There are many reasons why birds and other animals appeal so strongly to our affections. The simple truth is - they bring us joy. The exuberant songs of cardinals and mockingbirds, the dazzling display of a painted bunting in our birdbaths or feeders, and the sight of colorful butterflies dancing above a wildflower patch-these are personal pleasures that aren't easily measured.

People need to live close to the natural world--to trees, flowers and animals. When we watch the complexity and diversity of nature, we become more observant and more in tune with important subtleties around us. A monarch butterfly seen in September signals us that the fall migration of many species is beginning. The appearance of a purple martin in February lets us know that spring is close behind.

But many Floridians are becoming increasingly isolated from the natural world as local populations of wildlife are displaced from suburban and urban areas. Bulldozers and backhoes are eliminating the living spaces of many of our wild birds and animals in this fast-growing state. What are the consequences? "Suppose a creature dies out within your 'radius of reach'- the area to which you have easy access," asks entomologist Robert M. Pyle. "In some respects, it might as well be gone altogether because you will not be able to see it as you could before." This "extinction of experience" makes people more isolated from and less caring for nature. On the other hand, if we can preserve native wildlife and plants in our cities and suburbs, we can also maintain the essential bond between people and nature that fosters a sense of stewardship for the land and its life far beyond city limits.

Attracting wildlife to your garden by planning and planting for their needs is simple and satisfying. If we make adequate food, water, shelter and space available, we can increase the number and variety of species that visit our yards and improve our chances to observe them more closely.

Plants form the natural architecture that animals need, to feed, rest, raise young and hide from predators. The more stable and balanced a plant community you create, the greater the variety of wildlife you'll attract. And you'll find advantages in energy and water savings as well as the natural insect and rodent control your miniature ecosystem will provide. Moreover, the National Wildlife Federation has found that attractive landscaping installed with wildlife in mind substantially increases the value of a house and lot: a $200 investment in plants can yield a 3 to 10 percent increase in real estate value.

As Florida's population skyrockets, more and more green space is consumed. Wild animals and birds are squeezed out of the habitat they need for their survival.

There is an ever-increasing need to manage not only the existing forests and large landholdings for wildlife, but also the developed land: the quarter-acre suburban lot, the five-acre townhouse development, the 40 acre subdivision, the small city park, larger county parks and even the roadsides of our highways.

We can begin with the pleasant task of inviting wildlife to our own yards. No matter where you live in Florida, you can make habitat improvements to benefit your wildlife neighbors.

FWC Facts:
According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 66.1 million people engage in wildlife observation, spending about $38.5 billion per year.

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