Turning a yard into a wildlife habitat

The National Wildlife Federation promotes backyard habitats as one way to compensate for habitat loss.

Photo of white-throated sparrow by Clay Myers.

McLEANSVILLE, N.C. (AP) Gary Carter is cashing in on the natural look. By converting his three-acre property into wildlife habitat, he turns camera-carrying visitors into paying customers while beefing up his own photo stocks.

Carter got started with some help from the National Wildlife Federation's Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, which certifies and suggests options for people who garden with the needs of birds, animals and insects in mind.

"It gives me a place to photograph birds because I don't get to as many locations as others do," says Carter, a nature photographer. "Farmland and good hunting land is disappearing in the area I'm in," Carter says. "This plant-enriched layout gives us a chance to view wildlife close by and it gives them a place for shelter."

That's what the National Wildlife Federation hoped would happen when it launched its program in 1973. Now, some 50,000 people and three-plus decades later, the program is growing at the rate of nearly 10 percent per year, says Mary Burnette, one of the federation's communications managers. "The initial impetus was just to give people a convenient way to converse with nature on a local level," Burnette says. "What we've seen over the years is people growing interested in compensating for habitat loss in their communities. It's the first step in environmental stewardship." If anything has changed over the years, it's the federation's emphasis on choosing native plants over exotics for wildlife habitat, Burnette says. "Natives require less water, less fertilizer, less pesticides and generally less care."

Connie Toops, a freelance writer, photographer and lecturer from Marshall, N.C., also uses wildlife as the focus for her lifestyle and career. "This kind of landscaping can give you a great deal of personal enjoyment," says Stoops, who with her husband, Pat, a retired wildlife biologist, offers up her 128-acre mountainside "teaching farm" as a pastoral setting for nature photography and wildlife habitat workshops.

David Mizejewski, manager of the federation's Backyard Habitat Program, says there aren't any "don't do" rules for certification, though he was quick to suggest a few.

"We discourage people from giving supplemental food to animals like raccoons and possums." Unlike birds, mammals can become habituated. "We do want people to put out birdfeeders, but it's more important that they provide a year-round, natural habitat for their mix of wildlife. Ours is primarily a garden program."

For more about adding wildlife habitat to your yard, see the National Wildlife Federation Website or look to suggestions from Lost Cove Farm Workshops, www.lostcovefarm.com, or see more of Gary Carter's setup at garycarterphotos.com.

Source: AP - AP Wire Service
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