Ridgefield teen pens book to teach homeowners how to help local wildlife

RIDGEFIELD — Sofia Schaffer said her love for wildlife was fostered during visits to the Woodcock Nature Center. From a young age, she’d run the hiking trails and muck through the swamps in search of salamanders, chipmunks and frogs.

“I loved being out in the woods with the animals around me, and my passion for nature blossomed from there,” she said.

As a lover of reading and writing, Schaffer, 17, decided to merge her many interests into a self-published work — “Hedgerow Habitats: Supporting Your Neighborhood Wildlife.”

The book is part of Schaffer’s bid for the Girl Scout Gold Award; she’s a member of Troop 50181 in Ridgefield. The award includes a “Take Action” project that addresses the root cause of an issue affecting a community, town, state or country.

The book aims to educate suburban homeowners on how to positively impact the health of the local ecosystem by sowing native plants in their private landscapes. It also outlines the benefits of creating hedgerows along property lines, which make lawns more hospitable to local wildlife.

Schaffer, a junior at The Hopkins School in New Haven, described hedgerows as a “wildlife highway system” full of wild and native plants. These hedges help preserve the biodiversity of an ecosystem and stave off habitat fragmentation, which is a “huge issue” in the suburbs, she said.

Under habitat fragmentation, “animals are isolated and can’t get from place to place,” Schaffer explained. “Having little pockets of wildlife refuges won’t help because the genetic diversity will suffer. (They) can’t intermix, they become more susceptible to disease — all sorts of issues can arise.”

Schaffer’s book recommends planting hedgerows as a solution to this problem; the text offers instructions on how to establish hedgerows on one’s property. “Even if it inspired a few people, it would still be more beneficial to the wildlife in the area,” she said.

Schaffer spent the summer writing the book and finished its illustrations a few weeks ago. During the process she interacted with field professionals from the Connecticut Audubon, native nurseries and botanic gardens who readily received her work with enthusiasm, she said.

The first copies of “Hedgerow Habitats” were at the printer when Schaffer spoke with Hearst Connecticut Media on Monday. She hopes she’ll have copies by the time she delivers an author talk at the Ridgefield Library, but acknowledged that it might be a little ambitious.

“It’s been pretty amazing to be able to publish it since it’s a subject I’m truly passionate about,” she added. “All the work I put into it will be worth it if people adopt the suggestions I put forth in my writing.”

The library will present Schaffer’s author talk via Zoom at 2 p.m. Saturday To register, visit ridgefieldlibrary.org or call 203-438-2282.