Toronto Star column – published September 6, 2014
“In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.” ~Charles A. Lindbergh, Life, 1967 December 22nd
I am not sure whether I am qualified to be ‘certified’ or I am just ‘certifiable’. Others will determine. In the meantime, I am determined to make my yard and garden as wildlife-friendly as I can.
According to the Audubon Society, it is not difficult to improve the status of your outdoor living space ecologically. All you have to do is ‘take the pledge’ to do your best. Taking the pledge costs nothing and if you break it, there are no environmental police who will come to your door in the wee hours to haul you away. You will just have to live with yourself and the conscience that you were born with, guilty or not.
Here is the pledge:
“I pledge, to the best of my ability, to
- reduce pesticide use
- conserve water
- protect water quality
- remove invasive, exotic species
- plant native species
- support birds and other wildlife on my property”
That is it. If you are resident of Ontario or any other province that has severely restricted the availability and use of house and garden pesticides, you can check off the first point. You will have trouble reducing the use of chemicals that you can’t access, but let’s not get hung up on semantics. The point is that you would if you could.
As for water, if you sawed off your downspout as our previous mayor Miller asked several years ago and if you divert the rain water into your lawn and garden, you can check off point #2. If you have a garden pond, give yourself a star and check off the third point.
As for invasive plants, if you pull weeds diligently and have a general understanding of what is invasive and what is not [i.e. you are not cultivating dog strangling vine or purple loosestrife and the like], tick off the fourth point.
If you plant some Echinacea or a serviceberry, monarda, cat mint, lily of the valley or any native plants in your garden, tick off #5.
And finally, if you feed the birds, provide a place for them to drink and bathe and [very importantly!] if you keep your cat in the house during peek bird activity hours, you can tick off point number six.
There, that was not so difficult, was it? And now, perhaps, you realize that your activity on your own outdoor piece of real estate is substantial and makes a difference. You are on your way to a full awakening. Perhaps in a season or two you will build your own insect hotel [see my column of August 23rd http://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2014/08/22/bug_hotel_lures_beneficial_insects_to_your_garden.html].
Canadian Wildlife Federation
Taking a pledge and actually doing something are markedly different. Personally, I prefer the approach of the Canadian Wildlife Federation. They will reward you with a written acknowledgement of your good work, once you prove to them that you have done it. This is called the Backyard Habitat Certification Program and I hope that every Star reader [with a home] engages in it.
The CWF recognizes those who make an effort to turn their backyards into wildlife habitats. It is free and all you have to do is fill out a form, include some pictures and a simple sketch proving that you are on board.
It does not matter whether you have just a small patio or acreage; if you are welcoming wildlife into your outdoor space, you qualify. The idea is to encourage Canadians to make efforts to “meet the habitat needs of wildlife and allow individuals to have the property designated as wildlife friendly.” This, according to their website, is what it is all about.
The emphasis of the Certified Backyard Habitat Program is to raise awareness of the impact that we have on the wildlife community at large. It is important, for instance, to know that the birds, butterflies and beneficial insects that you attract to your yard impact in a positive way on the wildlife activity in your neighbour’s yard, on the park down the street and, for that matter, on all of the outdoor space in your community.
This program is the naturalist’s version of ‘Community Watch’. Only we’re not looking out for the bad guys, so much, as we are encouraging the good guys to come home, enjoy a meal and hang out for a bit. With luck, the salamanders, newts and nuthatches will have babies in your flora and when you think about it, what could be more exciting, really?
Speaking of communities, it is the intention of the Canadian Wildlife Federation to take the information that people send to them as they apply for certification and create a database of national conservation efforts, while protecting your privacy as you wish.
How To Get Certified
To apply for certification, go to the CWF website at http://cwf-fcf.org. Go to the ‘How to Garden with Wildlife in Mind” section. You’ll then be able to download the form, find tips on how to make your application and read about what you will receive in the mail in a few weeks, should your application be accepted. I am planning on making an application myself, so I will let you know how that goes.
While on the CWF website be sure to check out all of the helpful articles that they provide for free: how to build a bee bungalow [or side split – only kidding], gardener to gardener [if you want to talk with other like-minded gardeners], gardening 101, how to garden with wildlife in mind and how to adopt a turtle.
Clearly the CWF has created a wonderfully deep and informative website that will be of interest to gardeners with even the slightest interest in attracting wildlife and doing the ‘environmentally right’ thing. The website has a section designed specifically for kids, too, with games, colouring pages, encyclopedia information for older kids, and a whole lot more. Besides, what kid would not want to adopt a turtle after being able to read all about them?
While you and I pull weeds, plant for colour, shade and to frame the perfect view using permanent plants in our own yard, it is easy to forget that there are benefits that extend way beyond what we originally intended when we had our first conversation with a garden designer. Likely, without even thinking about it, we have created a neighbourhood habitat for wildlife within our own neighbourhood. Perhaps it is time to sign up for certification. Welcome to the community.