Environment,  Gardening

Creating Native Wildlife Habitats

Many people take up causes to save land from development but do little to create and protect habitat in their own backyard.  We need to concentrate more on our own backyards first.  Take a close look at how you live, your landscape, your neighborhood.  It might become too clear that you have fallen into the trap that so many people have fallen  into.  Your lifestyle, your property and your neighborhood are the same as everyone around you.

Biodiversity is very important to creating and protecting nature.  If you and eventually a few neighbors create a diverse landscape, it will improve the habitat in your area and start to attract a wide range of wildlife.

Native plants often have fewer pest and disease problems than lawns and exotic (non-native) plants. Because natives are also adapted to local temperature and rainfall patterns, they require less watering and fertilizing to maintain sound health.  Native plants provide better nutritional requirements for native animals, and are the basis for delicately balanced food webs.

Selecting native plants for landscaping is ecologically responsible.  In Florida, about 900 exotic plants have been added to the choices of plants used to beautify areas.  Of these, about 400 plants have already invaded natural areas where they aggressively compete with Florida natives.

Tenets of Creating a Natural Habitat

Food

All living things need to eat to survive, so food sources are a critical component of wildlife habitat. Native plants form the foundation of the food chain in the natural world, and should do the same in your wildlife-friendly garden or landscape. Plants provide food to wildlife in a wide variety of ways, from berries to nuts to nectar and even the insects they support that feed other animals.

Water

You can provide this habitat component in a variety of ways, from a simple birdbath or shallow dish of water to a water garden or pond. Other water sources may include natural features such as ponds, lakes, rivers, springs, oceans and wetlands.

Cover

Wildlife needs places to find shelter from extremes of weather from heavy rain and snow to searing summer heat. Many species need places to hide from predators, and predators themselves need cover in order to successfully catch prey

Places to Raise Young

Creating a wildlife-friendly garden or landscape is all about helping wildlife survive. Providing food, water and cover will help individual animals, but to ensure that species as a whole continue to survive in your area, they need to reproduce. In addition, some species such as amphibians or butterflies have totally different habitat needs in their juvenile phase than they do as adults, so it’s important to offer habitat in all phases of the lifecycle.

Sustainable Practices

Providing the four components of habitat—food, water, cover, and places to raise young—will create a wonderful wildlife-friendly garden. How you manage your garden is critically important too. 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.

Soil and Water Conservation: Riparian Buffer • Capture Rain Water from Roof • Xeriscape (water-wise landscaping) • Drip or Soaker Hose for Irrigation • Limit Water Use • Reduce Erosion (i.e. ground cover, terraces) • Use Mulch • Rain Garden

Organic Practices:  Eliminate Chemical Pesticides • Eliminate Chemical Fertilizers • Compost

Controlling Exotic Species: Practice Integrated Pest Management • Remove Non-Native Plants and Animals • Use Native Plants • Reduce Lawn Areas

To encourage and reward the creation of wildlife-friendly landscapes, several organizations offer certification programs. If you’re already created a habitat, filling out the applications may give you a perspective on just how much you’ve accomplished. If you’re still in the planning stages, or aren’t sure what to do, reading over the applications may help you formulate a plan.

Florida Backyard Landscapes for Wildlife

The certification (and yard sign) offered by the Florida Backyard Landscapes for Wildlife program is free. The only requirement is that you have 10 square yards that you rent or own and that can be landscaped for wildlife. You can print out the questionnaire they have online or request that one be mailed to you. They are interested in not only what you have now, but what you have planned. Don’t worry if you feel you aren’t ready to apply, they will offer you tips on how to improve your habitat. It’s a joint effort of the Florida Wildlife Extension at the University of Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Florida Yards and Neighborhoods

The Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program offers certification using a point system that awards points for wildlife- and eco-friendly landscaping and practices, such as the efficient use of water, mulching, and protecting seawalls. Completed applications are mailed to county offices, which are linked from the FYN website.

National Wildlife Federation

To apply for NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification submit an application online or via mail with a $15 processing fee. Yard signs are available for $20 each. There is no minimum size, even small balconies are eligible.

The NWF also offers certification of schoolyards and community areas.

Learn more about installing, using, and maintaining a schoolyard garden.

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