Session 1: Improving & Conserving Biodiversity Yard by Yard

Please reach out to individual speakers if you are interested in viewing PowerPoint presentations from this session. Due to limited staffing, we are unable to post the presentations to the website.

All Day Session – 8:30AM-10:30AM and 1:30PM-4:00PM
Piscataquis/Sagadahoc Room, Second Floor

Session Co-chairs:
Gary Fish, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry
Patricia Ianni, Maine Master Gardener, Friends of Casco Bay Board Member

Habitat loss and degradation impact biodiversity. Residential yards make up a significant portion of the world’s habitats. They also represent an opportunity to provide ecosystem services that could restore habitats and improve biodiversity. This session will provide national and regional examples of the options, challenges, and strategies that encourage participation in yard stewardship programs and the promising results of those programs.

Session Schedule

Morning Session

Afternoon Session

8:30AM – 9:00AM

Session Introduction and History and Evolution of the Maine YardScaping Partnership

Gary Fish (1), Cathy Ramsdell (2) 

  1. State Horticulturist, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
  2. Former Executive Director, Friends of Casco Bay

In 1997, the Maine Legislature passed a Resolve that set the stage for development of sustainable landscaping programs by the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) and University of Maine Cooperative Extension. The initial outreach efforts were led by the BPC, who partnered with The Friends of Casco Bay on a program called BayScaping. The program was modeled after a similar effort by the Chesapeake BayKeeper in Maryland. After several successful educational sessions in the Casco Bay area and the development of multiple educational resources, the BPC decided to champion a statewide effort based on the BayScaping model. After multiple facilitated sessions with a very diverse stakeholder group, The Maine YardScaping Partnership was born. With the BPC as the lead and support from public and private partners, a website and multiple factsheets were developed. Educational sessions were held across the state, and many suggested the need for a demonstration site. After numerous attempts to find a location, the City of Portland offered a three-acre site on the Back Cove trail. The gardens were designed and planted with a seed grant from the EPA Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program and the Davis Conservation Foundation. Many local nurseries provided native and non-invasive plants at a discount or as donations. Over 2,000 trees, shrubs, and perennials were planted and maintained by volunteers. A summer intern also helped maintain the site in the first two years. The demonstration gardens thrived for more than a decade, and thousands of people enjoyed walking through the gardens daily, and many educational tours were also held there. Unfortunately, in 2020, the gardens had to be removed when a combined sewer separation system needed to be deployed in the same area. Despite the discontinuation of the official State YardScaping Partnership in 2017, when state funding was no longer available, the program persisted through the ongoing efforts of the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the “seeds” of the original YardScaping  Partnership may have been the impetus for Sustainable Landscaping ordinances in the City of South Portland and Portland.

9:05AM – 10:05AM

Humanity for Habitat: Saving Nature at Home

Dr. Susannah B. Lerman, Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station

The primary threat to biodiversity is habitat loss and degradation. Private residential properties (“yards”) encompass large proportions of urban, suburban, and rural spaces, and are among the most rapidly expanding systems on earth. Yards also represent a conservation opportunity to provide wildlife habitat, support biodiversity, restore ecosystem function and ecosystem services, and increase local opportunities for people to connect with nature. A “humanity for habitat” stewardship practice aims to inspire and encourage more vigorous participation in conservation actions where people live. I will describe opportunities, challenges, and strategies for yard stewardship to facilitate biodiversity-friendly residential landscapes that benefit wildlife and people.

10:10AM – 10:30AM

Q & A and Discussion Session

1:30PM – 1:35PM

History and Evolution of YardScaping in Maine

Gary Fish, State Horticulturist, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

1:35PM – 2:00PM

LakeSmart: 20 Years of Neighbor-to-Neighbor Marketing for Lake-Friendly Yards

Caroline Murray (1), Kathy Hoppe (2), Susan Gallo (1)

  1. Maine Lakes
  2. Dept. of Environmental Protection (retired), Lake Stewards of Maine Board member

LakeSmart is a homeowner education and outreach program grounded in social marketing principles that engage lakefront homeowners in nonpoint-source pollution reduction. The concepts of social norms, which redefines what a lakeside yard should look like, and social diffusion, which encourages behavior change through networks of trusted community members, are key social marketing principles that are central to LakeSmart’s framework.

After 20 years, the LakeSmart program has many successes to share but also faces many challenges. LakeSmart yards are more important than ever, as climate change brings larger, more intense rain events that pose greater risks to lake health. At the same time, as local LakeSmart programs mature, they may experience fewer “successful” LakeSmart outcomes as the properties evaluated have more complex erosion issues that require significant resources to fix. 

An analysis of social diffusion data provides insight into LakeSmart’s spread and barriers to success. Identifying and overcoming those barriers, such as costs for complex management practices and access to experts, resources, and supplies, are vital to LakeSmart’s success in the future. Lakeside yards are the last line of defense for nutrient pollution that travels from up slope but potentially more importantly, they are integral to the health of the lake’s littoral zone and the ecology. More than ever, property owners need to see their role of shorefront yard management as critical to healthy lakes. Continuing to use social marketing principles, including program evaluation, is key to long-term lake protection through the LakeSmart program.

2:00PM – 2:30PM

“Bringing Nature Home” in Maine – Engaging People and Communities in Habitat Restoration

Eric Topper, Maine Audubon

In 2015, Maine Audubon launched “Bringing Nature Home,” a new community engagement and habitat stewardship initiative based on the bestselling book of that title by Doug Tallamy. Maine Audubon’s Director of Education, Eric Topper, will discuss the plants, practices, and perks we promote to help individuals and leaders restore native food webs in developed landscapes like our gardens, yards, and parks by prioritizing plants and food webs which are historically native to Maine. Whether on an apartment balcony, a backyard, a city park, or a large woodland owned by a land trust, some of the simplest planting and maintenance choices people make can have profound impact on the local food web and make natural phenomena more readily observable. Our backyards and local green spaces become opportunities to recruit and train new naturalists, while they also become potential refugia for species of plants and trees facing real challenges across broader landscapes. The broad applicability of this project to different landscapes also makes it inclusive for all ages and developmental levels. “Bringing Nature Home” has been a rich opportunity for Maine Audubon to expand our reach, energize new partnerships, advise on new policy, assist on large-scale development projects, and advance our mission to support new communities. Today, the project raises over $100,000 in plant sales, serves thousands of students of all ages in classrooms, hosts dozens of teen stewardship projects, teaches hundreds of adults in seasonal workshops, and collaborates with community leaders throughout Maine on native plant restoration every year.

2:30PM – 3:00PM 

Afternoon Break – Auditorium

3:00PM – 3:30PM

100 Resilient Yards: Revitalizing Our Community One Yard At a Time 

Julie Rosenbach, Fred Dillon
Sustainability Director and Stormwater Program Coordinator, City of South Portland

In 2023, the City of South Portland launched a new holistic landcare program called “100 Resilient Yards” aimed at building soil health and restoring ecosystems throughout the city. We partnered with eight organizations and 25 volunteers to help 89 South Portland properties begin to transform into more resilient yards. Through this program we established 30 new vegetable gardens, six rain gardens, and sowed nearly 250 native pollinator plants. Perhaps more significantly, we connected 150 community members together, and our efforts rippled out to hundreds more. 

This program improved soil health, water quality, and robust ecosystems, all which are key to addressing climate change by providing habitat, reducing erosion, filtering stormwater pollution, mitigating extreme heat, and sequestering carbon. We matched a small amount of city funding with three grants to accomplish our goals.

3:35 – 4:00PM

Q&A and Discussion Session

About the Session Chairs

Patricia (Pat) Ianni is a retired environmental scientist. She has a BS in Natural Resources Conservation from the University of Connecticut and a JD from the University of Maine School of Law. Her 38-year environmental career included conducting hazardous waste investigations of Superfund sites and industrial properties, providing regulatory and legal compliance guidance and permitting assistance, and preparing environmental due diligence and risk reviews for a financial institution. During her career, and since her retirement in 2019, she has enjoyed participating in numerous volunteer activities as a Master Gardener to assist communities with gardening in an environmentally-friendly manner. Since 2006, she has served on the Board of Friends of Casco Bay, a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect and improve the health of Casco Bay. She has given many “Bayscaping” presentations on their behalf. Most recently, she has begun working with a small group of Falmouth citizens on an initiative to reduce single-use, non-essential plastics in our consumer products and the resulting waste streams. The most important environmental goal she strives for is to help everyone understand the inter-connection between all living beings and ecosystems across the globe.