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Report: Leave leaves on yards to aid biodiversity

A new study finds the autumn chore of raking leaves could be a disservice to budding plant life. The National Wildlife Federation found fallen leaves can be crucial to biodiversity. Experts find keeping leaves in a yard acts similar to mulch. They cover roots under plants, suppress weeds, and keep the soil moist. While the group's research finds this is common knowledge, only 25% of people surveyed said they actually leave the leaves.

Holly Shimizu, a board member with the American Horticultural Society, said for a lot pf people, it comes down to aesthetics.

"A lot of people, they love everything super neat and tidy, and if you're using leaves as your mulch, it's not going to have that same, like, totally tidy, neat look," she said. "It's going to be a little bit more natural looking."

But, she added the perception is slowly changing, as more people are working with nature in their gardens. The report reflects this shift as 82% of people surveyed are open to keeping leaves where they are to benefit wildlife.

While keeping leaves has benefits, there are limits to how well this can work.

David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation, said a portion of the yard being covered with leaves can benefit wildlife, but leaving a couple inches of leaves on a lawn will kill it. Either way, bagging leaves is not a better alternative.

"Bagging them up and sending them to the landfill actually is a really bad thing," he said. "It really contributes some really nasty greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere that are a piece of climate change."

Mizejewski noted some states have taken action to keep leaves out of local landfills. The U.S. Composting Council finds 17 states have yard debris bans in place.

Edwin J. Viera is a reporter and producer in North Tonawanda, New York. He's previously reported for the Niagara Gazette and the Ithaca Times. Edwin got an early start in radio interning for WBFO-88.7FM, NPR's Buffalo affiliate. In 2018, he graduated from SUNY Buffalo State College with a B.A. in Journalism, and in 2022, graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Communications.
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