Natural habitat action items for your garden

1

Lose the lawn

Any way you cut it, the non-native turf lawn is an environmental disaster. So get over any lingering love you have for the crisply maintained suburban lawn. That’s so 1950s!

Why do this?

Lawns take up lots of space. There are 40 million acres of turf grass: an area the size of New York State and 3 times larger than any other irrigated crop.

We use up lots of water, fertilizer and pesticides by:

  • Using 7 billion gallons of water per day to irrigate lawns and gardens, overwatering by approximately 50%.
  • Annually applying 90 million pounds of chemical fertilizers and 80 million pounds of pesticides. Both fertilizers and pesticides are applied to residential lawns at up to ten times the average rate that farmers apply them to farmland. The pesticides we apply to them not only kill their intended targets, like mosquitos, caterpillars and weeds, but also nestlings doused with the poisons, and birds that eat the poisoned bugs. The toxic cocktail of these lawn chemicals and excess water runs off into waterways and contributes to dead zones (severely oxygen depleted) in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Annually introducing 26.7 million tons of pollutants into the atmosphere from grass mowing. Per hour an average lawn mower emits 11 times the air pollution a new car emits (assuming the car is moving at 55 mph). In 2017 a California board announced gas-powered lawn equipment may “produce more ozone pollution than all the millions of cars in California.”

Lawns provide scant help to birds, butterflies, bees or beneficial insects, all of which are in steep and fast population decline. Lawns do not typically produce seeds, nectar, pollen or cover to feed or shelter birds or insects. Since nestlings rely primarily on insects for food, no bugs means no baby birds. Shallow turf roots don’t much build topsoil, sequester carbon, mitigate erosion, or hold on to much of the hose or rainwater they receive. Perceptions are changing about what gardens should deliver. Homeowners increasingly shop for gardens that fight climate change and support wildlife. Their children even more so.

Our community health, wildlife and the health of our planet demand it To maintain green lawns, we threaten our health by adding pesticides, broadleaf herbicides, carbon and pollutants to our yards. Children and pets that play on lawns are particularly impacted. Evanston’s elevated levels of asthma (19% compared to 12% across Illinois) can result from a variety of factors, but as lawns are our largest ‘crop’ in Evanston, less toxic grounds management could help. Lawn equipment kicks up toxins we have applied, particulates, and fuel that breathe in, and damages our hearing.

Moreover, an ‘insect apocalypse’ has been documented globally, with German studies reporting a 75-82% drop in insect populations in 27 years, and Puerto Rico reporting a 98% drop compared to the 1970s. We each have experienced the decline in insects: think back to car windshields covered in bugs after a long drive, compared to now when we drive for hours with few to no bug spatter. The absence of insects is dramatic. Insects overwinter in the soil or leaf litter. Lawn maintenance destroys their habitat by adding toxins, and using leaf blowers to sandblast and remove any insect eggs, larvae, cocoons or leaf cover that remains.

Action ideas!

Replace lawn grass with native groundcovers that will thrive in the sun, soil and drainage characteristics of their specific locations. In shady areas, grow native grasses or sedges, or groundcovers that love shade.

Landscape for kid adventure play. A lawn isn't the only surface suitable for play. An arbor or treehouse can be a “secret” clubhouse. One Evanston gardener says her National Wildlife Federation certified habitat offers “play spaces for neighbor kids with a climbing tree, mud kitchen, picnic table, and lots of kid-made forts and teepees.” Butterfly habitat, rain gardens, and backyard ponds, call out for science exploration and watching the small critters that surround us.

Need knowhow? Ask other gardeners, plant societies, environmental groups and arboretums how to start a natural garden. Other gardeners often offer free plants. Establish groundcovers and shallow barriers to contain native plants that spread. After that, the main effort is weeding, and pruning.

If you can’t ditch the lawn:

Plant from seed, not sod, to save carbon and energy, and reduce reliance on sod farms.

  • Coexist with broadleaf plants: clover in your yard just means your lawn is herbiside free: safe for pets and children. Allowing the odd violet feeds the violet fritillary caterpillar: like monarchs need milkweed, the fritillary needs violets.
  • Let your grass die back in droughts. It will recover when the rains return.
  • Consider no-mow or low-mow mixes, or a low-growing native like Pennsylvania or Ivory Sedge, and park the lawnmower. You’ll not only reduce the fuel and exhaust from mowing, but also minimize water use. Allow them to go to seed to feed birds.

If you plan to transition to a natural garden gradually, prioritize removing lawn areas:

  • That get little foot traffic.
  • Where your turf grass is not doing well.
  • Where trees, shrubs or other plants can add outdoor “rooms”, block sightlines, or hide things you don’t want to see or be seen.

Take it on a bit at a time or all at once. Watch for pollinators, like the preposterous little sphinx moth, or the fairy-like firefly and other magical creatures. Enjoy.

More info
America’s Killer Lawns: Homeowners use up 10 times more pesticide per acre than farmers do. But we can change what we do in our own yards.
Margaret Renkl, New York Times, May 2020
Grass Lawns are an Ecological Catastrophe
Lenore Hitchler, ONE (Only Natural Energy), October 2018
The Lawn Is the Largest Irrigated Crop in the USA
Study from The International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS)
To Nurture Nature, Neglect Your Lawn
Why poison the earth when you can have wildflowers at your feet and songbirds in your trees without even trying
Margaret Renkl, Contributing Opinion Writer, The New York Times, April 2019
More Sustainable (and Beautiful) Alternatives to a Grass Lawn
Manicured turf grass lawns cover up to 50 million acres of land in America. But a new, no-mow movement is challenging this conformity—and helping the environment.
Natural Resources Defense Council, September 2016
Get Off My Lawn
How a small group of activists (our correspondent among them) got leaf blowers banned in the nation’s capital
James Fallows, The Atlantic, April 2019
Evaluating the Effects of Sod Farming on Soil Quality
Dave Millar, MS Candidate, Natural Resources Sciences, University of Rhode Island, 2007

2

Leave the leaves

Why not tidy up a garden in the fall? Doesn’t it look better that way?

More and more people say “Leave the Leaves”. To the growing numbers of gardeners aware of the winter needs of birds, bees, butterflies and beneficial insects, tidying leaves is a waste of time and money, and a wasted opportunity to help declining species.

Why do this?

Leaves are nutrients
Leaves are how trees, shrubs and wildflowers retain summer nutrients. Leaves decay and add the plant’s accumulated nutrients in the soil, making trees and other plants better able to withstand drought, flood and other climate impacts. Lose the leaves and we toss away the nutrients that our plants have tailored for our gardens.

Leaves are habitat
North America has over 3,500 native bee species, many of which need winter protection from cold and predators. They find it in hollow plant stems, fallen tree bark and underground. Most butterflies, bees, beetles, fireflies, ants and moths stay north, overwintering as adults or eggs in leaf litter or in underground burrows. Others overwinter as pupae in chrysalises attached to dead plant stems or tucked into soil or leaf litter.

Native ladybugs — not the Asian ones that invade homes — winter in leaves and at the base of plants. They are voracious pest eaters that will give you a head start against pests in the spring. This goes for many other predatory insect species as well.

Many bird species eat insects and/or feed them to their nestlings. The more nutritious caterpillars and other protein rich insects your garden contains in early spring, the more birds you will attract.

It saves cost and labor
Leaving the leaves saves labor, whether yours or your lawn service’s. It can cut lawn care costs, and also air and noise pollution from leaf blowers, and the gas or electricity used to power them. Leaves are free natural mulch and fertilizer.

Less yard waste going into a landfill is less cost to the city. Fewer leaves decomposing in landfills means less methane released, a powerful greenhouse gas.

There even is beauty in undisturbed winter gardens for those who look for it.

Action ideas!

In the spring

  1. Leave seedheads and stems, or else cut and compost, or bundle and tie
    Ideally leave seedheads and stems in your garden standing naturally. Beneficial insects may still be inside stems. Birds need seeds to sustain them until plants flower and bugs are active in late Spring. If you need to cleanup, tie stalks into small bundles of a few dozen stems each and pile them aside in a corner of your garden. Or toss stems loosely onto the compost pile.
  2. Let leaves mulch garden beds
    Let leaves decompose naturally under shrubs and trees. If you must rake leaves, hold off until nighttime low temperatures reliably are 50ºF or higher. Don’t shred the leaves, and the small critters inside them. Avoid leaf blowers if possible, which sandblast emerging insects and terrify birds.
  3. Prune carefully
    Keep a sharp eye out for cocoons and chrysalises hanging from branches and put off pruning those branches until the spiders, insects, moths and butterflies have emerged

In the fall

  • Clear sidewalks of leaves where they become matted or slippery.
  • Pile leaves in areas protected from the wind. Avoid shredding them to save the cocoons, eggs and beneficial insects harboring among them.
  • Spread leaf mulch on bare soil around shrubs or in flower beds, or compost it.
  • Leave seedheads and berries. Birds return to seedheads throughout winter to eat. Have you noticed goldfinches at your echinacea seeds?
  • Leave plant stalks for beneficial insects to overwinter inside them.They take up residence, burrowing into plant stalks for the winter. They use a wide variety of sizes of stalks – from joe pye weed to sunflowers - because the bugs are all different sizes.
  • Don’t spray chemicals or pesticides on trees or other garden areas. Help bugs to overwrinter.
More info
Spring Garden Cleanup with Pollinators in Mind
Evanston RoundTable, Evanston, IL 3/21/19
Why You Should Leave the Leaves
Savvy gardeners know that keeping fallen leaves on their property benefits wildlife and the environment
The National Wildlife Federation, October 2015
Six reasons to NOT clean up the garden this fall
Jessica Walliser, Savvy Gardening, October 2015
Spring garden clean up done RIGHT
Jessica Walliser, Savvy Gardening, March 2016

3

Ditch the chemicals, plant natives

Perhaps you have heard that honeybees are in trouble. That is true, and is a big concern for beekeeping, agriculture and our food supply. But we aren’t just losing the non-native honeybee. Native bees, moths, butterflies, ants, beetles and many other insects that pollinate our crops and gardens are declining. Birds too. It isn’t only that certain species are at risk. Even common birds are becoming less abundant.

What to do? Fortunately, we can make a big difference. Suburbs are key habitat, if we can move away from traditional lawncare and reliance on chemicals.

Why do this?

One of every three bites of our food requires pollination. ~ 80% of Earth’s flowering plants depend upon pollinators. We need birds, bees, flies, moths, butterflies, even ants and beetles to pollinate our plants. We need to remember, before we spray trees and plants, that many caterpillars become pollinators.

Even apart from pollination, we need bugs. We need earthworms, roly poly bugs, crickets, millipedes and diverse others to break down nutrients, consume waste, and enhance soil. We need dragonflies and wasps to keep nuisance bugs in check. We need fireflies for summer magic. Insects are essential to wildlife as well as to us. Grasshoppers, caterpillars, mosquitos and other bugs feed mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and even other insects. They underpin our ecosystem.

Action ideas!

Eliminate chemical pesticides They don’t only kill targeted bugs, but also poison nestlings in their nests, and the birds that eat poisoned bugs. They poison beneficial insects and the predator bugs that keep nuisance bugs at bay. They poison cocoons hanging on milkweed. Save the cost of pesticides, and let the bugs munch in your garden. Caterpillars may take leaves, but the leaves usually bud anew and rarely is the plant or tree killed by the pests. Aphids suck on plants, but usually predator bugs arrive to help return balance to the garden. Birds also may move in if your garden offers bugs.

Skip chemical fertilizers They kill or disrupt underground critters, like fireflies, earthworms and the native bees that burrow underground. Instead use compost, compost tea or mulch to enhance your soil.

Rather than using herbicide, pull the weeds If you must keep a lawn, let the broadleaf plants grow. Violets are a host plant for the violet fritillary butterfly; its caterpillars need violets, just as the monarch caterpillar needs milkweed. A lawn with violets, dandilions and clover means it safe for kids and pets.

Watch out for Neonicotinoids! Sometimes called a ‘bee-killing pesticide’, neonicotinoids are neurotoxins banned by many countries. Illinois state legislators are also considering restricting it. But in the meantime, nurseries treat seeds and plants with it to avoid bug-damage to plants they sell. The effect? The pesticide is very toxic not only to insects. Birds that ate 1-2 seeds suffered immediate weight loss and were forced to delay migration, which can impact their survival and reproductive success. Fish are affected and mammals too; a study of white tailed deer indicated the pesticide contributed to hypothyroidism and lethargy.

Watch for brands that include imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam and acetamiprid, which are neonicotinoids. Common brands containing these chemicals include Bayer, Ortho, Amdro, DIY Tree Care Products, Ferti-lome, Green Light, Hi-Yield Systemic Insect Spray, Knockout Ready-To-Use Grub Killer, Monterey Once a Year Insect Control, Bug B Gon, Surrender and Maxide.

Plant native plants Native plants, evolved over thousands of years, have adapted to our local geography, hydrology, and climate. They have evolved together with other local plants and native wildlife that depend on them.

Seek out host plants Some caterpillars eat only limited plants, called host plants. Similarly some bee species will only seek out certain plants. Many people know that the monarch butterfly needs milkweed. Well, there are many other examples, such as that the spicebush swallowtail needs spicebush, the violet fritillary needs violets and the pearl crescent needs asters. Oak trees feed an amazing 518 native species of caterpillar.

Plant for all seasons To help pollinators and birds throughout the year, select plants that blooms, fruit and generate nectar spring through autumn, and produce berries and seeds that last through winter.

Birds need layered landscapes. Some nest near the ground and others in high tree limbs. For them, plant groundcover, wildflowers, shrubs, understory trees and shade trees to attract diverse songbird species to your yard.

Thanks for caring for the little creatures.

More info
Pesticides and Toxic Fertilizers
Deep Roots Project, undated
Lawn Chemicals
How to Protect Yourself from Potential Poisonings
National Poison Control Center, 2011
Huge decline in songbirds linked to common insecticide, Stephen Leahy, National Geographic, September 12, 2019
How the world’s most widely used insecticide led to a fisher collapse, Douglas Main, National Geographic, November 13, 2019
Is an insecticide that harms bees bad for deer? , Dan Gunderson, MPR News, March 19, 2019

4

Reduce bird deaths

Every year in the United States up to one billion birds die from collisions with glass and approximately 2.4 billion die from outdoor cats, according to the American Bird Conservancy.

You can reduce bird window strikes at your home with simple, inexpensive steps.

Regarding keeping cats indoors, what’s good for birds is also good for cats: People for Ethical Treatment of Animals urges keeping pet cats indoors for their health.

Why do this?

Birds help us

  • Birds eat destructive pests. Many gardeners are aware of birds helping vegetable and flower gardens by eating cabbage white butterflies and other garden bugs. Wineries often post bluebird boxes to entice the birds to stay and eat bugs that damage their grape crops. Jays, hawks and other raptors eat and help control populations of small rodents, like mice and baby rats.
  • Birds fertilize crops and gardens with their guano (poop).
  • Crucially, birds add music and beauty, life and drama to our backyards and our community. How sad if mornings lacked bird song!

Birds help plants

  • They disperse seeds. Birds eat berries and other fruits, and spread seeds in their droppings. Some plants even rely on particular bird hosts. For example, whitebark pine in the western United States is threatened by exploding populations of mountain pine beetles, which are more numerous due to warmer winters. The whitebark pine are dispersed by a particular nutcracker (Clark’s nutcracker).
  • Birds assist with germination, eating fruits, removing pulp and scratching the seed coat so that it germinates more readily.
Action ideas!

Bird strikes

American Bird Conservancy has tested the many easy ways to reduce bird strikes against windows. Here are some examples:

  • Hanging filaments, such as Acopian Blinds. These hanging ‘Zen’ curtains are long lasting and effective. A DIY version costs about $2 per 24″ x 32″ window.
  • Films that add dots or stripes (at least 1/8” wide) to your windows. You can apply these yourself for $10-$31 per 24″ x 32″ window. Most birds will avoid patterns on glass with vertical stripes four inches apart or less, or horizontal stripes spaced two inches or less apart. So avoid gaps bigger than 4” x 2”.
  • Apply Tempera paint (available at art supply and craft stores) freehand with brush or sponge, or use a stencil as a template. It will need redo, especially after hard rains. Soap decoration wiped onto the window is another short term solution while you find a more permanent plan.
  • External netting, screens or shades can work as well.
  • For new construction, glass can be purchased with frit incorporated that is visible to birds. Buildings can also be designed to reduce glass or to break up facades so that they are more visible to birds. Avoid glass balconies, walkways and corners where panes meet because all these create invisible obstacles in flightpaths.
  • Avoid positioning houseplants indoors where birds may hit a window trying to land on them.
  • Similarly, outdoor trees and shrubs reflected in glass may confuse birds into flying into glass to reach the reflected foliage. A vine growing outside against a window, however, may act as a screen, reducing collisions since birds landing on the vine may not gather enough speed to be seriously injured by the glass. (But it must be dense enough that birds do not try to fly through it and hit the glass.)

What doesn’t work? Window decals. They only work if they are placed close enough to avoid 4” x 2” gaps, much closer than manufacturers usually recommend.

What about cats?

Cats are non-native and abundant. There are more than 100 million pet cats in the United States, and they are effective at killing birds. We love, feed and care for cats. So they become strong, and strong predators are effective at snagging birds. Cats kill birds even if they are well fed, driven by pure instinct to hunt. Often times a snagged bird doesn’t die immediately; it may fly away. But a claw or tooth puncture may be a mortal injury or become a lethal infection. The bird may not give up and may use its last strength to escape, leading people to think it survived when it didn’t.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recommends transitioning outdoor cats to the indoors for their own health as well. Transitioning an outdoor cat to indoor life may seem a daunting task, but it protects cats from untreatable disease, parasites, vehicle injury and other dangers.

Some advocate for “trap, neuter and release” (TNR) programs for cats. Usually well meaning folks catch feral cats, vaccinate, neuter and release them. These feral cat colonies exist even in Evanston, with folks feeding the cats as well. But the reality is that TNR programs have been studied and don’t reduce cat populations fast enough. Birds, especially nesting birds, can be wiped out while a TNR cat colony persists or feral cats continue to hunt. Studies have also shown that new cats are abandoned at TNR sites, increasing the colony, rather than turning in added cats to shelters. In the meantime, these feral cats run the same risks that PETA cites: untreatable diseases, like highly contagious feline leukemia, parasites and injury.

Outdoor lighting

Reduce it if you can. Bright lights at night attract birds in the same way that bright porch lights attract moths, which can result in fatal collisions. Birds see lights on the horizon and orient toward the city. As mentioned in Science Daily, “there is no place in the northeastern United States where they can’t see the sky glow of a city.”

Audubon has determined that “While lights can throw birds off their migration paths, bird fatalities are more directly caused by the amount of energy the birds waste flying around and calling out in confusion. The exhaustion can then leave them vulnerable to other urban threats” (like collision with building windows). 

Thanks for considering how you can help birds.

More info
Glass-collision worksheet in English, Spanish or Portuguese
Information to help manage transitioning your cat to stay indoors from PETA and from ABC.
City lights setting traps for migrating birds: How birds are drawn to artificial light pollution in urban areas, Science Daily, January 19, 2018

5

Help your trees, and plant more

Because trees reduce carbon pollution and help us adapt to climate change, and because tree mass can be measured, Evanston’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan makes maintaining and expanding the tree canopy on city land a priority, as well as encourages you to do the same on land you own.

Why do this?

Trees and greenery clean our air and water

  • They give us oxygen.
  • They remove chemical pollutants from our air. Trees remove carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides and other pollutants from our air. The many leaves of larger, mature trees capture more pollution.
  • They capture fine particles. Trees save an average of one life every year in ten US cities studied. In New York City, for example, trees saved an average of 8 lives/year. Children are less likely to have asthma if they live in leafy neighborhoods.
  • They filter pollutants from stormwater.
  • They help handle storm runoff, reduce flooding and reduce the stormwater that needs treatment.
    • Roots absorb and filter stormwater.
    • Leaves collect water so that it can evaporate more slowly over time (and cool our neighborhood).
    • A mature tree intercepts 2,500 gallons of rainfall per year, according to the US Forest Service.

Trees and greenery make dollar sense

  • They save energy and reduce heating bills. Evergreens blocking winter winds - save an average 3% on heating. Trees shading homes in summer also save on air conditioning.
  • They increase our homes’ value. Homes in neighborhoods with mature trees sell for 10+ % more. On average, each large front yard tree adds 1% to sales price. Large trees can add 10%. ** They are good for business*. Shoppers will travel farther for tree-lined streets, they linger, and are willing to spend 12% more.
  • They pay us back. A single large tree produces benefits worth $3,000+ over 40-year lifespan. Chicago’s 157 million trees provide services worth $195 million/year (capture air pollution, store carbon, reduce energy costs).

Trees and greenery calm and lower tensions

  • They help us relax. Seeing trees or being exposed to nature reduces blood pressure, helps hospital patients recover, increases worker productivity. Drivers who see trees and nature are less frustrated and have fewer accidents. People drive more slowly on tree-lined streets. Children experience less stress.
  • They help us keep fit. People are more likely to be physically active, less likely to be overweight or obese.
  • They keep us cooler. A big shade tree can lower its surrounding temperature by 10 - 15OF, reducing the “heat island effect”.
  • They make streets quieter. A band of trees and shrubs on a raised berm reduces highway noise by 6 - 10 decibels.
  • They make cities safer.
    • Neighborhoods with trees and natural landscapes experience less domestic violence.
    • Leafy apartment complexes had 52% fewer crimes.
    • Studies show trees contribute to stronger ties among neighbors, a greater sense of safety, closer supervision of children outdoors, healthier patterns of children's play, more use of neighborhood common spaces, fewer property crimes, and fewer violent crimes. Adolescents in urban communities may display less aggressive behavior if they live in neighborhoods with more greenery.

We are losing so many big trees around Evanston, and they are irreplaceable. A white oak that is 35” across its diameter (at around breast height (4.5’ high)) is estimated to be about 270 years old. An acorn in 1749, it long predates the city of Evanston (1863), the American Revolution (1776) and George Washington’s presidency (1790).

Action ideas!

What can you do for Trees? Preserve and help them.

Whether you have a big old tree or a young-un on your property, protect it from work at the house, construction, mowing, and toxins.

Protect the base and roots of your trees

  • Is mulch or dirt piled up around the trunk? Piled-up mulch and dirt hold moisture against the bark and start decay that can eat away at the heart of the tree.
  • Is the bark damaged from a mower or weed whip? Are there signs that dogs have been visiting (white marks from urine)? Damage to the bark from mowers or dogs can also give disease and decay a place to start
  • Pull back grass and weeds to at least three feet from the trunk. Don’t dig or you could injure the tree’s shallow feeder roots. Most tree roots are only 2-4’ deep, and extend to the tree drip line (as far as the branches stretch).
  • Make an organic mulch ring. Shredded leaves are good, and wood chips are free for the taking at James Park. Ideally the ring should reach the tree’s drip line (rule of thumb: three inches deep, three inches away from the trunk, three feet wide). This will keep mowers away, suppress weeds, and hold moisture during hot months.
  • If dogs frequently stop by your parkway tree, post a sign encouraging dog-walkers to steer their pets to the curb, or protect the base of the tree with a fence or barrier.

Water young trees in dry weather

  • A young tree needs 15-20 gallons of water for every week without rain. Best is a slow trickle, but any water is better than none at all.
  • If you use a landscape service, be sure they follow the above rules.
  • If you have concerns about parkway trees, call 311.
More info
Morton Arboretum Value of Trees
The Morton Arboretum Tree Selector
Note that under “What Would You Like in a Tree?” you can select “Would you prefer a tree native to Illinois?”
Wendy Pollock’s excellent Help Trees article in the Evanston Roundtable
Trees Pay Us Back, US Forest Service

Two Programs sponsored by Natural Habitat Evanston

Certify your garden with the National Wildlife Federation

Ensure your garden provides for wildlife: food, water, cover, a place to raise young and sustainable steps for birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Learn more at NWF's website (link below).

In June of 2019 we at Natural Habitat Evanston reached our goal! Evanston became the first city in Illinois to become a National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat. Each additional garden certified with NWF helps to maintain our status.

New Program: Take the Pollinator Pledge!

Take more steps for sustainability and insects. For human health and to combat the devastating declines in insects and songbirds, pledge to take the six steps listed on our yard sign below:

Have questions?

Ready to take the Pledge?

Already have a pollinator friendly garden?

To help educate your neighbors on the Pollinator Pledge, you can get a yard sign from Natural Habitat Evanston (NHE) by emailing us. The sign explains the steps you are taking and how to get more information online. NHE is offering the signs for a minimum $10 contribution to cover its costs. (No sign is required though to take the pledge.)