Being Bird Lovers of the first order, members of The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV) were moved to action by messages of declining bird species numbers, such as the following:
“Partners in Flight identified 148 bird species in need of immediate conservation attention because of their highly threatened and declining populations.”
Realizing the importance of suburban backyards as critical habitat for their feathered friends, ASNV members created a “Healthy Yard Pledge” and applied for grants to help them develop a program to educate and aid homeowners. Toyota, an organization that has given generously to many environmentally-friendly efforts, granted their wish. With the help of a full-time, salaried, professional naturalist, Cliff Fairweather, they set about promoting their program and getting Cliff into homeowners’ yards for on-the-spot evaluations and advice. The name “Audubon Ambassadors at Home” (AAH) was duly bestowed upon this undertaking.
Here we meet Kasha Helget, who had no experience with planning or planting for habitat. When she learned about AAH, Kasha was eager to get help, and set up a meeting with Cliff. Her goal was to transform her typical suburban lawn into a beautiful wildlife garden, a refuge for wildlife as well as an eco-friendly, sustainable, and pleasant setting for her family’s new-to-them, but old, home.
She had to meet some formidable challenges: bamboo marching over from a neighboring yard, ivy veritably creeping into windows, lots of lawn and a husband who loved grass, and serious erosion from stormwater runoff. Cliff gave her practical advice on improvements to meet her stated goals, helped her with choosing some native plants, and steered her toward other sources for help with the stormwater.
Kasha had been thinking a rain garden would solve her erosion problem, but a visit from the county’s Environmental Services Department saved her from a costly mistake. The amount of water that was flowing would need to be controlled by a rain “sink.” This required a deep pit filled to the bottom with gravel, but it solved the problem completely; and decorative stones were placed on top for beautification.
Kasha used a plethora of native plants so that the birds and other wildlife would have food, water and shelter throughout the succession of seasons. This installation took place over the course of many years, not all at once; and she also used some exotics, although not invasive ones, and some edible plants. She now proudly displays the “Wildlife Sanctuary” sign, which is the concept that has replaced the “Healthy Yard Pledge” at the top of her driveway. Help from the AAH program was invaluable to Kasha as she began this transformational process completely unfamiliar to her.
The Audubon Society, along with everyone else, has been affected by budget constraints of late, and the Northern Virginia group is no longer able to fund the services of a full-time naturalist. They have not abandoned the AAH program however. They are instead partnering with other like-minded organizations such as the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists and conducting training to enable volunteers to go into the homeowner’s yards.
So here is the call to action. Volunteers can make a huge difference, one yard at a time.
How can you cross-pollinate the efforts of environmental groups you support like the two mentioned above? Would a little training enable you to make a bigger impact in your neighborhood, planning landscapes, choosing trees, or teaching folks why exotic invasive plants are not a good choice? The Nature Conservancy, The Sierra Club, and The Audubon Society are just a few of the national organizations that have a presence on local levels. Most states now have excellent Master Naturalist training programs. The time is now, the need is great.Your contribution makes a difference, and it’s good for you, too.
Wanted: Volunteers and Ambassadors of all kinds!
© 2012, Suzanne Dingwell. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.