Home is Habitat for Wild Neighbors

February, 2017

Imagine that it’s a Tuesday, you’re done with work, and on your way home you stop at your local market to pick up dinner for you and your family. It’s not until you walk inside that you realize something is unusual. On sale in the meat department is poisonous salamander. This surprises you, and a quick look at the next option proves to increase your confusion: why on earth are toxic frog legs for sale? My family can’t eat that.

Flustered, you leave the meat department and head to the produce section; you saw some lush greens on your way in, so you decide to make a salad this evening. You walk up to those same greens and read the sign above them: Poison Hemlock and Oak Salad Mix. WHAT? You take a step back. With salt and pesticide-laden grass blades in the chip aisle and canned, inedible sand dollar shells in the canned goods aisle, you realize the entire grocery store is filled with inedible items. And there’s nothing to drink for sale at all! How can this be?

With growing hunger and frustration you leave and make your way down the block to another market. To your dismay, this store offers nearly all of the same options as the previous one. Hungry, tired, and confused you check the stores across town and in the next town only to realize there is no food around that you and your family can eat.

This is the grim reality that many native bird, insect, and mammal species are faced with when they migrate through suburban America. Our yards offer little in the way of nutrition for migrating or parenting animals.

Due to lack of adequate water sources, few places to hide, and our rampant planting of non-native ornamental plants, wildlife are often left without habitat to survive. These non-native plants, usually from Asia, are advertised as “pest-free” when they should actually be called “butterfly-free.” Our native butterflies did not evolve with these ornamentals. In the majority of cases, they do not lay eggs on them because their baby caterpillars cannot munch on the leaves. Many bird parents feed caterpillars and other insects to their nestlings, so those “pest-free” plants could also just as aptly be called “bird-free” plants.

Our backyards are the pit stops and grocery stores for wildlife. When yards fail to provide adequate food and water, our birds and butterfies find themselves in strange surroundings—like the imaginary grocery store described above. The good news is that we have the opportunity to change the situation in our yards. America’s oldest and largest conservation organization, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), has created a tool that provides actions we can take to create Certified Wildlife Habitats (CWHs). In order to be certified you just need the four habitat requirements in your outdoor space: food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise their young.

This is often easier than you think. A native plant can sometimes provide three of the four habitat components all on its own: food, cover and places to raise young. Nectar, pollen, seeds and berries are examples of food that native plants can provide. Water sources include birdbaths, natural features, or a shallow dish.

By creating CWHs, we can learn from and connect with the natural world we live in and care about the wildlife we share space with. Thanks to multiple community members and groups including the City of Arcata, the California Native Plant Society, and Friends of the Arcata Marsh (FOAM) has begun the process of becoming a certified Community Wildlife Habitat. The process includes certifying outdoor spaces as CWHs through NWF. It also involves leading educational and outreach events to get people excited to live in a city that promotes co-existence between wildlife and humans. We are community members, sisters, parents, and nature nuts and we will continue to engage others, speak with our actions, and raise awareness for the betterment of all our community members—furry, fuzzy, and feathery alike—and we need your help.

For more info check us out on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ArcataCommunityWildlifeHabitat/.