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Wildlife at Home in Backyards Throughout Annapolis

A new city program encourages homeowners to create backyard habitats for wildlife.

Seventy-nine homeowners have already stepped forward. That leaves only 41 to go.

As part of Annapolis's effort to become certified through the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Community Habitat Wildlife program, 120 homeowners need to have their backyards certified as viable wildlife habitat.

For every certified backyard, the city receives one point toward the 400 required for community designation.

The NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat program started in 1973 with growing awareness that backyards could play an important role in “inviting” wildlife back into these spaces.

Rather than large swathes of herbicide-treated green grass, yards with shrubby borders, flowering plants, berried vegetation, small ponds, birdbaths and birdfeeders encourage wildlife to take refuge in these welcoming natural environments.

The city’s coordinated push toward certification got under way when former Mayor Ellen Moyer approached Recreation and Parks Director LeeAnn Plumer—who recently announced  Jan. 6—with information on the NWF program.

The city staff discussed the possibilities over the next few months before officially launching the effort last April.

Annapolis hopes to become the next city certified by the NWF—a tall order since it takes many cities three years to attain community certification. Currently, 55 cities throughout the U.S. have received certification. In Maryland, only Takoma Park has achieved this status.

Marisa Wittlinger, the environmental coordinator for Recreation and Parks, assists Jeanna Beard, the city’s environmental program coordinator, in overseeing the effort.

Along with the push for backyard certifications, the city must gain points through other avenues, too. Five community spaces, such as churches, parks and hospitals, also must be certified.

At least five schools also must gain certification through the NWF’s schoolyard habitat program.

In addition to the different types of habitat certification, the city also must earn points through environmental-education initiatives, community projects, and administrative projects, including brochures and grant applications.

Annapolis has a head start compared to many other cities attempting certification since environmental programs such as Greenscape, rain barrel and composting-bin events and tree giveaways have been taking in place in the city for years. These events also add to the point tally.

“We’re moving more quickly than I thought we would,” Wittlinger said. "We’ve had volunteers come in and help out with projects, such as the Boy Scout troop from Annapolis that helped spread wood chips on the paths at  to help reduce erosion.”

The Scouts also picked up trailside trash. The effort was worth 10 points.

To date, the city has well more than half the points needed for certification. Wittlinger said she thinks they may have close to the required 400 by next summer.

Wittlinger is appealing to residents to consider evaluating and registering their yards.

“It’s really not that hard,” she said.

The NWF purposely makes the process user-friendly and uncomplicated so that people will not be scared away. Wittlinger also said backyard wildlife projects, “can get kids involved, especially in an urban area like ours.”

Even apartment owners can certify their balconies if they meet an adequate number of the criteria, she said.

Here is information for homeowners interested in the certification process.

The site asks a series of questions, such as habitat size and type, potential food and water sources for wildlife, types of cover, and possible places where wildlife can raise young.

Some yards may already qualify as backyard habitat, or may require some modifications to meet the basic criteria.

Across the nation, almost 140,000 households have certified their backyards.

To become part of the city’s tally, a homeowner does not necessarily need to live within city limits. Since the NWF calculates point totals based on ZIP code, those living in the 21401 or 21403 ZIP code will have their approval count toward the city’s broad-based community habitat certification.

For more information, contact Wittlinger at mdwittlinger@annapolis.gov.

Monica A. Jones December 29, 2011 at 03:17 PM
I had five foxes in my back yard and was cited by the county for feeding stray animals.

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