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Birds, bees and bugs; what it takes to have a certified wildlife habitat in your backyard

Ronalee Kincaid is pictured in her yard on Friday, Oct. 6, in Bellingham. Kincaid's yard is a certified backyard wildlife sanctuary.
Ronalee Kincaid is pictured in her yard on Friday, Oct. 6, in Bellingham. Kincaid's yard is a certified backyard wildlife sanctuary. eabell@bhamherald.com

Ronalee Kincaid’s backyard has been a certified wildlife habitat for more than a decade.

When she moved into her home on the 2900 block of Eldridge Avenue, all it had was flat, green grass and some flower gardens. But Kincaid wanted a habitat for bees, bugs and birds.

She began planting native plants and trees, and once they were big enough to provide shelter and nesting places for animals, and she met all the requirements for the Garden for Wildlife program, Kincaid certified her backyard as a wildlife habitat with the National Wildlife Federation.

Now, Kincaid has trees and plants that are 10 to 15 feet high that help provide privacy from her neighbors, and she has about 20 different species of birds that frequent her yard throughout the year. She has other wildlife, too, including a skunk who lived under her deck for a few years.

“It’s very easy to do, you don’t have to have a whole lot of space. … Anybody can do it and it’s not a huge time or money commitment. It just takes a little finding out about a few plants and the birds,” Kincaid said. “It has tremendous personal satisfaction. … It’s just a very pleasant place to be … The contribution to the overall environment is the biggest value of it.”

But Kincaid isn’t the only Bellingham resident to certify a yard. There are more than 9,100 certified wildlife habitats in Washington state – 243 of them located in Whatcom County. There are 194 certified wildlife habitats in Bellingham alone. The habitats can be anything from schools, campuses, businesses, farms and parks to people’s backyards.

The state also has the highest nationwide number of cities (16) that are certified wildlife communities. Bellingham has been certified since 2010.

The 44-year nationwide Garden for Wildlife program, which is ran by the National Wildlife Federation, is an attempt at restoring habitat and wildlife populations in and around cities, towns and neighborhoods. The program attempts to create wildlife corridors, where animals such as birds or bees can move from one place to the next and have all the essentials needed to thrive, said Courtney Sullivan, senior regional education manager for the Northern Rockies, Prairies and Pacific region with the NWF.

“We’re really creating a connection and corridors for wildlife and helping people think about their impact on wildlife. It goes beyond the backyard very fast,” Sullivan said. “When you make small, thoughtful changes it really adds up.”

The certification process requires that a yard or area have food, water, cover, places to raise young and use sustainable practices. After that, people can receive a sign, similar to the one Kincaid has, that states the yard or area is a wildlife habitat.

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Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Sullivan said the program is a way for people to get excited about wildlife and habitats, learn more and foster a stewardship ethic.

“It’s a way to get started as a novice gardener and also helps you be creative and think differently if you’re an experienced gardener. It’s something you can participate in no matter where you live, work or play,” Sullivan said. “Really that certification is kind of a way to celebrate and get connected with the National Wildlife Federation. But the real goal is to educate and do outreach and connect folks with resources, and in Washington we just have the wonderful opportunity to be part of something bigger because there’s so many of us participating.”

The more people that go through the certification process, the more it helps Bellingham stay a certified community, said Rae Edwards, volunteer coordinator with the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department. She said the green spaces are incredibly important for the health of people and wildlife, especially as cities and towns continue to grow.

“I think it gives people the opportunity to invite wildlife into their backyards and for them to have the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate it,” Edwards said. “It’s just really fun to know all these ways to be able to have seasonal changes of wildlife.”

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt

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