Helping Urban and Suburban Gardeners Create Natural Habitats for Wildlife
The Backyard Habitat Certification Program (BHCP), co-managed by the Bird Alliance of Oregon (formerly Portland Audubon) and Columbia Land Trust, enrolled 1,645 new yards or greenspaces in 2021 and now has nearly 9,000 participants across four counties: Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties in Oregon and Clark County in Washington. Together these community members care for more than 2,000 acres, focusing on five key elements: planting native plants, removing noxious weeds, reducing pesticide use, managing storm water, and stewarding wildlife.
BHCP aims to bring people together to create resilient wildlife habitats and landscapes, while also fostering a sense of community. Individuals, apartments, businesses, schools, places of worship, and community organizations are all encouraged to participate. Collectively, the actions taken by program participants have a significant impact on the quality of air and water throughout our region, improve habitat for urban wildlife, and provide physical and mental health benefits to our local communities.
Read on to learn about the Backyard Habitat staff members who, along with 11 technicians and more than 80 volunteers, are helping gardeners transform the Portland-Vancouver metro region, one yard or greenspace at a time!
JP | Program Coordinator, started with BHCP in 2017
As Program Coordinator, JP divides his time between work areas ranging from coordinating volunteers for certification visits, work parties, and data entry, to supporting BHCP’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work. He also interacts with participants and assists with administrative projects like pulling database reports and managing website content.
“My worries about climate change and the future are lessened by all the wonderful work organizations like Columbia Land Trust and Portland Audubon are doing in our region,” said JP. “Seeing devoted gardeners who share my enthusiasm for protecting nature gives me hope for a better tomorrow.”
What’s your favorite part of your work? Knowing that we are making a difference in the natural world. I also like the diversity of tasks and the people I work with—from coworkers, technicians, and volunteers, to our wonderful program participants.
What’s something you want people to know about BHCP? We don’t hate cats or non-native plants!
Susie | Program Co-Manager, started with BHCP in 2016
Susie balances strategic planning and fiscal management with day-to-day program support. She oversees the enrollment and site visit processes, manages a team of nine habitat technicians, coordinates with sponsors, and leads projects with community partners.
“There’s so much I love about my job,” said Susie. “It’s a true gift to work with caring and passionate people who want to do what is best for the people, plants, and animals of our region. Many people feel a sense of responsibility to nature. They find joy in having birds and other wildlife around, and they want to create habitat that supports these creatures.”
Susie also manages outreach efforts in Clackamas and Clark counties, which involves working closely with partners at Friends of Tryon Creek and the Watershed Alliance. “We want to engage as many people as possible,” she said. “You don’t need any gardening experience, we are here to get you started.”
What do you like to do outside of work? Susie loves spending time outside, hanging out with trees, plants, and friends. She is fascinated by the history of the Northwest—which has been a hub of life for humans and animals for tens of thousands of years—and how different cultures practice caring for the Earth. “There are ways of knowing that existed pre-colonization and continue to this day; ways that have a deep respect for the land,” she said. “It’s amazing how much collective ecological knowledge there is.”
Megan | Program Co-Manager, started with BHCP in 2019
Megan balances many responsibilities in her role as Co-Manager. Some of her key tasks including working with community and agency partners (like Metro and watershed districts), fundraising work, and listening to feedback about how to make the program better and more equitable, inclusive, and diverse.
“The best part of my job, is when people share with me that the program has changed their life and how they view the world!” said Megan. “Having a job that specifically involves connecting with a diversity of people and the diverse natural world we all live within is incredibly rewarding. I love supporting people in their efforts to create habitat, benefit wildlife, and support each other.”
Megan also strives for balance outside of work. “I love to be outside enjoying my own backyard habitat and exploring the natural world by foot, paddleboard, and snowshoe,” she said. “I also love to be cozy and curled up inside, enjoying a good book, a podcast, board game, or meal.”
What’s something you want people to know about BHCP? Two things! One, that BHCP works with all sorts of sites, not just single-family residential yards. Second, your yard or greenspace can be in any condition when you enroll. We provide lots of support, so even if you don’t have any plants in your yard and you’ve never gardened before, you can start to create habitat!
Victor | Community Coordinator, started with BHCP in 2022
The newest member of the team, Victor joined Backyard Habitat this spring as Community Coordinator and will be co-leading projects with existing community partners including APANO, Centro Cultural, Hacienda CDC, Verde, and the Community Engagement Liaisons, as well as leading outreach and education initiatives and engaging new community partners to support habitat creation efforts.
Victor’s favorite native animal is the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina). “They quickly became one of my favorites because of their beautiful feathers and curious nature,” he said. “I love working with animals and I have a red-footed tortoise named Poppy, as well as an adventurous cat and two twin poodles!”
Why are you excited about joining the BHCP team? I look forward to continuing my conservation career and working to create true inclusivity and equity for BIPOC communities within the conservation world.
Rachael | Contracts Coordinator, started with BHCP in 2019
Similar to others on the Backyard Habitat team, Rachael’s job varies from day to day. You might find her assigning sites to habitat technicians, creating quarterly reports for funders, designing the annual native plant coupon flyer and other visual materials, or organizing the program database.
“We live in a world dominated by humans and it feels good knowing we are restoring some balance by promoting practices that help create spaces that are mutually beneficial for humans and animals alike,” said Rachael. “I love seeing how much the program has grown, especially on my side of the bridge in Clark County.”
Rachael finds hope in the powerful collective impact made by Backyard Habitat participants and the program’s continued growth. “It can be incredibly overwhelming to think about all the challenges the world faces,” she said. “It’s easy to be left wondering what difference one person can make, but choosing to garden sustainably and garden for wildlife matters, especially when you consider the cumulative impact.”
What’s something you want people to know about BHCP? When processing new enrollments, I often see comments like “I want to turn my garden into a haven for hummingbirds, but not crows” or “I want to create habitat for butterflies and bees, but I don’t like squirrels.” I wish more people understood that animals are here with us, not for us. Creating habitat at home ultimately attracts a variety of animals, not only the ones you may “like”, and that’s a good thing! Many animals often labeled as pests play an important role in the ecosystem and they have just as much of a need for habitat as the animals that people look forward to seeing in their yards.
Interested in starting your own backyard habitat?
The Backyard Habitat Certification Program serves residential yards smaller than one acre, and community sites of any size, throughout much of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties in Oregon and in Clark County, Washington. There is a one-time, sliding scale sign-up fee. After enrolling, a BHCP habitat technician will visit your yard or green space and provide personalized recommendations. BHCP participants receive tons of gardening resources, as well as discounts at local native plant nurseries. Participants then work at their own pace to plant native plants, remove damaging weeds, and transition to eco-friendly gardening practices. When ready, a volunteer revisits to certify your site at one of three certification levels: silver, gold, or platinum.
Visit www.backyardhabitats.org to enroll!