Going Wild in the Backyard

Going Wild in the Backyard

By: Sue Moore

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Turn your backyard into a wildlife refuge! It’s easy with a little help from the Backyard Conservation Program, a joint venture between the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Wildlife Habitat Council, and the National Association of Conservation Districts.

According to the NACD over 92 million acres of land in the United States is developed and much of that developed land is in the care of homeowners. The goal of the Backyard Conservation Program is to convert one million backyards into wildlife friendly habitats. The program began on Earth Day, April 22, 1998 and to date thousands of backyards have been “enhanced.”

Any backyard, be it an urban balcony or a quarter-acre lot, can be turned into a nature reserve. All the backyard biologist need do is provide the wildlife with their four basic needs-food, water, cover, and a suitable place to raise their young. (So wildlife are people too!) Each of the three sponsor’s Web sites is loaded with pertinent information designed to enable a smooth and successful backyard conversion. One learns what to plant where, how to mulch correctly, and when and how to clean the pond. And there is some plain common sense advice as well. For example, WHC counsels:

The type of wildlife you will be able to attract and provide habitat for will vary dependent upon where your property is located and how large a piece of land you own. For example, you would not expect to attract a pileated woodpecker in an urban environment, but you might attract a northern cardinal…Regardless of where you are, set reasonable expectations and remember that everything takes time. Don’t get discouraged if your wildflower plantings don’t produce a riot of color their first year or you don’t see that monarch butterfly right away. Eventually the plants will establish themselves and the animals will come.

Sounds like something my therapist would say. To get started order the Backyard Conservation Program’s free 28-page color booklet by calling 1-888-LANDCARE (1-888-526-3227) or browse the booklet and order online at the NRCS website.

To include your backyard in the million garden campaign simply request a Backyard Packet, which includes several return-addressed postcards. When you’ve employed some of the recommended conservation techniques, send in one of the postcards. Your backyard will then be counted.

Since 1973 The National Wildlife Federation has also sponsored a backyard garden certification program. According to the NWF, habitat loss is the number one threat to wildlife survival. The Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program was started in response to the pervasive landscaping trend of close-cropped lawns and non-native ornamental plantings that boomed along with the suburbs. Lawns were gobbling up the native habitats and hording precious water reserves. Lawn chemicals and fertilizers were further damaging the environment. The program sought to reverse this trend by encouraging natural, wildlife-friendly landscaping. To date 31,300 backyards have become certified wildlife habitats.

The lively NWF website is a treasure trove of resources for the backyard conservationist. On the home page you’ll find a zip code-driven wildlife finder and an easy-to-use native plant finder. It’s an online field guide at your fingertips. Email gardening questions to NWF professionals. Check out their Backyard Habitat site for tips on getting started in your own backyard. There’s lots of good information here to get you started and keep you going and it’s all under one roof.

Maybe now is the perfect time to let the backyard go.

Editor’s Note:

Extending the backyard outreach program into the schools, the Wildlife Habitat Council has developed a series of lesson plans for grades 3 through 12. These plans are designed to inspire students to greater ecological stewardship through hands-on field experience. It’s downloadable here.


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