Certify Your Backyard As A Wildlife Habitat With the National Wildlife Federation
Summer months as a kid in Union Pier, Michigan were marked by the smell of fresh blackberry cobbler, made with berries my grandmother and I picked off of bushes in the afternoon sun, and the glow of lightning bugs freckling the night sky. For years, we had a nightly routine that involved creating a tiny lightning bug habitat in a mason jar, complete with apple slices and a damp paper towel, and I’d read to her with the help of their bioluminescent glimmer. In the morning, I would wake up to find the jar cleaned and dried on the kitchen counter. My grandmother would set the lightning bugs free after I’d fallen asleep. It was such a wholesome ritual.
Now, decades later, whenever I see lightning bugs on hot, summer nights I’m immediately transported back in time. I can taste and smell blackberries and sometimes I swear I can feel the presence of my late grandmother as if her spirit lingers in the souls of the Lampyridae.
Time spent outdoors with my grandmother as a kid was time I cherished immensely. My grandfather would chop wood for the fireplace while my grandmother and I tended to the assorted flora who called the yard home. The lush green landscape was interrupted only by the vibrantly colored bird and squirrel feeder or bright and vivid flower. Beautiful butterflies and migrating birds often freckled the scene and turned our outdoor space into what felt like a magical paradise.
Looking back, my grandparent’s backyard had the makings of the small town wildlife habitat of my dreams. We didn’t know it back then, but there’s actually a way to get the National Wildlife Federation to recognize your backyard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat! If your backyard gets certified you become a member of the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife community and you earn some benefits like a one-year membership to the National Wildlife Federation, a subscription to National Wildlife® magazine, helpful gardening resources, and a discount on garden materials like bird feeders and nesting boxes.
What’s great about transforming your yard — or, as recommended by the National Wildlife Federation, your “balcony container garden, schoolyard, work landscape, or roadside greenspace” — is that you’ll be directly impacting nearby ecosystems and helping wildlife survive! Not only can you provide a safe place for wildlife to thrive during all phases of their lifecycle, you can help different species obtain necessary resources for survival.
Some cities even have long-term sustainability plans that offer people tax-related benefits for creating rooftop greenspaces. In New York City, for instance, creating a green roof will earn you a one-year tax abatement because “green roofs help improve storm water management, provide insulation for the building, and lessen the urban heat island effect,” which addresses problems related to public health. Since green roofs are just a few steps away from meeting the requirements for certification as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, even places where backyards are a rarity, like NYC, can be a part of the National Wildlife Federation’s sustainable vision!
If you’ve already got a backyard and the time, energy, and ability to give your yard some TLC, consider learning more about the certification requirements to turn it into a Certified Wildlife Habitat. The National Wildlife Federation urges that “maintaining your landscape in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way ensures that the soil, air, and water that native wildlife (and people) rely upon stay clean and healthy.” So a few key things to keep in mind are soil and water conservation, integrated pest management, and the importance of eliminating chemical pesticides and fertilizers from your maintenance regimen.
The Federation requires that you have “at least two places for wildlife to engage in courtship behavior, mate, and then bear and raise their young” and that you have adequate sources of food and water for multiple species. Consider a “thoughtful structured garden palette”, they recommend. Also consider adding a butterfly puddling area, container water garden, or source of water for wildlife to use.
The possibilities are truly endless, though. There are so many ways to spruce up your garden and make it a wildlife refuge for local plants and animals to thrive. The lightning bugs and butterflies will thank you.