Columbia Land Trust is excited to introduce Susie Peterson as its new Backyard Habitat Certification Program manager (BHCP). Together with our partners at Audubon Society of Portland, she’s excited to lead the continued growth and impact of the transformative program. Communications manager Jay Kosa sat down with Susie to chat about her background.
JK: Where are you from originally?
SP: I was born nearby in Woodland, Washington, went to school in Missouri, and then college in east Texas. I had forests around me growing up, and I developed a love for the outdoors.
In college, I got a bachelor’s degree in psychology and then went back to school to take courses in horticulture and botany. After that I took a job at a landscape design firm, working with nurseries and performing bid proposals. I moved back to Portland in 2001.
What were you doing prior to joining the Land Trust?
I spent that last five years working with Friends of Tress. In my role, I coordinated neighborhood planting events in north Portland, along with various trainings. I also led an expansion of the program in Salem.
Did you encounter BHCP participants through your work?
Absolutely. We’d have people either tell us outright that they wanted native trees to comply with their Backyard Habitat goals, or you could tell by their questions. There was also interest in Salem, particularly around Oregon white oaks. They are experiencing the loss of oak groves as the city grows and some folks are trying to mitigate those losses, which I think is wonderful.
How do you think your time at Friends of Trees will serve you well in this work?
I worked quite a bit with community members, educating them about the benefits of trees. I worked to get people excited about the program, and I look forward to doing that with BHCP as well. I look forward to seeing the different ways in which people connect to the program.
How did you first hear about the BHCP?
In 2009, when we bought our house, I immediately signed up for the program. It’s hard to remember now, but I think I learned about the program from a Columbia Land Trust newsletter.
How was your experience with the program?
I was really impressed with my backyard technician. She came out for my site visit and had some really creative ideas and helped me assess what I should keep and where there was room for improvement. She explained the region’s micro-climates and how to work within them. I took full advantage of the plant sales.
Like many participants, I had a learning curve. At first, I planted in the fall and let the maple leaves drop on them. I learned that while some leaf cover can be beneficial, too much can smother younger plants.
It was a really wonderful experience. I would occasionally write in with questions as always received great advice. The volunteer who came out and certified my property was very knowledgeable. One thing I was to stress to people going through the program is not to fret about your time frame. There’s a lot to learn and your ideas for your yard will evolve over time. You can do it at your own pace.
Any advice for people mulling over the decision to enroll in the program?
I would say just go ahead and sign up. Site technicians will be able to break things down and tailor their advice based on where you are in terms of familiarity with native plants. I’d also suggest visiting a native plant nursery to get a sense of what is possible.
What aspect of this position are you most excited about?
I would say supporting people through the process of turning their yards into lively hubs for local wildlife. I’m also really excited to work with Nikkie West and the folks at the Audubon Society of Portland, along with the wonderful technicians.
Do you have a favorite Willamette Valley native plant?
I love the Ponderosa pine living in my backyard. I love the color of the bark and the way it glows when the afternoon sun hits it. I see so many different birds on it: nuthatches, northern flickers, chickadees, juncos, and plenty of others. It smells great too!
In addition to supporting area wildlife, how to you think BHCP benefits the participants and their communities?
I think any time you get your hands dirty by planting something, or you support any living thing, you’re benefiting yourself as well.
We’re under appreciating the value of connecting with the natural world around us. There is a really strong connection between human health and the natural world. Even if you had an all-sod yard and you plant one plant, you’re still transforming the world around you in a meaningful way. I think it makes a difference to our sense of belonging. It seems simple, but there’s something deeper going on there. Once your plants are established you add bird baths and birds come in, you get a really powerful feeling of supporting life. It provides me with a sense of serenity and peace that I used to have to go out into the woods to find, but now it’s right in my own backyard.
You are part of something bigger. Your yard may be a small part of a larger context in which we’re bringing nature back into the city.
Is there anything you want to share with the thousands of people currently enrolled in the program?
To me, this program is all about learning. I welcome everyone to join in on what I believe is really a transformational program and an endless source for continued learning.