Have you joined the effort to certify Evanston as a National Wildlife Federation Community Habitat?

If you have heard about Evanston becoming a National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Community Wildlife Habitat, well, we are THIS close. We need to certify 13 more Evanston home gardens or a handful of schools, businesses, places of worship or other gardens. (Schools and community properties count for more than individual home gardens.) Just another feather in Evanston’s cap? Perhaps. But it also demonstrates what Evanstonians care about.

“Research shows that National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitats provide more abundant and higher-quality habitat for wildlife than non-certified yards,” says Patrick Fitzgerald, NWF senior director of urban wildlife.

“And a 2015 study in Cook County found that streets and neighborhoods with bird-friendly yards had twice as many species as those without. So when communities come together to create habitat, just like Evanston is through the Community Wildlife Habitat program, we can make a tremendous difference for wildlife in urban areas.”

NWF, a national nonprofit organization based in Reston, Va., gives the Community Wildlife Habitat certification to cities that do two things: (1) educate and provide outreach about how to create healthy, sustainable habitat for pollinators and birds through scores of activities, such as hosting spring and autumn festivals, forging partnerships, arranging plant giveaways and sales, restoring natural areas, securing grant funding, creating demonstration gardens and more; and (2) certify about 200 gardens as habitat, according to NWF standards.

At this point, Evanston has everything required for the first category, and just needs the final few gardens to be certified.

“The City is extremely excited about the progress made by Natural Habitat Evanston in certifying Evanston as a Community Habitat,” says Kumar Jensen, City Sustainability Director.

“As the impacts of climate change are felt it is increasingly important to be intentional in creating spaces and places for native wildlife, including birds and pollinators, to thrive. The City is proud to have 22 of our own public spaces certified and encourages Evanston property owners to join the cause by signing up.” (Achieving Community Habitat certification is one goal of the City’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan, or CARP.)

Natural Habitat Evanston, a program of the nonprofit Citizens’ Greener Evanston, took the lead in organizing Evanston’s registration in the program in 2015.

Everything counts. Working to restore habitat by the City of Evanston North Shore Channel Habitat Project, Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary, Evanston North Shore Bird Club, Evanston TreeKeepers, Canal Shores Golf Course, as well as all the pollinator gardens at schools and places of worship push the community closer to certification.

In addition to the City-certified public spaces (like the Ladd Arboretum and the Ecology Center, Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary, and the Eggleston Park Food Forest & Orchard), the list of certified gardens includes five places of worship and eight schools.

Anyone who wishes to certify a garden should go to https://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx and indicate what things are in the garden.

• Food: three sources, such as nectar, sap, pollen, berries, or even foliage or twigs. As an example, purple coneflower, produces pollen and nectar for butterflies and seeds for birds.

• Water: one source. A birdbath, for example, or a butterfly-puddling area, a rain garden or pond will suffice as a water source, unless the garden is near the lake or channel. Dumping and refreshing the water in a birdbath weekly will destroy mosquito larvae.

• Cover: two sources. Ground cover, evergreens, dense shrubs, or even a roosting box where birds can escape the wind offer cover. Eastern white pine can shield birds from winter winds and predators.

• Place to raise young: two sources. Caterpillars come to mind, and a place to raise young could be a host plant like milkweed for monarchs, or violets for the violet fritillary, or even an oak tree, which supports 518 native caterpillar species and has the highest wildlife value of any tree. For birds, a place to raise young can be a  mature tree, dense shrubs, evergreens,
a dead tree or a bird house.

• Sustainable practices in at least two of these three categories:

~ Conserving soil and water, such as by limiting water use, using a rain barrel, composting, mulching, leaving leaves or creating a rain garden.

~ Controlling exotic species by using native plants and removing non-native, invasive plants or animals.

~ Using organic gardening techniques, such as composting and avoiding weed killers and other pesticides.

• Fee: $20 for the certification. (There is a 20% discount for certification in May and June with the code GARDEN19. The optional certification sign costs $30 and up, depending on the type. Natural Habitat Evanston is offering a free native wildflower to the first 20 who certify, and has grant funding to help cover the $50 cost if needed. Ask Habitat@NaturalHabitatEvanston.Org.

Certifying your yard is easy for most gardeners, whether your focus is flowers or vegetables. Natural Habitat Evanston chose the NWF program because it opens a conversation into big issues that impact wildlife, like the use of chemicals, soil health and native and invasive plants.

“My front and back yards are teeming with life now that I have removed turf grass and converted it entirely to native plants,” says certified garden owner,
Tamima Itani.

“Hundreds of pollinators buzz around during summer months, butterflies abound, and birds stop by on a daily basis. In 2018, I observed 84 species of birds in my yard, including 21 different species of warblers.

“During fall migration, 50-60 dragonflies would stop in my front yard in the evening at dusk, feeding one last time for the day on their journey south. Native plants bring beautiful colors, sounds and smells to a yard and much joy to the owner.”

Easy steps can make a big difference for pollinators and birds, many of which are declining and need all the help they can get. For example, when people spray for caterpillars in trees, they are eliminating food for baby birds, nearly all of which rely primarily on insects during development; we may even poison the birds and nestlings themselves. 

Parking leaf blowers saves the noise, the fumes and also the particulates (and any residual chemicals applied to the lawn) kicked up in the air, and also saves beneficial bugs from being fatally sandblasted. 

Leaving leaves around flower beds, unmulched, supports a diverse mini-ecosystem of insect eggs, cocoons and larvae overwintering in the leaf litter and underground.

Put out the welcome mat: Hang a nectar feeder to welcome the hummingbirds and orioles that have returned to town. No dye needed, just 4 parts boiled water to 1 part sugar, dissolve, cool and hang. Red feeders attract hummers, orange for orioles.

Change nectar every few days, or more often if the water looks cloudy or the weather is hot. A slice of orange fruit will make your oriole feeder doubly attractive.

1. 22 City Public Spaces

    Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary, Eggleston Park Food Forest & Orchard,
          the Farmette at Eggleston and Eggleston Community Garden, Ladd
          Arboretum and the Evanston Ecology Center, Lorraine Morton Civic
          Center/Ingraham Park, Twiggs Community Garden, Lighthouse
          Community Garden.

    Parks: Burnham Shores, Butler, Centennial, Clark Square, Dawes,
                       Elliott Garden, Harbert, Isabella Woods, Lawson, Lighthouse, 
                       Lovelace, Patriot’s and South Boulevard

2. Eight Schools

     Chiaravalle Montessori, Children’s Quest (preschool), Evanston
           Township High School, and District 65 schools Dawes, Dewey, Oakton,
           Orrington and Washington.

3. Five Places of Worship

     Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation Garden, Lake Street Church,
           St. Nicholas Catholic Church., St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and
           Sheil Catholic Center.

4. Canal Shores Golf Course, 6th hole

5. Garden Club of Evanston Butterfly Garden at Lighthouse

6. Innovative Business Design (a business)

7. Westminster Place retirement homes