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Develop a habitat in your backyard

If you were a small animal, say a squirrel, or perhaps a frog, or a bird and you lived in the growing suburbs of Virginia, you might have one observation to make.  Namely, that the number of places where you can rest, get something to eat, build a nest, undisturbed are getting fewer and fewer.  Whether it’s finding a bit of marsh, or just some grass that isn’t laced with nitrate fertilizers and bug spray, the number of places where wildlife can find a respite is dwindling fast.  Suburbia, with its mowers, lawn care services, and perfectly manicured flower beds is winning.

It’s what the wildlife biologists call, a loss of “habitat.”  For many people in the environmental field that’s the real issue when it comes to wildlife conservation.  It’s not so much about saving wildlife, but rather about saving the habitat they need to survive.  Save the habitat and you save the wildlife.  Whether it’s various species of birds, frogs, or even just the local squirrels and rabbits, their future is dependent on just how much habitat there is.

Most people interested in wildlife issues think of habitat as a national concern.   The debate over logging rights in federally administered forest tracts or the on-going discussion over drilling in the national wildlife areas of Alaska are good examples of national habitat issues.  However, these are big issues, being decided at the Federal level.  But, it would be a mistake to consider the preservation, or even the creation of habitat, to be exclusively a national policy issue.  According to the National Wildlife Foundation, the pioneers of this concept, sustainable habitat can be created on an old tract of spent agricultural land, a backyard in suburbia or even on the balcony of a New York City Apartment House.  

It’s an intriguing program and is based entirely on the notion that the average person can do their little bit to help save animal habitat.  The National Wildlife Foundation started the program back in 1973, long before this issue got popular, and now lists some 30,000 “Backyard Wildlife Habitat Sites” on their national registry.  
The notion is that you set aside a certain portion of your yard or balcony, and create a mini-refuge.  It doesn’t have to be too elaborate.  Maybe it’s just some long grass, perhaps some organic compost instead of chemical fertilizer and then some native plants.   Of course, some people go several steps farther. There are certified backyard habitats with recycling frog ponds, arbors, as well as some fairly elaborate ecosystems that far exceed the expectations of the program. But at the end of the day, the goal is the same, to give the local wildlife, whether it’s birds, frogs, bats, or even snakes little respite from the encroachment of suburbia and the city.

The backyard program can be small, it often is, but it can also be large.  There are several habitats created on relatively large tracts of land, say forty to one hundred acres, and in one case, in Reston, an entire community has become a certified habitat.  But, as big and diverse as the program is, the process for certifying habitats is carefully administered.  There are certification standards and local experts available throughout the country to provide assistance.  The basic standards for habitat, whether it’s a forty acre tract in the desert, or an apartment balcony in Alexandria, are the provision of food, water, cover, and where appropriate the space for the animals to raise their young.  That’s habitat, and that in a nutshell is what the program is about.

However, as endearing as the program sounds, it’s not going to save all of the threatened habitats of the world. It’s not on this scale, but it does offer the chance to create something a little more natural in the midst of suburban sprawl. And though it’s unlikely that the squirrels, birds and frogs will ever say thank you for your efforts in giving them back a little of their habitat, those of us who like having these little creatures around, probably will.

David Kerr can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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