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Lisa Brice and Steve Benson recently became Wilsonville's first certified Backyard Habitat

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: LESLILE PUGMIRE HOLE - Encouraging homeowners to make their yard inviting for insects and other small animals is the mission of the Backyard Habitat program. Lisa Brice and Steve Benson are birders. They enjoy sitting in the backyard of their Wilsonville home where they've observed more than 50 different species of birds feeding on plants, making nests or resting in the shade of the many trees that line their property.

So when Brice and Benson learned the Backyard Habitat Certification program was opening itself up to the Wilsonville community, they jumped at the opportunity to improve their yard's relationship with the wildlife that share it.

"We want to plant feeder plants, try to create habitat and learn about what chemicals are safe to use. This program has great resources to learn about all of that," Brice said. SPOKESMAN PHOTOS: SAM STITES - Susie Peterson of Columbia Land Trust, Steve Benson, Lisa Brice and Nikkie West of Portland Audubon Society

The Backyard Habitat Certification Program is a partnership between local conservation nonprofit Columbia Land Trust and the Portland Audubon Society. The program recently opened itself up to several new communities in Clackamas County including Wilsonville, Rivergrove, Oregon City, Happy Valley, Gladstone and Damascus. It provides technical assistance, advice, and incentives to those who want to improve wildlife habitat in their yards, control noxious weeds, manage stormwater onsite, and garden naturally.

It's offered to private residences (under one acre), as well as to schools, community groups, public institutions, and businesses. For $35, a Habitat Technician will visit the participant's yard to identify noxious weeds and suggest beneficial native plants and other features that will attract and support birds and other wildlife.

"There are so many native plant nurseries nearby that I didn't even know existed," Brice said. "The more you learn about the feeder plants it opens up this whole new world. It's a different way of looking at the habitat."

Recommendations are tailored to each participant's yard and interests. Participants also receive other perks such as discounted prices on native plants, coupons to local garden centers, follow-up technical assistance, and certification signs to display in their yard.

For Benson, becoming certified by the Backyard Habitat Certification program went hand-in-hand with the work he advocates for as chair of the Wilsonville Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

"As a member of the park board, I advocate that the City plant native species and remove those that are invasive," he said. "I feel that as we develop and people put in their yards, it doesn't mean they need to take away native resources. Instead, they can always put in part of their yard to be part of nature. That's just being aware of what's native so that every animal that lives here can still use it."

Nikkie West, Backyard Habitat Program Manager for the Audubon Society, believes that although the program is small, the impact is big.

"Just one yard may not seem like much when it comes to protecting habitat, but there are more than 4,500 urban and suburban yards in this program, and together they make 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."

ONLINE

For more information go to

backyardhabitats.org and

columbialandtrust.org

For Wilsonville Natural Resources Manager Kerry Rappold, the Backyard Habitat Certification program is a complement to the City's already bustling Bee Stewards program. He's hopeful to see more community members like Brice and Benson getting out into their yards to see how they can live more harmoniously with the natural world around them.

"The Backyard Habitat Certification Program provides community members with the knowledge and support to improve native habitat and become stewards of our natural resources," Rappold said.

"The partnership benefits the community and the environment."

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