Guest column

We did it! We are the first Community Wildlife Habitat in Minnesota!

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Many places say they are wildlife friendly.
We can prove it.
We have been certified by the National Wildlife Federation, using criteria they have developed since 1973 with their Garden for Wildlife program. A volunteer, community-driven initiative, 173 privately owned lawns have converted to nearly 10 acres of bird and pollinator friendly gardens, providing an extraordinary sanctuary for wildlife in a dense urban landscape. On top of that, five schools have certified, four businesses, and two churches. These enhanced landscapes create a beautiful neighborhood and help us to be happier less stressed community members. It also creates healthier soils, air, and water.
At heart, the effort is about education and re-connecting people with nature and wildlife, and not just in a park far far away, but right here in our own backyards. I believe no matter where a person lives, they have a right to see and appreciate nature, and that nature has a right to exist there too. A person that plants native plants and possibly even puts up a wildlife habitat sign is making a statement, showing where they stand, and what they value. They are also teaching by example – to their neighbors, to passersby, to family and friends, and most importantly, to the children and future caretakers of the land.
I see it like a new culture, where people and wildlife work together – there’s a relationship there, an appreciation, a give and take. Humans (and squirrels) have taken for way too long, it’s time for humans (and squirrels) to foster a wider and more diverse variety of life.
Put simply, if we are taught to mow lawns, we mow lawns. And if we are taught how to care for a forest or a prairie, then that’s what we do. These days it appears we have to mow lawns AND care for a prairie. For many of us, this means new parenting, new schooling, new skills, and new job descriptions. Every house, every apartment, every business, every house of worship, every road or development project can include wildlife in its planning and landscaping. This is imperative for wildlife to survive, and it has been shown again and again that green space and wildlife can make our lives healthier and more pleasant, too.
Historically, the felling of forests and the turning over of prairies radiated out from the Twin Cities to the rest of the state. So it’s only fitting that the restoration of forests and prairie (and lakes and rivers) start here too. Hopefully we can be a good example. Hopefully the tools and practices we are developing will be shared, copied, and improved.
I invite others to certify their community or city, and I am willing to help. So are many other people in our community and across the state.
The state’s Board of Water and Soil Resources heard what we were up to, and I believe it’s one of the reasons they chose us to be a Demonstration Neighborhood. Over the last two years, we received cost share funding through their Lawns to Legumes program for the installation of native plants and raingardens. The purpose of this program is to help save endangered and threatened pollinators, such as the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee.
Now our State Bee, the Rusty Patched, appears to be making its last stand in our backyards, and we have had confirmed sightings in our neighborhood. Across the globe, more and more bumblebees are surviving in urban and suburban areas, and disappearing in rural areas.
Habitat loss and mass extinction is a terrible thing to consider, but it’s definitely nice to think that there is something we can do about it. And that each of us doing a little can add up to making a big difference here and now. Best of all, it’s a lot of fun, and the rewards are practically immediate. I admit removing turfgrass is about as fun as that sounds, and native plants could become a lifelong study, but it’s relatively easy to start, to plant a native perennial or shrub or tree. Almost instantly, you’ll start seeing more butterflies, bumblebees, birds, and all sorts of critters. When a Monarch butterfly shows up because you planted Milkweed and Blazingstars, all the theories and heartache evaporate, and you are held in a moment of reverie.
You feel that you now have a deeper relationship with, and understanding of, this being flitting in front of you.
For that moment you are truly alive.
Daniel Schultz lives in the Hiawatha neighborhood with his wife and four children. He owns and operates a small business, and volunteers his time as a Minnesota Master Naturalist to connect people with nature and foster wildlife habitat.

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