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North Hills Monthly

Turning Your Backyard into a Wildlife Habitat

Aug 28, 2020 01:53PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

National Wildlife Federation. Photo by David Mizejewski

Everyone is spending more time at home these days, but that doesn’t mean more time indoors. Many are working on their yards and making concentrated efforts to attract birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife. Some are taking feeding the birds and planting gardens one step further and having their yards certified as natural habitats.

“Since the pandemic began, we’ve had a record number of people visiting our Garden for Wildlife website to learn more, and record numbers of people are certifying their yards and gardens,” said Naturalist David Mizejewski of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

The NWF works to protect wildlife for the future, and having families certify their yards helps fulfill that mission while also providing an outlet. “Gardening—especially gardening for wildlife—is such a rewarding thing to do and can really offer a sense of solace and positivity in these troubled times,” said Mizejewski.

The Certified Wildlife Habitat designation recognizes the commitment and effort made in creating gardens and yards that attract and support wildlife—and those efforts help to offset the damage that humans do.

“Human activity continues to cause the decline of many species around the globe. The act of creating a wildlife habitat garden is a powerful way that people can ‘think globally, act locally’ and our program gives people a way to get involved and act in a meaningful, personal way,” Mizejewski said.

It isn’t that difficult for an area to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat; a garden or yard must provide natural sources of food and water, and places of cover to raise young. Those hoping to get their yards certified must also maintain these areas by using natural and environmentally friendly sustainable practices.

The paperwork can be found on the National Wildlife Federation’s website at www.nwf.org, and there is a $20 application fee for certification.

The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania also has a Certified Backyard Habitat (CBH) program.

“Being part of the CBH program offers participants a way to make a positive difference for birds, pollinators and wildlife while also attracting unique species to their property,” said Conservation Director Sarah Koenig. “It’s a win for the environment while boosting wildlife viewing opportunities.”

The Audubon program offers three levels of certification including Habitat Guardian (Silver), Habitat Champion (Gold), and Habitat Hero (Platinum). 

It focuses on five areas, including:

• Native plants: providing plantable space dedicated to native plants 

• Natural products: avoiding neonicotinoids, and reducing or eliminating conventional chemicals 

• Wildlife stewardship: cats must be kept indoors and participants choose from a variety of stewardship options such as providing water sources

• Clean water: incorporating practices that support healthy watersheds, such as installing rain barrels or converting turf grass to meadow 

• Education and Engagement: participating in native plant workshops, Citizen Science, and/or volunteering to support the CBH program.

Koenig cited the advantages of creating a wildlife habitat. “You get to be part of the movement to support birds and pollinators. Your yard will be part of a network of mini-nature reserves, helping to provide the resources necessary for birds and pollinators to thrive,” she said.

The CBH program includes a site visit, custom report, and a variety of resources to assist in making a welcoming environment for wildlife. For a detailed list of the certification requirements, visit www.aswp.org/pages/backyard-habitat-program.

There is a $35 fee for ASWP members and a $50 fee for nonmembers, which includes a one-year household membership.

“When you’ve reached the certification requirements, ASWP provides a yard sign and a custom What’s in Your Backyard pocket naturalist guide that has been designed for western Pennsylvania by ASWP staff,” said Koenig.

Resources for Creating a Wildlife Habitat

The National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife is a national education and outreach program. Their website  http://nwf.org/garden offers articles, videos, tip sheets and additional information on creating wildlife habitat gardens.

“One notable resource is our Native Plant Finder, where people can enter their zip codes and get a list of the best plants to support butterflies, moths and the songbirds that feed on caterpillars,” Mizejewski said.

Mizejewski’s book, Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife, is another NWF resource. “It’s a how-to book that walks folks through the process of creating wildlife habitat gardens and getting them certified,” he said, adding that all sales support the National Wildlife Federation’s programs.

Audubon also provides resources and information. “Upon enrollment, we provide a CBH Guide that includes details on the certification requirements, sample native plant garden designs and more,” said Koenig. “Each property gets a site assessment and custom report with recommendations to guide in creating a nurturing environment for birds, pollinators and wildlife.

“We regularly offer native plant, habitat gardening, and Citizen Science programming,” she added.