Rutter: Sit down. Raking leaves is officially a bad idea

Grandview Cemetery employees in Johnstown, Pa. rake leaves along the fencing to the historical cemetery in November 2016.

You appreciate when science announces your laziness is not only forgiven but even encouraged.

So here's my scientific/lifestyle newsflash for the week. If you are headed out for the final leaf-raking roundup of autumn 2016, you're late. So don't do it. Sit down.


Peer contentedly into your yard and take credit that your laziness is helping sustain life.

As science and its scribes now proclaim, raking yard leaves into neat piles to be hauled off somewhere where they're ignited in violation of local anti-open burning laws is not only wasteful and useless but also destructive.


Who said science is just for eggheads? We lazy people have a friend, too. Our friend is the National Wildlife Federation, which says that raking yard leaves is not only wasted effort on dead life, it actually diminishes a higher value — enhancement that protects life forms that are still alive.

My admission for the record is that I have avoided raking autumn leaves in six states for 50 years and often turned the job over to children who didn't run fast enough when they noticed me coming to dragoon them into cheap servitude. Oh, there were small tufts of rakings here and there, but most were just piddling imitations of real piles, which I often had seen as a youngster but decided to avoid creating copies in what I laughingly call my adulthood.

The same was true for snow, which I also avoided shoveling, except when I paid young lads with trucks and plows to do it for me.

I didn't rake leaves in Indiana.

I didn't rake leaves in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Montana, Florida, Indiana again and Illinois.

I accidentally raked leaves one fall in Wisconsin because everyone was watching, and I couldn't easily escape. But it was so brief an example as to barely count.

The same result for snow in several states. After years of close relatives suggesting I might go outside and shovel snow, I finally just announced it was never going to happen and everyone should cease the sad puppy dog eyes hoping that I would shovel. They were wrong.

In the case of dead foliage strewn over the many yards, there were reasons beyond laziness to avoid intervening with nature. Laziness is a perfectly valid self-defense mechanism.


When leaves fall to the ground, they can be chopped up by a lawnmower — pushed by someone else — and turned into a low-grade mulch for the grass, which I generally ignored, too.

Not only is the Wildlife Federation adamant about not raking leaves — its minions construct good excuses why you have adopted the scientific method in the face of domestic urgings to rake.

It turns out your yard is the home of many other species — salamanders, frogs, toads, box turtles, invertebrates and a number of other critters — that rely on leaf litter for natural cover and nesting areas. Butterflies often start their life cycle in leaf cover as larvae.

You can't tell by just watching your yard, but it's an intricate "feeding web" and every creature has its role.

But if the survival of small, weird animals does not motivate you, there's always the Stage Two.

You can always burn the leaves and thus summon local police to ticket you for open burning violations. Or your towns can dispatch the leaves to the landfill. The Environmental Protection Agency reports yard trimmings accounted for 13.5 percent of solid waste (approximately 33 million tons).


If your town dumps enough leaves, they can overwhelm decomposition. Without enough oxygen to decompose, the leaves churn out a nasty greenhouse gas — methane.

The trucks that tote the leaves to the landfill pollute and add to you local tax bill. Meanwhile, all the nutrient-heaven mulch and compost you could deposit in your own flower beds goes to waste.

Thus, I have decided to join a new environmental movement: "Sit Down and Save a Salamander."

Leave those leaves where they are.

David Rutter was editor for 40 years at six newspapers.