If you had the opportunity to make the little corner of the planet where you live
a better place and it wouldn’t involve depriving yourself of something you enjoy,
doing anything too strenuous or spending a lot of money, would you be interested?
A lot of people have done just that and are glad they did. They have become
involved in a Garden For Wildlife project.
The Garden For Wildlife Program was begun by the National Wildlife
Federation (NWF) in 1973 as the Backyard Wildlife Habitat initiative. Its purpose
was (and still is) to encourage everyone – homeowners, school groups, civic
organizations, businesses – to manage small portions of the landscape with the
needs of wildlife in mind. In the 46 years of the program over 217,000 sites in the
United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and other countries have been certified as
involved. Those habitats range in size from the smallest, an apartment balcony, to
the largest, a 6,500-acre forest. Millions of persons have been involved in projects
covering more than 2.5 million acres.
Certification by the NWF’s Garden For Wildlife program means more than
recognition. Participants receive technical information and assistance in making
their selected habitat more wildlife-friendly. Some examples of public sites that
have been developed through the program are the grounds of the Colony Hotel in
Kennebunkport, Maine; the Brentwood-Darlington House in Portland, Oregon; and
the Ronald McDonald House in Clevelend, Ohio. Most of the sites are small,
private acreages, however – literally backyards and their equivalent.
Starting a Garden For Wildlife project is not difficult. Participants begin by
assessing their yard or garden space to identify the habitat elements that already
exist. The key factors are food, water, shelter, sustainable practices and places for
wildlife to raise young.
For example, some shrubs and trees such as blueberry, sumac, holly, oaks and
longleaf pines provide fruits and seeds throughout the year for backyard wildlife.
Perennials and annuals, such as lantana, garden phlox, zinnias and sunflowers are a
prime source of nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. And, of course, a variety
of feeders can provide sustenance for birds that reside close by year around or
Water is often already available in decorative bird baths, natural sumps or
ponds. It can be supplemented with stormwater management features such as
collection barrels that empty into wildlife-accessible containers.
Cover, valuable for shelter and nesting, often exists in the form of evergreen
shrubs, deciduous trees, rock and brush piles, and houses built specifically for
birds, bats or butterflies. If not already present, such features can be created.
Sustainable practices involve things like utilizing rain barrels where feasible,
compost piles and gardens, and not over-using chemical pesticides and herbicides.
The National Wildlife Federation provides specific recommendations on other
additions and minor alternations that can turn a basic backyard into a Mecca for
wildlife. Most of the things they suggest will benefit the area’s human inhabitants
as well. For example, one recommendation is to use native plants instead of exotics
wherever possible when landscaping. Plants native to the soils and climate of the
area provide the best overall food sources for wildlife, while generally requiring
less fertilizer and pesticides. That, of course, translates into less phosphates and
nitrates washing into our ditches and streams, and from there to our rivers.
Landscaping for wildlife has other benefits for the typical homeowner. Consider the following:
- Thirty percent of the water consumed in the eastern U.S. is used for watering
lawns, with a 1,000 sq.-ft lawn requiring an average of 10,000 gallons of water per
summer to maintain a “green” look.
- Per hour of operation, a lawn mower emits 10-12 times as much hydrocarbon
as a typical automobile; a string trimmer emits 21 times more and a leaf blower 34
- It costs an average of $700 per acre per year to maintain a cultured lawn,
whereas a wildflower meadow costs about $30 per acre.
While the National Wildlife Federation doesn’t suggest that you just stop
maintaining your outdoor surroundings, they do point out that converting them to a
more nature-friendly state is not only beneficial to our wildlife neighbors but is
also less work and costs less. Assistance in achieving that is available free or at
nominal charge at the state agricultural extension office in each county.
Or, individuals can apply to become certified in the NWF’s Garden For
Wildlife program. All it involves is going online to http://nwf.org/garden-For-
Wildlife or sending a letter to 11100 Wildlife Center Dr., Reston, VA 20190, and
requesting an application. There is a one-time fee of $20 that covers a year’s membership in the National Wildlife Federation and all materials they provide. It’s
not required but they request that participants include a rough sketch or landscape
diagram of their yard, as well as photographs if possible.
Within a few weeks, those who begin the process will receive information
relative to making their sites more attractive to wildlife, personalized certificates
suitable for framing and ongoing technical advice. Most important, they’ll get the
good feeling that comes from knowing they’re helping to make the world a better place for all God’s creatures, including themselves.
Ed Wall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-671-3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com