Rethinking Landfills as Wildlife Refuges

landfill-wildlifeBy Wes Muir, Director of Communications, Waste Management

Increasing urbanization has led to an increased desire for environmental conservation. Across the country, areas of land are being cleared and filled with blooming landscapes to attract various birds and wildlife. Some house butterfly gardens and walking trails, while others host bird and bat houses, comparable to that of the local zoo.

While these parks, gardens and other habitat areas may seem commonplace, you may be surprised to learn what lies beneath some of these wildlife habitats. Some of these areas are built upon landfills, and organizations like the Wildlife Habitat Council and Waste Management are helping to create these new habitats.

Landfills already manage the waste that cannot be reused or recycled. But in addition to those uses, landfills can also serve to beautify and unite the local community, as well as to offer refuge for a variety of plant and animal life.

For example, at the Alliance Landfill in Taylor, PA, the engineered appearance of the landfill’s slopes concerned residents, leading to the creation of Alliance Landfill’s Community Landscape Project. Several plots of land capping the landfill site were tested to see which types of vegetation could be viably grown. Once the appropriate species of plant life were determined, community members set to work planting native trees, plants, shrubs and grasses. One man, George Dunbar, has even planted more than 1,500 deciduous and evergreen trees at the site.

As the vegetation has grown over the years, the landfill staff has continued to report that an array of birds and other animals now resides on the property. Between 2004 and 2006, more than 20 new bird species were identified in the landfill projects, including eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and wild turkey. The landfill staff has also found deer, fox, coyotes, rabbits and squirrels in and around the plots.

Alliance Landfill demonstrates just one example of the ways landfills can serve local communities beyond storing and making use of waste. Currently, 73 Waste Management-operated landfills throughout the U.S. double as land preserves, providing food, water, shelter, cover and space to suit animals’ needs. Each landfill site secures and protects a certain portion of its land through a variety of projects ranging from community landscaping to building bird nest boxes to controlling grazing cattle. So far, Waste Management has set aside a total of 24,000 acres for wildlife habitat, nearly the size of the island of Manhattan.

The Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) endorses these sites as wildlife refuges under its “Wildlife at Work” and “Corporate Lands for Learning” certification programs. Both programs encourage wildlife conservation activities among corporations and their employees, conservation groups and community members. “Wildlife at Work” is the cornerstone of WHC, providing accreditation to these wildlife preservation efforts, while “Corporate Lands for Learning” takes this process a step further, fostering outdoor education and research among local residents.

No longer are landfills merely used as places to process waste. As illustrated at Alliance Landfill and the many WHC-certified sites, these areas can also provide an additional benefit by fostering wildlife preservation and outdoor education for local communities.

Wes Muir is Director of Corporate Communications for Waste Management, responsible for external communications and public affairs across North America including the development and management of strategies and programs in support of the company’s renewable energy, recycling and corporate development business groups, corporate branding/reputation and environmental sustainability initiative and media and social media.Prior to Waste Management, Wes was Director of Communications for the International Council on Mining and Metals responsible for the development and management of the global communications strategy in support of the industry’s sustainable development initiatives.Prior to this position, he was Director of Communications and Public Affairs for BHP Billiton Base Metals and its predecessor Rio Algom, an international mining company where he developed and managed the corporate communications and public affairs activities for the company’s domestic and international operations and projects.Wes has also held senior positions with public affairs and communications agencies in Canada and the United States providing communications counsel and support to a wide range of industry sectors including natural resources, environment, energy, financial, health and consumer products and services.

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