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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gardening: Certification programs help create critter-friendly spaces

Deer can be challenging to keep out of the garden but there are a lot of strategies that work.  (Spokesman-Review photo archives)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

Gardening styles are changing. Gone are gardens full of little green bushes that look pretty but don’t provide any support for the pollinators, birds and animals who would like to call them home.

A garden without wild critters is a lifeless space. There are lots of educational programs and events that can teach you how to develop critter-friendly spaces, but why not go a step further and get your extra land, backyard, deck, patio or balcony certified as an official habitat space? This includes individuals, organizations, cities or corporations who have open space they can convert into habitat.

Some programs promote general habitat development while others support a particular insect or animal. In general, all of them call for gardeners to develop their gardens with structures, plants and resources that will provide shelter and protection, food and water sources, and spaces for wildlife to breed and raise their young.

Each program will have you do an inventory of what is available in your space and then offers resources to help enhance that habitat. Here are a few certification programs that are appropriate for the Inland Northwest.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Habitat at Home Program, formerly known as the Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Program, is the best for focusing on our local native wildlife. The program not only provides information on how to set up your habitat but also gives you access to department’s resources, including its Living With Wildlife publication that describes the life cycles of individual critters and how to coexist with them. I have been part of this program for more than 20 years and it’s been fun to see who visits the yard. The program is free and includes a garden sign.

The Xerces Society’s Bring Back the Pollinators Program helps people create pollinator-friendly gardens that support the thousands of native pollinator insects that visit our gardens. Their program focuses on planting nectar rich plants, avoiding pesticides that would kill the insects and creating habitat for small insects. By signing up for their Pollinator Protection Pledge, you register your garden on their map. The program is free, and a metal yard sign is available for $63.

We do have monarch butterflies in the region. They are part of the Western population that winters along the California coast. The Monarch Watch Monarch Waystation Program encourages gardeners to plant milkweeds, the preferred food of monarch larvae. Locally, our monarchs are drawn to our native showy milkweed and the program helps you find sources of seed and plants. There is a registration fee of $18 or $36 that includes a metal garden sign.

Last, the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat Program has a national focus that encourages the development of shelter, food, water, safety and breeding resources. Like the WADFW program, the NWF program also has in-depth resources for creating, maintaining and observing your habitat. Registration costs $20 and includes a one-year membership in the National Wildlife Federation and their National Wildlife magazine and a metal yard sign.