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GARDENING : Turn Yard Into Wildlife Habitat

September 18, 1993|From Associated Press

You can turn your back yard into a certified wildlife habitat, offering sanctuary to a wide range of creatures--and saving yourself a lot of outdoor work at the same time.

The National Wildlife Federation's Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, in an effort to strike a balance between the needs of people and the continuing health of plants and animals, offers a guide to homeowners interested in creating wildlife sanctuaries in their back yards.

The program encourages people to forgo clipped shrubs and perfectly manicured lawns in favor of creating a natural landscape that attracts wildlife and highlights native plants.

To become a certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat, a site must be structured around the four basic needs of all creatures: food, water, cover in which to hide and a place to raise the young. The program details ways this can be done and provides information on how to attract specific animals to your property.

Once the program's criteria have been met, your yard becomes certified and is entered in the National Wildlife Federation's national registry. There are nearly 12,000 certified habitats.

Craig Tufts, chief naturalist and manager of the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, said of gardening for wildlife:

"My own yard, Habitat 2364, is less than a quarter acre, but six years of work, including the planting of more than 300 shrubs, trees and flowers, have provided habitat for many feeding and nesting birds. More than 40 kinds of butterflies visit, looking for nectar and places where their caterpillars might find a healthy food supply. My kids enjoy going on critter hunts, discovering insects and spiders, surprising turtles and frogs and watching groundhogs and cottontail rabbits grow bigger on the clover in our lawn."

The amount of land involved has little bearing on the success of a habitat. Certified terrace gardens in New York City attract scores of insects, butterflies and birds. The program has certified sites that include a fire station, the 235-acre site of the governor's mansion in Topeka, Kan., and nursing homes.

The only thing the properties have in common is that the needs of wildlife are considered when the land is cultivated. Native plants that produce berries, nuts or seeds provide food, protective cover and spots for nesting. Flowering plants and wildflowers attract insects and butterflies. A variety of bird feeders ensure the appearance of winged creatures.

An elevated birdbath, a dish of water or a pond take care of water requirements. For cover, leave in place hollow logs, dead trees, rock piles, dense shrubs and other "yard debris" that might interest animals.

Although the idea is to create a wildlife haven, there are benefits for humans, too.

"Habitats are low-maintenance gardening in a sense," said John Behm, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Urban Wildlife Programs. "In addition to doing the right thing for your landscape, there's also less work and less stress involved when you return open spaces to nature."

For more information, call the National Wildlife Federation, 1-800-432-6564.

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