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Welcoming Wildlife.

Byline: MIKE STAHLBERG The Register-Guard

WHEN VALERIE CLOSE heard about a National Wildlife Foundation program designed to convert ordinary yards into miniature wildlife refuges, she knew immediately it was something she wanted to do.

"I'm a big believer in wildlife," Close said. "I like the concept because I know that individuals can't change the world, but we can change little parts of the world, and I want to do what I can to make it better for wildlife."

So she contacted the National Wildlife Federation for information and application forms and soon received notification that her south Eugene residence had been designated an official "Backyard Wildlife Habitat Site."

The NWF even sent out a press release announcing that Close and her husband, Dan, had "put out the welcome mat for all kinds of birds, butterflies and other wildlife, while helping to protect the local environment."

They did that by getting involved in the NWF's Backyard Wildlife Habitat program, which encourages people to create yards that are more friendly to critters.

The Close's yard includes plenty of shrubs that provide cover, several feeding stations and year-round water sources for birds.

The Backyard Wildlife Habitat program also "promotes common-sense conservation by reducing and eliminating the need for fertilizers, pesticides or irrigation water," said Mary Burnette, the NWF's spokesperson for the program.

Skeptics might say that it's insignificant to change one little patch of yard to make it more attractive to birds, bees, butterflies and even beneficial bugs.

But one person can make a difference, said Craig Tufts, the wildlife federation's chief naturalist for NWF. "There is much each of us can do for the environment as we care for our piece of the Earth," he said. "Building a habitat is one example of how a single person or family can do something that can have a long-term positive impact."

Plus, add up enough backyards and pretty soon you've changed a whole city.

That's what residents of Tukwila, Wash., have done.

Just last month, Tukwila became the fourth city in the nation, and the first in the Pacific Northwest, to be certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat.

More than 150 private residences - including those of the mayor and every city council member - and all five public schools, 10 apartment and condominium sites and several businesses got involved in the program so the city could earn certification.

Nationwide, the federation's program has led to the creation of thousands of acres of certified critter-friendly habitat - much of it in urbanized areas where the need is greatest.

More than 31,000 wildlife habitat sites have now been certified. While the typical site covers one-third to one-half acre, the federation estimates that in excess of 50,000 acres of habitat are now enrolled in the program.

That would be equivalent in size to about 10 Finley National Wildlife Refuges, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's migratory bird sanctuary located between Monroe and Corvallis.

The Backyard Wildlife Habitat program is also gaining momentum. Started in 1973, the program took about 20 years to gain its first 15,000 participants. The next 15,000 were enrolled in about eight years.

"We've seen a real increase in the vitality of the program in the last five years or so," said Burnette of the National Wildlife Federation. "The number of certifications goes up about 10 percent a year, which is a nice growth factor."

Participation has been greatest in eastern states, she said, but there are 597 certified habitats in the state of Oregon, including 38 in Lane County.

Among the first sites certified in Eugene was the Cascade Raptor Center on the shoulder of Spencer Butte, which in 1994 earned certification as NWF Habitat Site No. 15556.

"I had an intern who had worked for NWF in their Washington office and she mentioned the program to us. That's how we got involved," said Louise Shimmel, founder and operator of the raptor center.

"In all honesty, there was not a lot we had to do to this site to be certified," she said. "We just had to not undo what was here."

The center is located off Fox Hollow Road on 3.5 acres of undeveloped land alongside the Ridgeline Trail.

Shimmel, however, has made the site even more attractive to wildlife by planting "butterfly gardens," adding berry-producing bushes and a cherry tree for the birds, as well as several year-round sources of water.

And site 15556 attracts plenty of wildlife, as evidenced by the photos posted on the NWF's "Habitat Gallery" on the Website: Fifty-eight different species - ranging from blacktailed deer to white-breasted nuthatch have been photographed, identified and posted on the webpage.

It's not difficult to make a yard "critter friendly" and to obtain NWF certification, Burnette said.

Information on the program is available on the federation's main Website, Other backyard wildlife resources, including help planning your mini refuge, information about which plant species are most suitable for each region of the country and how to attract specific wildlife species, can be found at

You can order a "Backyard Wildlife Habitat kit" with step-by-step instructions at (716) 461-3092 or by sending a check for $12.95, payable to the National Wildlife Federation, to: NWF-Backyard Habitat Program, 11100 Wildlife Center Dr., Reston, VA 20190. Purchase of the starter kit is not required to get certified, but it does provide helpful information on planning and creating your habitat area.

To be certified, a wildlife habitat must provide four key elements: food, water, shelter and a place for wildlife to raise their young.

While not required, the program also encourages the use of "native plants."

"We advocate that people replace some of their lawn, which is not a very wildlife-friendly element," Burnette said. "We're certainly not saying you should rip up your entire lawn, but perhaps you can replace some of it with native grasses or patches of native wildflowers."

Plants that are indigenous to an area are "more wildlife friendly because they are adapted to the climate and therefore require a lot less water," she said. "They also require less pesticides and fertilizers." Less irrigation and less fertilizer means less run-off of harmful chemicals into area streams.

"Plus, native plants are people-friendly because they often require less maintenance," she said.

The process of obtaining certification involves filling out and submitting an application and photos or a sketch of your habitat area. A NWF habitat specialist reviews the application to see that the basic elements are provided in your habitat.

If something is lacking, Burnette said, "one of our naturalists will get back to the applicant to advise them what it is about their habitat that falls short. For instance, your water source may not quite be up to speed because it's not year-round. We'll work with you to provide suggestions on how you might fix it."

Once certified, a property owner receives a quarterly newsletter, called "Habitats," and will be notified of any NWF training opportunities or special events planned in the area.

Even though more and more people are gardening with wildlife in mind, the backyard habitat program "is never going to make up for habitat being lost" to large scale developments, Burnette said.

"But one thing the program is that it really serves as an educational tool for people. It opens people's eyes to the whole issue of habitat loss on a global basis. The backyard program is a first step that many people take in their environmental stewardship journey.

"They find themselves caring for backyard birds one day, then they're more attuned to what's happening to the Everglades ... you start outside your backdoor and your concerns and interests just widen from there."


Noisy and ubiquitous, one of many scrub jays in the neighborhood perches at a birdbath in the Close backyard. A squirrel prepares to bury a future meal. Feeding stations and places to raise young for birds, and a year-round source of water are basic to making a backyard a happy place for wildlife. A dragonfly hangs out in dense clematis foliage growing from the garage wall in the Close's backyard. Protective cover is one of the four basic habitat elements in the National Wildlife Federation program.
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Title Annotation:Program encourages critter-friendly gardening; Recreation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 13, 2002
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