The sun briefly broke through the clouds, and an Anna's hummingbird showed up to watch last week as Lisa Batey received her Backyard Habitat Certification from Nikkie West, Backyard Habitat Program manager for the Audubon Society of Portland, and Susie Peterson, Backyard Habitat Program manager for Columbia Land Trust.
Batey, the president of the Milwaukie City Council and an Island Station resident, is the first local resident to receive that certification since the program expanded into Milwaukie, West Linn, Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge.
The Backyard Habitat Certification Program provides technical assistance, advice and incentives to residents who want to improve wildlife habitat in their yards, control invasive weeds, manage stormwater onsite and garden naturally.
The Audubon Society of Portland and the Columbia Land Trust have co-managed the Backyard Habitat Certification Program since 2009. The program expanded into Lake Oswego in 2011 and then into Gresham and Fairview in 2015.
"The two organizations bring both of our skills and expertise to bear as we collaborate on all aspects of program implementation," West said.
"Just one yard may not seem like much when it comes to protecting habitat, but there are more than 3,800 yards currently participating spanning nearly 1,000 acres, and that makes a real difference for our region's wildlife," West said.
"Through this program, every yard and every gardener can play a meaningful role in revitalizing our region for birds, pollinators and other wildlife," she added.
"We aim to engage all community members in caring for the water, air and wildlife around us. We live in an incredibly diverse region, and we can each support that diversity by taking small steps to care for our yards in sustainable ways," Peterson said.
The program, which began as a pilot program for a handful of West Hills homeowners with an invasive-plant problem, has three levels: silver, gold and platinum, with specific requirements for each level.
Batey didn't think she had enough native plants in her yard to qualify, but then learned that "the silver level only required 5 percent of natives."
She added, "When they came and took a look, they told me I didn't have to plant any more natives, but I did have to remove certain invasives."
She was given a list of invasive species that she would have to remove, and her landscaper was able to identify and get rid of enough of those on the list so that she could qualify for the silver level.
"The first step in the process is the initial site assessment, and then we provide the resources [about how to] identify and remove invasives and what natives to plant," Peterson said.
"In Lisa's case, she had already planted a lot of natives and had already put a lot of work into her yard," Peterson said, so Batey was able to move through the process quickly.
"Normally it can take about a year to get to the point of certification," she added.
She does aspire to the gold level of certification but knows that she has several invasives, including Italian arum and lesser celandine, that will require the use of pesticides over two to three years.
Batey said there were no native plants in her yard when she moved into her house 15 years ago, and she has slowly been planting natives like snowberry, hemlock, flowering currant, ferns and salmonberry.
"Once I started planning natives, more birds started showing up," she said, adding that in addition to hummingbirds, she has seen finches and bushtits in her yard.
The Backyard Habitat Certification program is "great to raise awareness, both for wildlife and for water conservation. It is a program to help the bird habitat, [while helping] people to be more educated about things in their yards," Batey said.
She added, "A lot of people in Milwaukie are interested in naturescaping and using natives for birds. This is perfect timing for this program to come to Clackamas County."
'Corridors of habitat'
"Thanks to financial support from Clackamas Soil & Water Conservation District, we're able to make this important step into Milwaukie, West Linn, Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge, all areas that are rich in natural resources, like towering trees and neighborhood streams," West said.
"By restoring habitat one backyard at a time, the Backyard Habitat Certification Program is creating corridors of habitat for urban wildlife as they navigate the city, while also connecting people to our broader conservation goals," she said.
The ultimate goal is to offer the Backyard Habitat Program regionwide.
Batey was chosen as the first Milwaukie-area resident to receive the certification because she is a "strong advocate for parks and natural resources within the City of Milwaukie, and she walks the talk at home as well," West said.
"She has been naturescaping her yard for many years, maintains a gorgeous large-tree canopy, and even installed a bioswale along the sidewalk," she said.
West is very familiar with the local area and its residents, since she worked for the city of Milwaukie from 2008-11, focusing on environmental initiatives for the city's Community Development departments.
Interested residents of Milwaukie, West Linn, Oak Grove or Jennings Lodge can sign up for the program online at backyardhabitats.org.
"There are currently over 100 people on the wait list, so we expect it will be several months before we're able to schedule an initial site assessment," West said, noting that the sooner people sign up, the sooner their turn will come.
"Any season is a great time to enroll in the program and to start planning your naturescaped yard. As gardeners know, it's a labor of ongoing love," West said.
"The Backyard Habitat Certification Program serves all yards, within our service area, that have at least some plantable space, but are under 1 acre. One yard may not seem like much, but we are making a difference and creating a region where people and wildlife can thrive together," she noted.
The program continues to be one of Portland Audubon's fastest growing programs and a powerful conservation tool, West said.
She added, "With our technical support, encouragement and incentives, residents are creating measurable habitat at home. As each of us engage in our yards in this new way, we learn the role our yard plays in a broader landscape and the role each of us can play in conservation."
For the birds
Learn more about the Backyard Habitat Certification Program at backyardhabitats.org.
The program is co-managed by the Audubon Society of Portland and Columbia Land Trust. The Clackamas Soil & Water Conservation District supported the program's expansion into Clackamas County.
Audubon Society of Portland
Founded in 1902, the Audubon Society of Portland is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the nation. It promotes the understanding, enjoyment and protection of native birds, other wildlife and their habitats through its conservation and environmental education programs, its 150-acre Nature Sanctuary and Nature Store in Northwest Portland, and its Wildlife Care Center.
For more information, call 503-292-6855 or visit audubonportland.org.
Columbia Land Trust
This organization conserves and cares for vital lands, waters, and wildlife of the Columbia River region through sound science and strong relationships. Since 1990, the organization has conserved more than 32,000 acres throughout Oregon and Washington, stretching from The Dalles to the Pacific Ocean. To learn more, visit columbialandtrust.org or call 360-696-0131.
Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District
CSWCD is a special district that provides technical assistance and support to Clackamas County residents encouraging conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. Issues with water quality and invasive weeds adversely affect wildlife, working lands and natural areas, which in-turn affects the livability of communities. For more information, visit conservationdistrict.org.