Residents seeking Community Wildlife Habitat certification
By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Wed., Jun. 15, 2011
South Windsor resident Wayne McKinney is spearheading the effort to have the town certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. About 10 years ago, he started preparing his backyard for certification, which has since been awarded, by planting native species to attract birds and insects.
“South Windsor is a natural, with all the open spaces and great backyards,” said McKinney. He estimates that it will take two years to obtain certification for the town. He is in the process of setting up the team of volunteers for the Habitat Team, which so far includes himself, Jeff Folger of the South Windsor Planning Department and Barbara Kelley, who is a member of the North Central Conservation District.
Pat Botteron has had her backyard certified. “I did it because of where I live,” said Botteron. “I’m proud of this town and what they’ve accomplished,” she added, explaining that the voters have been very supportive of preservation issues. “It starts with the citizens.” Botteron is the chairman of the town’s Open Space Task Force.
In order to obtain the Community Wildlife Habitat certification, the South Windsor Town Council will need to approve a letter of support. McKinney indicated that he has spoken with at least one town councilor, who seemed supportive of the program.
South Windsor resident Ellen Castaldino is considering obtaining the backyard certification for her fiancé’s property. As an environmental educator, Castaldino supports the town-wide effort, saying, “It’s a way to get children connected with the real world.”
“The whole point is educational,” explained McKinney. He hopes that through the town-wide certification process, residents will learn the importance of supporting native species of plants, which in turn support native and beneficial insects, birds and animals. “We want to get as many people as possible to understand the connection between insects, birds and animals,” he said.
There is a $20 fee to apply for the residential backyard certification, which is through an online process at the National Wildlife Federation website at nwf.org. Homeowners must show that their properties have sources of food, water, protective cover and places to bear young. Food sources could be native plants, shrubs and trees to provide foliate, nectar, pollen, berries or seeds for a variety of species. The water source could be as simple as a bird bath. An area with dense shrubs, a cluster of trees or even a woodpile could provide the necessary cover for animals and places where they could safely raise their young.
In order for the town to obtain the Community Wildlife Habitat certification, upwards of 150 homes need to have the backyard certification. Additionally, the town must have a certification team to coordinate the educational efforts. Topics relating to sustainable gardening practices include: reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; water conservation; planting native plants and removing invasive and non-native plants; and composting.
“It’s strictly a voluntary thing,” explained McKinney. He believes both the backyard and community certification are beneficial to the community and worth the effort. There is also the educational aspect, not only for the adults, but for children as well, as the community certification process requires coordination with the school system.
One of the first steps McKinney asks people to take it to have their soil tested. For $8 per sample, residents can have the soils in their lawns, vegetable garden or flower beds tested to determine the fertility level of the soil. With this information, the homeowner can then know the correct amounts of limestone or fertilizer needed to optimize plant performance, reduce growing problems and protect the environment from excessive fertilizer use. The testing is done through the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension Service. For more information on soil testing, call 860-486-4274 or visit the website soiltest.uconn.edu. Additional tests are also offered, including soil pH, percent organic matter, soil textural analysis and soluble salts.
McKinney is looking for residents who are interested in having their property certified and for people to help with the community certification team. The Habitat Team will need some people with specific skills to help with certain aspects of the certification process, including leading educational forums, coordinating efforts with the town and fundraising. The Habitat Team will also need volunteers to help organize meetings, set up educational booths at local events and work at locations to remove invasive plants. To contact Wayne McKinney, call 860-289-8633 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.