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Groups aim to make Benton County the first certified backyard wildlife habitat community in Oregon

CORVALLIS — The National Wildlife Federation has offered a backyard wildlife habitat certification program for more than 35 years.

In that time, some 150,000 habitats around the country have been certified. They range from apartment balconies to farms.

In Benton County, about 100 individuals have received certification for their properties.

Among them is Molly Monroe, a wildlife biologist whose south Corvallis yard, with native shrubs and flowers, a brush pile, nest boxes and a number of bird feeders, was certified 10 years ago. It attracts a variety of birds, amphibians and insects.

Monroe works at Finley National Wildlife Refuge south of Corvallis. It, too, received certification after habitat projects were completed in recent years in the courtyard next to the refuge headquarters, thanks to the volunteer help of the Friends of the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

The 9.4-acre Chintimini Wildlife Center on Lewisburg Road lives up to its name, offering plenty of wildlife habitat. It, too, has been certified by the NWF.

“We’ve been working on promoting habitat there for 20 years,” said executive director Jeff Picton, citing the center’s food sources, pond, seasonal creek, water feature, rock pile, nest boxes, snags and downed logs.

Picton, Monroe and other individuals and groups, coming together under the umbrella of the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition, are now setting a higher goal of making Benton County a backyard wildlife-certified community.

“We hope to be the first county in Oregon to be certified,” Picton said. “We’re hoping that we will get certified by Mother’s Day and the Natural Areas Celebration Week.”

The National Wildlife Federation has four criteria  — food, water, places for cover and places to raise young — in its certification process (see “4 Things Tuneup” on this page.) For a county to qualify, 200 individual property owners or renters must meet the standards. Benton is halfway there.

Six common areas, such as  Chintimini Wildlife Center and Finley National Wildlife Refuge, must be certified. The Avery House Nature Center in Avery Park and Hesthven Nature Center on Oak Creek Road, both in Corvallis, received certification earlier this month.

Five schools also need to meet the requirements. A number of Corvallis schools are working on habitat projects, but so far College Hill High School is the only one that has been certified.

Picton and Monroe, along with Beth Young, a landscape designer, author and instructor,  and Stacy Moore, director of ecological education for the Institute of Applied Ecology, stopped by the Corvallis Gazette-Times recently to talk about the certification effort.

“It promotes our mission of supporting native habitats and nature education,” Moore said.

One of her projects this winter fits in nicely with the intent of the certification program. She’ll be going to six classrooms at different Benton schools with 80 songbird nest-box kits for students to assemble for mounting on the Evergreen property owned by the Greenbelt Land Trust near Philomath.

Young is the author of “The Naturescaping Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide for Bringing Nature to Your Backyard.” She is also working toward certification, trying to improve the backyard habitat on her property in the middle of Corvallis.

“Whenever we build a home, we remove habitat. By bringing nature back to backyards, we’re back in balance,” she said. “... One backyard, then the whole community and other communities.”

Monroe enjoys watching her 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Amelia, relate to creatures in their backyard.

“She loves snakes and frogs and watching birds on feeders,” Monroe said. “A lot of our inspiration for this is to pass it on to the next generation.”

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The Corvallis Sustainability Coalition,  Benton Soil & Water Conservation District, Chintimini Wildlife Center, Willamette Gardens, Institute for Applied Ecology, Audubon Society of Corvallis, Greenbelt Land Trust, Corvallis Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon, Neighborhood Naturalist, OSU Extension Service and Benton County Natural Areas are all supporting the effort to get the county certified.

“We’re looking for more partner organizations,” Picton said.

Groups and individuals who want to join the effort can contact Picton at backyard_wildlife@comcast.net or go to http://sustainable corvallis.org/action-teams/natural-areas/backyard-wildlifeconnections.

The group is officially registered with the National Wildlife Federation as the “Backyard Wildlife Connections Team.”

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Graham Kislingbury is the online editor for Mid-Valley Media. He can be reached at graham.kislingbury@lee.net or 541-812-6111

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Online Editor, Mid-Valley Newspapers (Corvallis Gazette-Times, Albany Democrat-Herald, Lebanon Express)