Submitted by Linda Riebel (linda.riebel@earthlink.net)

Challenge

Here in Lafayette we are blessed with a delightful mix of people and other creatures. Far from the urban jungles of asphalt and concrete, we have nature at our doorstep, even downtown, with trails, trees, and creeks that offer habitats for wildlife.

On my own property my husband and I have seen deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, foxes, coyotes, and a bouquet of birds, from red-headed woodpeckers to turkey vultures, hummingbirds, scrub jays, and red-tailed hawks. Our smaller friends include many kinds of bugs and butterflies.   All of these were already in the area when we moved in 6 years ago, but we wanted to shift from viewing wildlife to actively helping to make our property a wildlife-friendly habitat.

In other words how could we be friendly neighbors, not just to our human neighbors, but to all of our neighbors?

Solution Details

We don’t use any herbicides or pesticides. We’ve left our huge back yard pretty much as nature made it, except for creating a trail (which, I might add, the deer really like to use, judging from the little deposits they leave behind). We’ve cleared a lot of dead underbrush to reduce fire risk, but we’ve left some downed branches and logs, which form habitats for little critters as the logs decompose and turn back into life-supporting soil. As a Lindsay Wildlife Museum and Hospital volunteer, I’ve learned how to raise orphaned baby squirrels, including what to offer them when they grow up (especially walnuts and almonds), so we also have a squad of visiting wild squirrels hinting for a handout.

Recently I registered our home as a Certified Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation, which launched this program in 1973 and has certified over 150,000 habitats at homes, schools, businesses, and more. To be certified, a place fulfills certain conditions, offering wild animals their key requirements of food, water, cover (safe places to hide from predators), and places to rear their offspring.

Certification was a simple matter of going to the NWF website and responding to a series of questions about our yard’s features. If you lack one of the requirements, you can choose to make changes to fulfill it. We don’t have a stable water source, but I set out a large ceramic dish, which I fill regularly. It’s a joy to take part in the nature surrounding us.

Benefits & Payback

There are key links between wildlife and sustainability. One, if an ecosystem is healthy, it provides clean air, water, and soil. Wild animals are often considered “indicator species” – the classic canary in the coal mine. An environment that is friendly and healthy for wildlife — no or minimal pesticide use, for instance, which allows butterflies and bees to thrive and pollinate plants — is probably also the most healthy for us. Two, preserving open space helps humans too, as we benefit from natural areas for recreation and protection from development. Lafayette acquired a great new open space last year, Acalanes Ridge. Three, some people emphasize the potential benefits to humans from preserving wild nature, such as plants that have yet-to-be-discovered medicinal value. But personally, I think our “neighbors” are simply entitled to have a place to live!

Informational Links

National Wildlife Federation has a number of helpful pages:

National Wildlife Federation — Create a Certified Wildlife Habitat!

National Wildlife Federation – Start a Schoolyard Habitat

National Wildlife Federation – Create a Community Wildlife Habitat

 

USA Today Article – Your backyard could be a wildlife habitat

California Native Plant Society – Habitat Gardening

Lindsay Wildlife Museum – Living with Wildlife

 

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