Wildlife habitat certification is offered through many organizations as a way of creating, improving and monitoring wildlife habitats both nationally and regionally. They also come in a variety of settings from backyards to commercial sites to golf courses and entire communities. Some programs offer incentives and assistance while others offer tips and advice and yet others are for science. Although many are focused on birds as the main wildlife species, they all improve habitat for many species.
There are many reasons to certify a habitat, one is simply for recognition of the wildlife habitat. Another reason is to educate neighbors and create awareness of why a yard looks ‘different’ from others in the neighborhood. Certified yards may start conversations about the importance and benefits of wildlife habitat. Certification and signs also encourage others to create wildlife habitat and sets an example. Many people in a community band together to certify their entire community and then offer annual tours open to the public sharing a selection of the local habitat gardens. Certifying with local organizations can also help give you access to a local network for advice and information.
Although many people may be aware of the ability to certify backyards, that is far from the only type of certification.
The National Wildlife Federation’s program has been quite successful and they currently have well over 150,000 certified habitats. The National Wildlife Federation also certifies entire communities as well as schoolyards and other sites, such as churches, businesses or farms can certify through the basic application program. In Washington there are 30 active communities in the Puget Sound region, 12 are certified and some are registered and working towards getting their communities certified. There are now 55 certified community habitats nationwide with more being added all the time. I have visited and written about several of the Puget Sound community habitats; Shoreline, Tukwila and Edmonds.
The National Wildlife Federation also partners with some regional organizations to certify with them as well. For example here in Washington, I just certified my balcony habitat through the National Wildlife Federation, which also certifies my habitat through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the NW Zoo & Aquarium Alliance.
The third program the National Wildlife Federation runs is a Schoolyard Habitat certification where schools not only create habitat, but learn about wildlife and ecosystems in the process.
The Audubon Society of Portland recently launched their own program in partnership with the Columbia Land Trust and Friends of Tryon Creek with goals focusing on “the removal of aggressive weeds, naturescaping with native plants, stormwater management and wildlife stewardship.” Their program, for private sites under one acre, includes a site visit from a backyard habitat expert, technical assistance and a personal site plan in addition to discounts and incentives for plants and materials. The program also offers different levels of certification including silver, gold and platinum.
The North American Butterfly Association has a program which certifies butterfly gardens for individuals or institutions. The certification simply requires three native caterpillar food plants, three native nectar plants and encourages an avoidance of pesticides. These minimal restrictions encourage a wide range of people to create habitat by allowing any size space to become a butterfly friendly habitat, even small yards, balconies or rooftops. The NABA Butterfly Gardens and Habitats page is full of resources and plant lists to help get certified.
MonarchWatch certifies Monarch Waystations which provides “places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration.” You can order a waystation seed kit from MonarchWatch, or with the plant list provided on their website, create your own. MonarchWatch has a wonderful resource of a list of the habitats, numbering over 5,000, with information about them and some with photos.
While not a certification program, YardMap from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is an upcoming citizen science project aimed at interactive mapping of backyard habitats. While it’s still in beta, it’s slowly starting to gain momentum and hopefully will be fully released soon.
Golf courses can also certify as wildlife habitat through Audubon International’s Cooperative Sanctuary Program by enhancing wildlife habitat and minimize harmful impacts not only on habitat, but on the golf course operations.
There are many other regional and local certifications as well that aren’t listed here so be sure to do some research on your area.
The various certifications have different requirements, but most require the basic components food, water and shelter. The National Wildlife Federation requires food, water and cover for wildlife and a place to raise young. These components can be as large and complex or as small and simple as there is space for. A place to raise young doesn’t necessarily mean a bird house, but it could be a dense shrub or even a bundle of reeds for mason bees. For information about how to create habitat, see any of the links above for resources or any of the resource links on the drop-down tab above titled ‘Design Resources’. The Backyard Habitat Design page has dozens of resources for creating backyard habitat.
Kelly has a certificate from the University of Washington in non-fiction writing. She continually takes classes and attends talks on various natural history topics. In 2009 she earned a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon.
She's also an avid photographer focusing on the natural world.