. However, these one of a kind salamanders are actually the largest in North America, reaching up to 30 inches in length and 5 pounds in weight! These salamanders trudge through the muddy and rocky bottoms of rivers and creeks, eating crayfish and mollusks while living under rocks. Hellbenders used to be much more widespread, inhabiting different waterways in Indiana and throughout Appalachia into New York. Today, due to widespread pollution and habitat degradation, their range is decreasing, and can only be found in the Blue River of Indiana. Hellbenders, and other amphibians, are considered indicator species that show the health and water quality of an ecosystem. You can learn about Purdue Extension’s efforts to protect and save the Hellbender through this video. More information is available on their website.
Indiana Bat – The Indiana Bat is a state and federally endangered species due in large part to white-nose bat syndrome, a fungus that wakes bats prematurely from hibernation. These bats, as well as other species, are crucial to ecosystems worldwide. Bats serve as pollinators and insect control, benefitting ecosystems, crops, and mosquito hating citizens. Bats are incredible nocturnal creatures that fly and locate prey using echolocation. They emit high pitched frequencies that bounce off objects back to the bat, telling them the location of the object or location. During the day, bats roost in caves, under bark of trees, and in bat boxes. Indiana bats only produce one offspring per year in the spring, and then spend much of the year feeding and preparing for winter hibernation.
Black Bear – Indiana has recently experienced its first black bear sightings in many years. These black bears are not residents yet, but visitors from Kentucky and Michigan. However, with improved conservation efforts, Indiana may have its own residential black bears permanently. This would create many ecosystem shifts and much public education on coexisting with these creatures. You can learn more about Indiana’s most recent black bear in our article here.
River Otter – River otters, along with beavers, once provided a profitable market in the fur trade. Whereas this market was beneficial for the economy, it resulted in the local extinction of the animal. However, since that time, river otters have been successfully reintroduced to Indiana.
The conservation success story even surpassed the states goals, and today the river otter has been removed from the state endangered species list. River otter can be found in 80 counties across the state in riparian zones. These fun loving creatures are mostly solitary, but can be seen playing in rivers and streams during mating season as a ritual, as well as sliding down banks into the water.
When Canada geese return for the spring, it’s usually a welcome sight. It means winter has finally passed, and warm weather is surely on the way. However, geese can be an irritant for many landowners and can even cause property damage. Listed below are some helpful tips to prevent conflict and handle geese if they become a problem.
Don’t feed geese! This can cause geese to skip or delay their migration, lose their fear of people, and increases their chance of developing and spreading avian disease.
Add vegetative barriers or suspended grid systems to make land less attractive to geese
Air horns and sprayers are useful nonlethal techniques to scare geese away
Removing nests without eggs is legal
A permit is required to capture and relocate the animals, remove nests with eggs, and shoot geese outside of hunting season.