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Something Wild: Caring For The Forest Floor

Tony Baldasaro vis flickr Creative Commons

Permission to put down the rake. It's a win-win for you and the forest eco-system this fall.

Today’s topic is perfect for the fall season: cleaning up the leaves. Yes, it’s that time of year again, and if you hate raking as much as we do we’ve got some good news for you. It really doesn’t have to be so…well…impulsive.

Imagine this, you’ve got your rake, you’re picking up all the leaves and branches and other detritus in the yard. Once you’ve done that, and the yard looks neat as a pin, you might feel the urge to continue the chore to that wooded area, just past the stone wall. That area has been collecting all kinds of woody debris over the spring and summer months, all that junk that’s just lying there.

Maybe you want to pick it all up and make a big bonfire, so it’s not there anymore. And once you start, it becomes even more tempting to go a step further. Maybe rake up all the leaves AND the pine needles. Pull up nature’s warm blanket and get rid of it, right before winter. Clean it up! And then the woods look really sweet, squeaky clean.

But there’s a catch.

The impulse for meticulous landscaping that extends beyond the edge of the lawn, beyond the vegetable garden and your stone wall, is actually harming the species that call the forest home.

When you sweep up all that debris, you’re sweeping up nests and dens. You’re carting away the tiny invertebrate species that live on the forest floor. Because invertebrates are at the bottom of the food chain, this also negatively affects the living creatures further up. You're raking away nutrients and the protective layer that keeps moisture in the soil.

To add insult to injury, this essential leaf litter gets bagged up and hauled off. All the forest’s hard earned savings are just given away.

But if you leave all that woody debris and those pesky fallen leaves in the forest, you’re not only helping the creatures that need it to survive, you’re also saving your back from all that raking. It’s really a win-win. Help the eco-system and get out of some of your chores.

The bottom line is, while it goes against the grain of wanting to clean everything up, an unkempt forest floor can actually be considered healthy and beautiful. Save some time this fall and let the forest at the edge of your lawn go au natural. The forest and the creatures that live there will thank you.

If you’ve got questions about the natural world, or want to share some of photos of your forest floor in its natural state. Send them our way: somethingwild@nhpr.org.

This segment was originally broadcast in 2014. Something Wild is a joint production of NH Audubon, the Society for the Protection of NH Forests, and NHPR.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
Chris Martin has worked for New Hampshire Audubon for close to 35 years as a Conservation Biologist, specializing in birds of prey like Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and Northern Harriers.

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