Washington County resident Susan Nolte has always considered herself to be a bit of a gardener.
When she started, almost 30 years ago, Susan initially focused on creating an edible landscape on her and her husband’s North Bethany property. But her strategy evolved over time.
Susan started volunteering with Portland Audubon several years ago and began learning more and more about the impacts of habitat loss throughout the region. As she discovered the importance of improving available habitat, Susan enrolled her property in the Backyard Habitat Certification Program (BHCP).
The intent of the BHCP, co-sponsored by Portland Audubon and Columbia Land Trust, is simple: teach people how to garden with native plants and encourage them to create landscapes that are healthy for both people and urban wildlife.
Since its inception in 2007, the Backyard Habitat Certification Program has enrolled over 6,000 properties across Multnomah, Clackamas, Clark, and Washington counties. Just last year, BHCP became available to Washington County residents in Beaverton, Tualatin, Tigard, and areas of Wilsonville and Portland. This year the program is expanding once again! The 2020 expansion will include residents of Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Cornelius, and Sherwood.
The program focuses on five elements: controlling noxious weeds, planting native species, reducing pesticide use, managing stormwater, and providing wildlife habitat.
There are three levels of certification – silver, gold, and platinum – with each level incorporating a greater commitment to establishing habitat. For example, to achieve silver certification, 5% of a participant’s plantable area would need to be planted with native plant species. This percentage increases to 15% for gold certification and 50% for platinum certification.
Certification is a process that occurs over time. After a resident enrolls in the program, a BHCP habitat technician schedules a visit and conducts an initial site assessment. During this assessment, the technician identifies noxious weeds and stormwater management opportunities, works with the resident to determine their habitat ideas and landscape goals, and makes specific plant and habitat suggestions. Following the initial assessment, residents receive a full site report with recommendations for how to achieve their backyard habitat transformation. Additionally, the program offers discounts for purchasing native plants and other materials from participating businesses. Then it’s time to get to work!
When asked if she has advice for anyone who is considering enrolling, Susan exclaimed, “A zillion things!”
The biggest advice she would pass on is to start small. “You don’t have to buy a bunch of plants or get rid of the whole lawn. Just start in one corner and go from there.”
Susan also pointed out that the Facebook group Friends of Backyard Habitats is a great resource for those getting started. She’s found that everyone there is willing to share their experience and offer advice. She’s even found people willing to share plants for those working on a small budget. Overall, mingling with like-minded people has been one of her favorite things about BHCP.
Susan doesn’t just see the BHCP as a way to enhance wildlife habitat through the region, but she also sees the program as a tool for community change. She often invites neighborhood children into her yard to discover nature firsthand. She encourages kids to overturn logs in her yard and loves when they shriek while discovering worms and other bugs that live under them. She even maintains six compost bins that allow her to show the kids the process of turning organic waste into soil.
In Susan’s own words, she sees the BHCP as “one small link in the chain of change.”
Beginning in 2016, the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District has worked closely with BHCP and other local municipalities to expand the program throughout Washington County. To learn more about the Backyard Habitat Certification Program, add your name to the waitlist, or receive a free BHCP e-newsletter, visit their website: backyardhabitats.org.
Due to public health concerns surrounding COVID-19, BHCP has temporarily suspended site visits, certification visits, and their Open Garden Tour. They will continue to assess the situation as new information becomes available and will post updates to their Facebook page as needed. In the meantime, you will still be able to sign up for the BHCP waiting list and start planning your backyard oasis.