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Lawns aren’t best for environment

This is an open letter to the village of Fredonia, Zoning Board, and Code Enforcement Office:

We wish to address the Local Village Zoning Code, Section 297-1.2 which was referenced in recent letters to Fredonia homeowners as follows: “the area between the sidewalk and roadway must be cut to no more than 6 inches of grass. No tall grass, weeds, plants, or shrubs can be planted in the right of way.”

While safety of drivers and pedestrians at intersections is, of course, of primary concern to all, there are several reasons why we request that this local law be changed to reflect current concerns:

— Lawn maintenance is costly to the environment. From an article in Scientific American: “lawn upkeep takes resources: water; fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides that enter groundwater and runoff water; and mowers that burn fossil fuels and emit gases that heat up the atmosphere.” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-lawn-grass-probably-isnt-greener/ by Annie Sneed)

Gardens with a variety of plants, particularly native species, provide greater plant biodiversity, as well as food and habitat for native animals including birds and beneficial insects.The UN states in its article, Biodiversity is our strongest natural defense against climate change, that “about one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed in the next decade could be achieved by improving nature’s ability to absorb emissions.” The National Wildlife Federation provides some good general tips for carbon conscious landscapes: https://www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife/Gardening-Tips/Gardeners-Guide-to-Global-Warming.aspx. Below is a list of general guidelines for a carbon-conscious landscape.

Reduce the size of your lawn. Better yet, consider eliminating it entirely. Tip: Consider replacing your lawn with a native wildflower meadow.

Use hand tools instead of power equipment. When you reduce the size of your lawn, for example, you’ll only need a push mower.

Choose materials with low-embodied energy. Brick and concrete have large carbon footprints compared to gravel and especially wood. Used brick and other recycled materials are good choices, too.

Emphasize woody plants that capture more carbon than fleshy herbaceous species. Create a flower meadow or vegetable patch, but plant most of your property with low-maintenance native trees and shrubs, preferably those that also provide food and nesting and resting places for birds and other wildlife.

Plant trees and shrubs where they will block winter winds and provide shade in summer. This will reduce the amount of energy required to heat and cool your home and thus reduce your carbon footprint even further.

Minimize or eliminate the use of fertilizers and pesticides on your property. Use compost and mulch produced from garden trimmings to enrich your soil instead, and use native plants that are naturally pest resistant.

Water continues to be an issue for our village, and lawns take much more water to maintain than gardens of native varieties which thrive in our area.

“A growing number of homeowners are converting part or all of their lawns to a less thirsty form of landscape. These no-mow yards fall into four categories: 1) naturalized or unmowed turf grass that is left to grow wild; 2) low-growing turf grasses that require little grooming (most are a blend of fescues); 3) native or naturalized landscapes where turf is replaced with native plants as well as noninvasive, climate-friendly ones that can thrive in local conditions; and 4) yards where edible plants–vegetables and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs–replace a portion of turf.”

Moving away from water-guzzling and chemical-hungry lawns and cultivating yards that are diverse and self-regulating is a matter of mounting urgency … As global temperatures rise and droughts drag on, the demands of turf grass are likely to become untenable.”

(from the Natural Resources Defense Council on the “No-Mow Movement”) https://www.nrdc.org/stories/more-sustainable-and-beautiful-alternatives-grass-lawn by Mary Talbot

Aesthetics: Beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder. We find managed lawns to be boring and uniform, and biodiverse gardens to be much more visually appealing.

Again, from the NRDC: “A recent white paper by students from Yale’s forestry and law schools, in collaboration with NRDC, surveyed legal obstacles to various forms of no-mow and concluded that, for sustainable landscaping to achieve wider adoption, some municipalities will need to adjust their policies.

That change can happen if residents push for it. Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, amended its nuisance laws to allow for naturalized lawns after locals made the case that their wild gardens improved air and soil quality and reduced stormwater runoff.”

Please consider our request to alter the existing law.

Mary Jane Wagner wrote this on behalf of The Green Sanctuary Team of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northern Chautauqua in Fredonia.

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