Envision an Evanston with hundreds of green spaces – backyards, apartment balconies, city parks, school grounds, gardens at houses of worship – alive with birds and pollinators.

Picture an Evanston whose citizens are knowledgeable advocates for sustainable gardening practices and who pitch in to remove invasive plants and restore natural landscapes.

Imagine an Evanston that is recognized nationally as a Community Habitat for birds, butterflies, and other pollinators.

This is the vision of Natural Habitat Evanston, a collaborative initiative now underway to achieve National Wildlife Federation (NWF) certification for Evanston as a Community Habitat.

Why Become a Community Habitat?
Birds and pollinators need our help. The greatest threat they face is the loss and degradation of habitat due to human activity. Roads, buildings, manicured lawns, and large-scale farms are crowding out the trees and plants that provide the food and nesting sites these creatures need for survival. Improper use of pesticides creates another major hazard.

Our location on the shore of Lake Michigan makes Evanston a prime spot to create and protect healthy habitat. Over 275 bird species migrate through the Chicago area each spring and fall. They fly over the lake all night and arrive here hungry and exhausted, in need of food and shelter. Numerous other bird species live here year-round and need places to nest and raise their young.

Evanston has a critical role to play in providing for endangered pollinators, too. Our monarch butterfly population, for example, has declined by 80 percent from its average of the past 20 years – in large part due to the loss of milkweed on Midwestern agricultural lands. Some species of native bees (which as a group do the yeoman’s share of pollination) are also in steep decline, again due to habitat loss and pesticide use.

What Can Be Done to Help?
Fortunately, there are things we can do, individually and as a community, to create an environment that helps birds and pollinators thrive. We can start by enhancing our green spaces with the four basic elements that all living things need:
• Food. Select a variety of native plants that offer food for every season.
• Water. Provide a source for drinking and bathing, such as a birdbath, a butterfly puddling area, a rain garden, or proximity to the lake.
• Cover. Include areas that offer shelter from bad weather and places to hide, such as dense shrubs or thick brush piles.
• Places to raise young. Provide spaces for nesting and raising young – perhaps the same landscape features that offer good cover.
Equally important, garden sustainably. In particular, eliminate insecticides and reduce the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides.

Property owners who do these five things can gain NWF certification for their gardens and help Evanston earn NWF certification as a Community Wildlife Habitat.

What Makes a Community Habitat?
To achieve NWF certification for Evanston, our community must meet two sets of goals. First, a certain number of homes, schools, and common areas must gain NWF certification for their properties. For a community of our size, the target is 200 homes or apartments, 6 schoolyards, and 5 community areas (e.g., parks, places of worship, businesses). There are already over 60 Evanston homeowners who have achieved NWF certification, as has Canal Shores Golf Course.

In addition, we must earn 150 points for activities that educate community members about sustainable gardening practices and that engage Evanstonians in hands-on projects that make the community healthier for birds and pollinators – and for people, too. Some examples: Workshops about birds, pollinators, and the plants of greatest benefit to them. Tours of local native gardens. Creation and distribution of a native plants list for Evanston. Invasive plant removal at a community site.

What Are the Next Steps?
Interested residents and representatives of a number of local nonprofits and businesses have been meeting for several months to assess the interest in becoming a Community Habitat and to determine what that would look like for Evanston. We are calling this initiative Natural Habitat Evanston. We plan to use the NWF certification program as a starting point but intend to exceed the NWF targets for certified properties and community engagement activities.

Please Join In
• Certify your yard, container garden, or the common area at your apartment, business, or house of worship. To get started, go to www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife.aspx
• Help us spread the word and engage the community. Keep up with our programs at Facebook.com/CitizensGreenerEvanstonHabitat.
• Become a partner. Ask your nonprofit, business, or place of worship to endorse Natural Habitat Evanston. Partners provide their logos for program materials, encourage their members or customers to get involved, certify their green spaces, and offer other assistance, as they wish.

For more information, or to help us implement this program, please contact us at Habitat@greenerevanston.org.
Ms. Revelle is president of Citizens’ Greener Evanston.