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Jun
17
2024
Land & Environmental

In addition to being a certified Community Wildlife Habitat — a designation Yellow Springs received in 2020 — the village now hosts over 100 individual certified native habitats on both public and private properties. Along with members of several local groups, villagers Catherine Zimmerman and Bethany Gray have led the campaign to link ecologically minded gardeners and property owners to the National Wildlife Federation. Here, the pair stands next to the village’s habitat sign in Bill Duncan Park. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

100 native wildlife habitats in Yellow Springs

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Choruses of robins now greet the dawn. Daffodils stretch their golden petals to the sky as gardeners roll up their sleeves to plant broccoli and spinach. Trillium, violet cress and hepatica carpet the forest floor. Bluebirds are nesting and warblers have begun to migrate.

There’s no shortage of floral and faunal miracles to celebrate in April — it is Earth Month, after all.

Now, Yellow Springs has one more reason to celebrate: Over 100 properties throughout the village have been certified with the National Wildlife Federation, or NWF, as official native wildlife habitats. Each of these properties — 108, to be exact — have met the NWF’s criteria of providing local fauna with sources of food, water and shelter, while abiding by stringent sustainable practices.

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And according to village residents Bethany Gray and Catherine Zimmerman, more Yellow Springs native habitats are forthcoming. Since joining forces in 2017, the two — along with the support of members from the Village Environmental Commission, Tecumseh Land Trust, Glen Helen and other organizations — have led the charge of getting ecologically minded homeowners to certify their yards with the NWF.

“At the end of the day, we’re here to educate folks,” Zimmerman told the News last week. “We want to initiate conversations, to get people to start thinking about local wildlife, about what plants belong here and which ones don’t.”

The pair’s crowning achievement, though, was getting the whole of Yellow Springs certified as a Wildlife Habitat Community in 2020. Alongside Dublin, Ohio, and Medina County, the village is one of only three communities in the state with that designation.

The goal of the national program to certify whole communities, according to the NWF’s website, is to “promote the use of native trees and plants, work to reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides and chemicals and integrate wildlife-friendly practices” into towns and cities throughout the country.

“And since we’re a small community with so many people from environmental backgrounds, it was relatively easy for Yellow Springs to get certified,” Gray said. “It usually takes years for an entire community to get certified with the NWF. But for us, it took just seven months — record time.”

Zimmerman added that the NWF even dubbed Yellow Springs as one of the organization’s top 10 Wildlife Habitat Communities of 2020 because of the local habitat team’s efforts not being hampered by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But at the time, everyone in town was gardening,” Zimmerman said.

The pair said the natural features that surround the village — such as the greenbelt, Glen Helen, John Bryan State Park and Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve — also made Yellow Springs a prime candidate for certification in the eyes of the NWF.

“So we’re fortunate in that way,” Gray said.

Ultimately though, Zimmerman and Gray said it was the growing interest among village residents to tend their individual properties more thoughtfully — to create pollinator and wildlife corridors from their yards to the surrounding ecosystems, to reverse the tide of climate catastrophe — that led to the village’s designation as a Wildlife Habitat Community and the subsequent and ongoing spike in individual certifications.

“People are beginning to understand that we are deeply connected to a crumbling ecosystem,” Zimmerman said. “Humans aren’t separate from nature, so this has to be a collective project.”

Owing to that collective spirit, it’s not just individual Yellow Springs homeowners getting involved in the efforts to restore native habitats. Friends Care Community, the Yellow Springs Library, Stoney Creek Garden Center, Antioch College, the Dharma Center, the Village-owned Glass Farm, Glen Helen, the Women’s Park and Agraria are all certified with the NWF as habitats. Mills Lawn Elementary School and Open Air Village Preschool are in the process of attaining their certifications, Gray said.

“The key is when like-minded organizations with similar missions come together,” Zimmerman said.

Although Gray and Zimmerman are pleased to see more people getting involved with the NWF and tending their land more conscientiously, the pair recognize the growing urgency of the global situation.

As a result of climate change and environmental degradation worldwide, approximately one-third of the country’s wildlife species are presently at a heightened risk of extinction, according to a report by the NWF. Bird, insect and pollinator populations are dropping precipitously. According to a landmark 2019 study in the journal Science, and as previously noted in the News, the U.S. and Canada have lost 3 billion breeding birds since 1970 — a loss of one in four birds. Additionally, monarch butterfly populations in the eastern U.S. have dwindled by 90% over the past 20 years.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

“I hope the NWF program turns people into activists,” Zimmerman said. “Yes, there’s joy in having nature in your backyard, but we have to think bigger. Without insects, pollinators, all of these players, there won’t be an ecosystem anymore. We won’t be here anymore.”

Those interested in pursuing certification through the NWF and to review the certification requirements, go to nwf.org/certify. For those seeking more information on the village’s status as a Wildlife Habitat Community, Gray, Zimmerman and other members of the YS Habitat Team will have a booth at the village’s Earth Day event on Sunday, April 23, in the John Bryan Center parking lot.

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