Restoring Nature One Yard At A Time
Urbanization doesn’t have to mean the loss of viable habitat for wildlife. Vast amounts of metropolitan areas are thinly settled, with single family homes on big lots — space for re-creating native habitat. In the Portland, Oregon region, the
“Audubon Society of Portland, Columbia Land Trust and Friends of Tryon Creek have teamed up to create a unique Backyard Habitat Certification Program.
The Backyard Habitat Certification Program provides assistance and incentives to residents on lots less than one acre, within the cities of Portland and Lake Oswego, to restore native wildlife habitat in their backyards. There are four program elements: removal of aggressive weeds, naturescaping with native plants, stormwater management and wildlife stewardship.”
I’ve gone through this process and converted a city lot (5000 square feet) from lawn and shrubbery into a Gold level Habitat with rain gardens absorbing all my roof runoff, ferns, shrubs, berry plants and even a small meadow in less than a year and for under $1000, going mostly for dirt and debris removal and walk materials. Plants are available at low cost from the program as well as from local Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
But, so what if my yard looks good and attracts some cool birds (Cooper’s Hawk on the hunt!)? Can restoring native habitat “one yard at a time” really have a beneficial impact? I contacted Nikki West at Portland Audubon and got this overview (3/28/13):
“We have about 1575 program participants (give or take 5) spanning over 300 acres of the urban landscape. About 35% of those are certified, the other 65% are “in progress”. 100% of them have received a site visits, educational materials, incentives, a site report and the ongoing newsletter. On the about 450 certified yards, we have tracked the installation of over 6100 native shrubs and trees. I should note though, that this figure is grossly understated, because the program didn’t start tracking tree/shrub #s until about 2 yrs ago.”
This project is breaking new ground with its high level of training, planting advice and data collection as well as building a community of gardeners focusing on native plants.
It would cost about $60 million to acquire the same 300 acres of prime urban real estate if we were to try and buy this land for habitat (at $200,000 for unimproved land inside the urban growth boundary–a very low price).
Nikki continues on about national efforts. “Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently launched an interesting online tool called yardmap. Its a flashy, interactive, sophisticated citizen science website for reporting habitat features in your yard. I think a lot of people are going to love it. Personally, I got about 20 minutes into mapping my yard’s habitat features online before I got fed up and wanted to go outside to actually stick my hands in the dirt.”
And a final word from Nikki:
“To me the value of the Portland Audubon – Columbia Land Trust Backyard Habitat Certification Program is that we’re actually having face-to-face conversations with people, in their yards, measuring the real change on the landscape, and connecting them to important conservation issues here at home. Plus, we’re targeting areas of high ecological potential, effectively increasing the value of local natural areas (there are about 25 certified yards within 1000ft of Baltimore Woods (in North Portland), building wildlife corridors, and working to reach neighborhoods that are under-natured.”