Door to door conservation

  • Butterfly milkweed is an example of an eco-friendly native plant.

    Butterfly milkweed is an example of an eco-friendly native plant. Courtesy of J. Sayre

  • Purple coneflowers are among the native plant species that can attract songbirds and butterflies.

    Purple coneflowers are among the native plant species that can attract songbirds and butterflies. Courtesy of J. Sayre

Updated 5/16/2011 6:38 AM

It won't be exactly like the Good Humor man patrolling the neighborhoods, but a Lake County environmental group thinks conservation can be a door to door winner.

When Conservation@Home debuts in late summer or early fall, residents can get a free yard consultation and other services through the program administered by the Liberty Prairie Conservancy.


Created six years ago by the Conservation Foundation and operating in DuPage, Kane, Will, Kendall and portions of DeKalb, Grundy and LaSalle counties, the program's goal is to encourage property owners through various measures to conserve water, use fewer chemicals and create more natural settings.

"The two main issues are water and wildlife," said Jim Kleinwachter, a land protection specialist who created and manages the program for the Naperville-based Conservation Foundation. "I realized we didn't really have something to help homeowners."

The program, which is franchised for a small fee, deals with any privately owned land, be it office or back yard. About 550 people are enrolled, he said.

Liberty Prairie Conservancy recently received a $260,000 grant from the Grand Victoria Foundation to help provide that guidance in Lake County.

"A lot of people want to do the right thing but they don't know what the right thing is," said Sarah Surroz, conservation and outreach manager.

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The Conservancy has advertised for the new position of land stewardship coordinator, has been outlining the idea for garden clubs and other groups and has planned eco-yard tours as part of its strategy.

"I've already let people sign up for a free yard consultation," Surroz said. "People want it."

Lawn and garden care has become more friendly to the environment, she added.

"These last five years it's been exciting to see the changes going on in terms of the number of people reducing their chemical use or using rain barrels or going to native plant sales," she said.

But the surface is only figuratively being scratched, contends Steve Barg, executive director of the Liberty Prairie Conservancy.

The goal of preserving 60,000 acres, or about 20 percent of the Lake County landscape by 2030, is well in hand, Barg said. The next step is to promote "stewardship" -- getting private property owners to improve their individual environments.


The idea is to "connect" private land with preserved natural areas, where wildlife is sometimes isolated, in relatively easy and inexpensive ways.

One strategy is to plant more native species to attract butterflies and birds, for example. A traditional lawn, Barg said, is an "ecological desert".

"We put up bird feeders to attract them to our yards but we're not giving them what they need," Barg said. "Lake County has more threatened and endangered wildlife than any county in the state so we have a lot at stake here."

Supporters say change from popular plants to native species doesn't mean the landscape has to appear weedy or unkempt.

"We're not talking about turning yards into nature preserves but you can plant natives, harvest rainwater and use less chemicals and it can look formalized," Barg said.

Lindenhurst resident Glenn Green, whose home is the location for the first eco-yard tour on Saturday, May 21, hired a landscaper when he arrived in 1988.

After becoming a volunteer for the Lake County Forest Preserve District, he recognized the rows of buckthorn and honeysuckle weren't a good fit. Over the past 10 years or so he has been replacing shrubs, flowers and turf.

"Of course from a practical standpoint, you can't dig up everything and put something else in," he said. "We're going to get rid of some more of our grass in the next few weeks."

Barg likened the movement to another practice.

"It's taking on sort of the same trajectory as the recycling program took. Remember 20 years ago?" he said. "You did it because you felt you were making a difference. Now, it's institutionalized."