Build Habitat in Your Own Backyard

Here’s an article I wrote for the spring issue of Overlook Views, my neighborhood newsletter. Nikkie West of the Audubon Society of Portland contributed.

Every yard matters. What is yours doing for urban wildlife? With spring planting season just around the corner, now is a great time to think about incorporating native species into your landscape and to learn about supporting birds, butterflies and bees as a way to make your home more sustainable.

There are great organizations in Portland working to protect natural areas and set aside green space. Residential areas, however, constitute an average of 40% of urban land. Therefore, the efforts of individual homeowners and renters to help connect these fragments of habitat are incredibly valuable. Our region has historically been immensely biodiverse. We live at the confluence of two rivers and on the Pacific Flyway – a major bird migration route. Our many native bird, pollinator and wildlife species depend on locally native plants to survive.

One program that helps people restore habitat on their own property is the Backyard Habitat Certification Program, a partnership between the Audubon Society of Portland and Columbia Land Trust. The certification process begins with a home visit from a Habitat Technician to help identify invasive weed species and select native plants and other habitat enhancements that will compliment your yard and neighborhood. As a program participant, you’ll get this one-hour site assessment, a follow-up site report, discounted native plants as well as educational resources, coupons, encouragement, and recognition.

BHCP program co-manager Nikkie West, a resident of Overlook neighborhood, notes that a yard doesn’t need to have 100% native plants to be certified.  “Most people start with few to no native plants – and we work from there. For certification, only 5% of your yard needs to be naturescaped with natives. That leaves 95% for your dahlias, veggies, and other ornamental favorites.”

This past summer I signed up for the program myself. As a gardener, I wanted to incorporate more native plants, and as a sustainable landscape designer, I wanted to better help my clients who are asking for landscape that fit the BHCP criteria. I’ve gathered a lot of new information about creating urban habitat and the small steps I’ve taken in my yard have already been worthwhile.

Just adding a few dozen more natives, putting up some bird feeders and keeping our birdbath full of fresh water has brought new species to our small lot. My toddler watches the birds every morning and we’ve been delighted to spot flocks of adorable bushtits, bright Townsend’s warblers, and overwintering Anna’s hummingbirds.

Research by Audubon and PSU is showing that community-based restoration efforts are indeed having a positive effect on the native food-web: “yards having native plant habitat, especially those which are close to naturally maintained greenspaces, have higher species richness of flying insects, moths and birds compared to yards without native plant habitats.”

It’s exciting stuff and you can be part of it. Habitat can be a component of any style of landscape, from rather wild to well-groomed. If you’ve already gone pesticide-free in your yard, or are on your way, creating habitat by incorporating native plants is a great next step to making a sustainable home.

Join the momentum! There are currently over 1,900 Backyard Habitat Sites within the City of Portland and Lake Oswego. Help connect Backyard Habitats across the city.  Learn more and sign-up for the Backyard Habitat Certification Program today. 


About Mulysa

I love my work as a landscape designer and artist. When I'm not planning homesteads or working in the studio, you'll find me hiking, photographing, gardening, baking, cooking vegetarian meals with friends, reading and working on sustainability issues...with my baby on my hip in Portland, Oregon.
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