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Rewilding pilot program showcases how Oxford can do its part to prevent climate change

Lawn care is incredibly important to American culture. A perfectly manicured lawn signifies a put-together household. However, the tidiest of lawns tend to be the least beneficial to the environment.

A new project started by the students of Oxford City Councilor and Miami University geography professor David Prytherch’s GEO 459 class, Advanced Urban and Regional Planning, in conjunction with the City of Oxford and Audubon Miami Valley, aims to rewild some of Oxford’s land.

Prytherch said well-kempt lawns do virtually nothing for the environment, and there’s been a movement to find new ways to DIY environmental health.

“People want to do something locally,” Prytherch said. “One of those things — that there’s kind of a national/international movement — takes the name of ‘rewilding.’”

Rewilding is an ecological process by which people try to increase the biodiversity of a given area. In short, it’s turning the man-made stuff closer to what it was before.

In Oxford, City Council began the process to make rewilding possible. Prytherch said that the process has involved changing the city’s property maintenance code to allow lawns to be rewilded and evaluating public lands to see where pilot programs can be set up.

Right now, the project has two pilot plots in Oxford Community Park. The plots were chosen because they don’t interfere with land currently in use and are easily visible to the community. The hope is to inspire community members to work on their own climate-conscious projects.

“These are also meant to be demonstration projects for what you can do in your own lawn,” Prytherch said.

As of this past spring, the Oxford property maintenance code allows residents to naturalize and rewild their own lawns. Residents must still perform upkeep on their lawn should they choose to rewild, although there are some exceptions.

“As long as it’s native species, you’re maintaining it, it’s not full of weeds, you’re exempted from that turf grass height requirement,” Prytherch said.

The prior requirements enforced a 10-inch limit to standard lawn grass.

The goal of the project is to make it simpler for Oxford residents to take part in the national movement surrounding climate-conscious lawns. Rewilding is still a challenge — one that Audubon Miami Valley and Oxford are working on themselves — but residents can start working on their own lawns today.

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“There are fewer barriers to doing it in terms of like, legally there’s no barrier to doing it” Prytherch said. “The challenge comes from restoring native landscapes, again, [it’s] complicated. We live in a world full of invasive species.”

The program is currently researching and testing the best ways to restore land without allowing unwanted growth. 

While many people nationally have been seeking ways to do their part to fight climate change locally, the climate impact from this rewilding so far is small. However, the ultimate goal is not to stop climate change with native lawns alone.

Kelsey Vance is an Oxford resident who has been naturalizing and nativizing her own lawn for over a decade since she moved here from Arizona.

“I want to represent a native landscape as something that looks beautiful without looking messy,” Vance said. “These plants are supposed to be here.”

Vance is studying sustainable horticulture at Cincinnati State to learn how best to work on her own property and give something back to the natural wildlife that used to live all across the Oxford area.

In her experience, Vance said maintaining a native lawn is easier and better for the environment. 

“It ends up being cheaper,” she said. “If somebody were to have their front yard converted to a meadow, that only needs to be cut once a year, rather than every week.”

The changes to Oxford’s property maintenance code and the pilot programs naturalizing public lands are welcome efforts to Vance. A supporter of the new program, she was happy to see her city of residence taking strides to naturalize.

Vance hopes to build her lawn up in a way that sustains natural life, feeding animals and insects and bugs with native plants that look beautiful and help the environment. Though she’s been doing this for over a decade, she hopes others in Oxford will do “whatever they can do” to naturalize their lawns, even if it’s as simple as a couple of plants here and there.

“It’s going to be different for every person,” she said. “I would love to see everybody put in a little pocket prairie.”