Ted Weber

Four out of five Americans live in urban areas, whereas most wildlife—especially rare species—live in rural, often remote areas. Though cities are not typically associated with wildlife, nature and its creatures play important roles in urban life.  

While few people will have the good fortune to see a snow leopard or tiger in the wild, everyone can appreciate the species typically found in urban areas such as native birds, butterflies, frogs, or mammals like deer, rabbits and foxes. In fact, studies show that taking time to go outdoors and appreciate those species can improve one’s physical and mental health.  

Children birdwatching at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge USFWS
Biodiverse Baltimore

The city of Baltimore, Maryland, once an industrial powerhouse, is home to 585,000 people and nearly 3,000 species, 2,000 of which are native and 23 are on the state list of rare, threatened and endangered species. The city is a great example of urban biodiversity, boasting more than 4,900 acres of parkland, including areas of forest. The surrounding landscape includes such jewels as the 13,000-acre Patuxent Research Refuge, which is designated an Important Bird Area and is home to over 250 species of birds alone.  

While the city and surrounding region are abundant in species, large areas of Baltimore—particularly those with poor, minority populations—lack direct access to nature that wealthier communities enjoy. This is one of the historically, negative consequences of redlining, an insidious practice in American cities from the 1930s through the 1960s in which Black people were denied mortgages and other financial services simply because of the neighborhoods in which they lived. Redlining created a legacy of economic and racial inequality which persists today through removing or withholding critical investment into certain neighborhoods. In Baltimore, previously redlined neighborhoods have less tree canopy and lower tree diversity than other parts of the city. This means lack of shade and cooling, hotter summer temperatures and fewer wildlife species.    

Chart showing an inverse relationship between the percent of tree cover in a neighborhood and the percent of people living below the poverty line.
Howard Center for Investigative Journalism and Capital News Service analysis of 2015 tree canopy data via U.S. Forest Service and University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab; poverty data via U.S. Census Bureau.

Fortunately, Baltimore has been working to increase its tree canopy. In 2007, Baltimore set a goal to increase its tree cover from 20% to 40% by 2037. Since then, city officials have worked with community organizations to plant trees all over the city – especially in previously redlined and otherwise under-served neighborhoods.

Threats to Urban Wildlife

Some species, including many non-native or invasive, have adapted to urban life. Those that have not are threatened by conversion and fragmentation of habitat, pesticide spraying, collisions with vehicles, noise and light pollution, and for birds, collisions with buildings. Climate change is only making things worse, with more intense heat waves, droughts, storms and flooding.  

How to Help Urban Wildlife

Explore local nature and learn about what’s around you! Discovering local wildlife is a great activity for individuals and families alike. Grab a local guidebook or download an app to see which regional birds, plants and other species are nearby. You can log your sightings using iNaturalist, eBird or Merlin, and contribute to scientists’ knowledge of what lives where. Additionally, posting your photos and experiences on social media helps spread the word!  

If you have a yard, make it friendly for wildlife. Plant a variety of native species—anything from trees, shrubs, flowers and ground cover—that can provide food and shelter throughout the year. Put up a birdbath and fill it with fresh, clean water during the summer. Set aside areas free from mowing or raking so pollinators and other species have a place to live and overwinter. Keep house cats indoors, as they prey on birds and other animals by instinct.  

To get more involved, learn about threats to local wildlife and natural areas. Contact local officials with concerns, write a letter to the local paper and tell others who might be interested or affected. The Defenders Activist Hub has a toolkit that can help guide you along the way!   


Ted Weber headshot

Ted Weber

Policy Analyst, Climate Adaptation
As the Policy Analyst for Climate Adaptation, Ted brings experience as an ecologist and natural resource planner to Defenders of Wildlife.

Wildlife & Wild Places

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