An Open Letter: Saving the Fireflies in My Neighborhood
This letter is meant for anyone who cares about their world and wants to take action at the local scale. Please feel free to reuse and repost, with credit to the original author.
To My Neighborhood Homeowners Association,
Fireflies have long been a staple of the summer nights of my childhood. I remember galaxies of blinking lights dancing across the slumbering lawn. My siblings and I would catch them in our hands, their light streaming through our fingertips, and then send them back to the night sky with a wish.
Over the years the summer nights have grown darker and darker still. Hundreds have become dozens.
This summer I have seen only two.
I’m not alone in noticing the stark decrease in fireflies in the last decade. The firefly population in the United States is quickly going extinct in large part due to habitat loss.
Often the many impacts of climate change and environmental destruction feel far away, and the solutions too complex and expensive for people to feel like they can help at the individual scale.
This is not one of those moments.
This is one moment where helping the environment is easy, cheaper than continuing to destroy it, and the positive effects will be seen in a matter of weeks. The single biggest point to start is to mow the lawn less frequently.
Grass is vital for fireflies to rest in during the day and place their eggs. Currently our subdivision, and the subdivisions of many homeowners in the state, have lawn care companies come in every single week to mow the grass. This is incredibly expensive; lawn care alone adds hundreds of dollars every year to homeowners fees. It is also extremely loud; leaf blowers often reach over 90 decibels, near the noise of a rock concert. Though hard to calculate, this noise creates less sleep for people and decreases the concentration of the many more people who now work from home. The next time you wake up crabby, irritable, and find it hard to concentrate at your work, look outside: chances are there are lawn mowers being used.
The fumes from the machines irritate the lungs of the neihborhood’s residents in the short term and deposit benzene, formaldehyde, diesel particulates and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, all well known carcinogens that cause cancer over time.
The exhaust from these machines put out 13 billion tonnes of carbon and nitrous dioxide in the air that humanity will have to deal with for millennia. The EPA estimates that “hour-for-hour, gasoline powered lawn mowers produce 11 times as much pollution as a new car…each gas-powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new automobiles driven 12,000 per year.”
Our mowed lawns are killing fireflies quickly, and they are killing us slowly.
The switch I am proposing is small. If we switch from typical grass to any of the six varietals of low-maintenance, low-growing grass such as Bermuda grass or Buffalo grass, it is possible to only mow every four weeks. Alternatively, we could use clover mixes that are extremely low maintenance and work better than standard grass to fight weeds and fix nutrients into the soil. Both low-lying grass and clover enable less mowing, giving the fireflies time to lay their eggs. The upfront cost would be paid back within the year by using fewer lawn care services.
In the daylight you will get to see beautiful clover, and dandelions, wild carrot, and knapweed, sprinkle the neighborhood with color, attracting and supporting butterflies, bees, and dragonflies.
In summary I propose:
- Switch to low-lying grass and clover mixes for community-owned areas of the neighborhood such as the playground and other open spaces.
- Encourage people to switch from standard grass to low-lying grass or clover mixes for their individual lawns via lower Home Owners Association fees since their grass would now create less air pollution for the entire neighborhood.
- An amendment to the contract between our Homeowners Association and the lawn care services company we work with to mow the grass in the neighborhoods half as much, and not at all between May and June which is the peak mating period for fireflies.
- Encourage people to use environmentally friendly pesticides and non-chemical options when dealing with pests via fines to individuals and lawn care companies of $600–1,800 for using known carcinogenic pesticides such as RoundUp.
There is always the question in every home-owners mind: will this action have a negative impact on the property value of my house? I believe far from it; mowing less can have a positive impact on the neighborhood’s image as a place where people get the benefit of fireflies at night, butterflies during the day, cleaner air, lower rates of cancer, cheaper Homeowners Association fees, and greater quiet.
It also shows that this neighborhood is a well educated, caring place. I believe this small action can increase property values as much as 10%. People, especially as they shift more to working from home are willing to pay higher premiums for quieter neighborhoods and cleaner air.
There are few moments where doing the right thing is simultaneously cheap and easy.
This is one of them.
For your best interests of your wallet, the health of yourself and your children, and for the small fireflies that remind us of the immeasurable beauty of the world, I implore you to take immediate action to put in place more environmentally friendly housing regulations.
P.S. Mowing lawns less frequently and using less pesticide are the biggest ways to save the local firefly population. But you can also start today by turning off your porch lights. This will save you money on your electricity bill and enable fireflies to better find each other.