Since 1973, the National Wildlife Federation has fostered a program of which many people may be unaware. Garden for Wildlife is a national program encouraging citizens to purposefully construct their gardens for the benefit of their local plants and animals. Taking care of nature on a small scale, one yard at a time, has a ripple effect that benefits the planet as a whole.
The concept is based on four provisions: food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise their young. This is less complicated than one might assume and can serve the smallest of creatures. For food, consider native flowers for pollinators such as bees and butterflies, or plants on which birds like to feed. Water sources can be as simple as a shallow dish or as large as a pond. Animals and insects alike need places to hide from predators, shelter from weather, or raise offspring. Bird or bat houses, thick foliage, or gaps in a rock wall are basic options.
Within this garden program is a recognition opportunity, Certified Wildlife Habitat, wherein participants can officially certify their yard. Endorsement is based on the honor system; there is no test or official evaluation of the garden. It’s as simple as executing the four provisions with intent to maintain them, and then registering on the federation’s website to receive a certificate. Participants can also purchase an official NWF sign to post on their property.
National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski says the certification is a great way to drive attention to the program, which in turn helps out Mother Nature. “The losses to our environment are largely due to our choices. This conservation program is packaged in something fun and easy for people to do, to help make better environmental choices. It’s a motivator,” he says. “If you do those simple things, we want to recognize you. That positive reinforcement gets people doing more.”
A certified habitat is as effective on a diminutive balcony garden as on a multi-acre property. “Sometimes people think they have to rip out their existing yard to create a habitat, but that’s not so,” says Mizejewski. “If they look, they’ll find their yard probably has some portion of what’s needed. It may be as simple as adding a water source.”
There are 1,973 certified gardens in New Mexico. Mizejewski says, “there are 304 gardens recognized in Santa Fe as Certified Wildlife Habitats.” Perhaps most notably, Santa Fe is home to the only whole-neighborhood certification in the state.
The Aldea de Santa Fe community has been certifying as a neighborhood wildlife habitat for five years. Sally Roberts, chairperson of the Aldea Outdoors Committee, says they work to maintain community wildlife spaces for the benefit of native plants and animals. The committee provides education through a newsletter, lectures and presentations, encouraging residents to learn about the local flora and fauna and how to support them.
“Part of our purpose is to improve our neighborhood and make people aware of the climate they live in. We have wild space throughout the neighborhood,” says Roberts. Residents may also certify personal gardens separately, which bolsters the overall Aldea effort. Among their endeavors are the use of native plants in common areas and a reintroduction of the endangered Santa Fe cholla cactus. In conjunction with the Santa Fe High School woodworking shop, they’ve also built and installed nesting boxes for juniper titmouse birds.
Roberts says she would love for other neighborhoods to follow suit. “People think it takes a lot of effort, but it doesn’t,” she says. “Once people understand that, they’re all for it.”
The wildlife federation website provides details about the program as well as regional resources.