Sharing understanding grows social media machine

Sep. 8—Kyle Lybarger has turned his own passion for native grassland habitat into a social media sensation. It's one that's come about through a natural, organic growth of its own, and it's an electronic version of the grassroots work he's doing every day in the field.

People enjoy their land more when they better understand what they have and what it means in the greater scheme of things. That's something Kyle Lybarger, of Hartselle, Ala., has learned firsthand.

Lybarger, 30, is a consulting forester and creator of the Native Habitat Project, a business he has grown into a full-time private consultation firm for landowners interested in improving their properties for their own enjoyment and the benefit of wildlife.

The spring of 2017 found Lybarger newly graduated from forestry school, yet still unable to identify a number of plants he was encountering in remnants of grassy savannas he saw around Alabama. That condition bothered him enough that he started taking photos of the plants he was seeing and posting them to a Facebook group in a quest to identify them.

In a typical scenario, Lybarger might cut cedars from a patch of rocky ground, then spray to kill species of invasive plants. What would come back in its place often proved to be a riot of color and diversity, all created from a historical seed bank that had been lying dormant for decades. As he identified these plants, both online and in person, he discovered two things: One, the biodiversity that existed across the Deep South and, indeed, much of the country 200 years ago was ideally suited for species that have been removed or greatly reduced now, directly due to that habitat's absence. Two, nobody was talking about it.

"The more I worked, the more I learned," Lybarger says. "The landowners were always intrigued. I started doing videos of what I was doing so we could inform everyone else in the state about how cool these places were. I wanted to get everyone else as fired up about it as I was."

Lybarger began by making a weekly photo album on social media. He would take pictures of everything he encountered that was blooming, then he'd come home and figure out what each plant was. People enjoyed those posts, so he graduated to making videos.

"The first video I made got 10,000 views, so I kept making videos," he said. "I was horrible at it at first. I can't watch the first ones I made. In them, I look like I'm sad and in pain, but I kept at it and got better."

Today, the Native Habitat Project has 258,000 followers on Facebook, 358,000 on Instagram, 451,000 on TikTok and 229,000 on YouTube. All are still growing, and Lybarger's mission is taking hold as well.

Turkeys For Tomorrow, a nonprofit conservation organization, is one group Lybarger supports through sharing his videos. Both he and TFT have a passion for habitat restoration for the benefit of wild turkeys.

The native habitat changed through the process of colonization, by the removal of the bison, then the supression of fire from the grassy landscape.

"The first explorers here came up from the rivers and saw endless prairies with sparse, low, gnarled trees," Lybarger says. "These areas were easily changed over to farmland because they were already open, had very rich soil and folks didn't have to remove any or many trees. Farming practices took a lot out of them. The prairies that are left now are mostly on rocky or wet ground. Everywhere else has been used for agriculture, timber production and cattle."

While each property requires its own prescription for a return to the landscape of the past, that is a transition that can be achieved almost everywhere. Lybarger recommends landowners begin by studying what they do have, consulting with local Natural Resource Conservation Service personnel and, potentially, having a consulting forester look at it and make a plan. Whether a property needs to be sprayed or not, to kill invasive species or not, is something that can't be said without a study of the specific property in question.

To see Lybarger's project, visit online, or search NativeHabitatProject on any major social media platform. To learn more about Turkeys For Tomorrow, visit

Kevin is the weekend edition editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at