Ohio couple Sarah Baker and Daryl Watson are fighting Licking County’s St. Albans Township for the ability to maintain their yard as a nature sanctuary for birds, native plants and pollinators. The couple refuses to mow their lawn, but three St. Albans Township trustees and the township’s zoning inspector have said that they can either mow their yard, which is reportedly outside the village limits in the rural Ohio countryside, or the township will hire a lawn mowing service to cut it for them at the couple’s expense. Baker and Daryl say that, as stewards of their land, and after a mow last year resulted in the death of a snake, a toad, and the destruction of the natural habitat of crucial pollinators and beneficial insects, they decided that this year, they would maintain their yard as a nature sanctuary.
“I’m actually attempting to do what I feel is the most responsible and sensible thing,” Baker told The Columbus Dispatch. Licking County Soil and Water Conservation District officials are aware of the critical state of North American pollinators and even have posted a link on the county’s webpage to the USDA’s webpage that stresses the importance of making every effort to provide natural habitats for pollinators.
The township doesn’t actually have a specific ordinance that the Ohio couple are violating, reports say. The township’s zoning inspector says that he can have a landscaping company come onto the couple’s yard and mow it at the couple’s expense under a very broad and nonspecific nuisance ordinance. The township trustees claim that the couple’s yard is a risk to the community’s health, welfare and safety. According to The Columbus Dispatch, neighbors have never even complained.
“We’re a land of laws,” Trustee Randal Almendinger told the couple. “We have to adhere to them, too. We have to do what we’re told to do.”
Almendinger says that the law is to eradicate whatever the township trustees decide is a nuisance, and since the laws don’t define what constitutes a nuisance, The Columbia Dispatch reported, “The trustees said their only recourse is to rely on the wisdom of their longtime zoning inspector, Tom Frederick.”
Frederick admits that it is a judgement call.
“Yes it’s a judgment call, and it’s my judgment.”
— Columbus Dispatch (@DispatchAlerts) July 20, 2015
Baker spent her childhood playing on the grounds of Baker’s Acres greenhouse and garden center in Alexandria, Ohio.
“I’ve lived around plants all of my life,” Baker said, explaining that when she moved to the house she currently lives in with her boyfriend Watson, it was completely abandoned and had sat vacant for seven years. On July 4, Baker sent a letter to Frederick extending her plea to grow, not mow, her lawn, which is a National Wildlife Federation certified “wildlife habitat.”
“A mowed lawn, put simply, is habitat loss. It’s a barren wasteland that provides no food or shelter for wildlife. It’s a virtual green desert.”
Her letter cited facts about maintaining a natural habitat, explaining that she and Watson even eradicate invasive species of plants and pull weeds deemed noxious in order to better support the sustainability of the Ohio countryside’s native plants and wildlife. She says that she spends more time maintaining her property than most people who mow their lawns.
“As Christians, getting to do this, turning our property into a sanctuary, is an opportunity to be a good steward to God. Having to mow that property would feel like a violation of my values.”
Trustee Charles Reeves was among the trustees who remained unmoved.
“Weeds are weeds. It’s not debatable,” he said.
Manon VanSchoyck, founder and Executive Director of Ohio Nature Education, supports the couple’s efforts to maintain their yard as a nature sanctuary.
“Perhaps the community standard should be what Baker & Watson are doing with their property. They are providing habitat for butterflies, birds, bees and other pollinators,” VanSchoyck argued. “I would think that a farm community would appreciate pollinators as opposed to lawns which are nothing but a monoculture. Nuisance, you say? There’s more of a chance that Baker & Watson’s neighbors are the nuisances who spray their yards with harmful chemicals such as Round Up that research has proven kills human cells and has led to the demise of pollinators such as honeybees.”
Baker argued that the township has hundreds of acres of GMO cornfields, and she feels a responsibility to offset that.
“These corn fields displace native plants and ecosytems, degrade the soil, and cause chemical run-off that hurts waterways…..I can’t think of a bigger ‘nuisance’ than that. I feel the authorities are not qualified to deem a property a nuisance. Their decision was not based on scientific fact… I am growing a living eco-system.”
Ronald Rothhaas Jr., certified consulting arborist of Arbor Doctor, urged the Ohio couple to consult with the experts from Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
“Abundant research is out there on urban prairies, rain gardens, urban meadows, and natural landscapes. If the zoning inspector can’t find such information he isn’t looking,” Rothhaas pointed out.
“So instead of looking at this problem as a ‘problem,” Watson wrote, “we’ve decided to see it as an opportunity to share our principles with other people, as well as test ourselves and those principles.”
Those principles might not mirror the principles of the township officials in the rural Ohio community, but they do reflect a massive push across the nation to sustain pockets of sanctuary for wildlife and pollinators wherever possible. Most recent proclamations indicate that the Ohio couple’s principles are even supported by the President of the United States. Earlier this year, the White House called for every American to figure out a way to help save the pollinators, as The Inquisitr reported.
“YOU can share some land with pollinators—bees, butterflies, other insects, birds, bats—by planting a pollinator garden or setting aside some natural habitat. YOU can think carefully before applying any pesticides and always follow the label instructions. YOU can find out more about the pollinator species that live near you.”
— John Chance (@SciencesInfo1A) June 28, 2015
Do you think the Ohio couple should mow or grow their lawn, and should they take legal action to protect the native eco-system they are tending from being destroyed by St. Albans Township officials?
[Featured photo credit: State of Ohio, Bottom photo credit: Mae Taylor Photography]