Learning to create small habitats in Kitsap, Thurston, Pierce counties

Marianne Jackson, a personal trainer and yoga teacher, lives in a fairly typical residential neighborhood in Des Moines, about halfway between Seattle and Tacoma. Marianne has been interested in gardening for years. Recently, however, she decided to up her game by creating a backyard wildlife habitat.

A flowering currant in Marianne Jackson’s garden is a native plant that is good for birds. She says hummingbirds love it.
Photo: Marianne Jackson

That’s when Sarah Bruemmer, a habitat steward coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, entered Marianne’s life. Sarah knows how to turn small outdoor spaces — or large ones, if available — into functioning habitats. She coordinates a training program that addresses issues from soils, gardening and invasive plants to birds, butterflies and water quality.

Sarah’s month-long program, which includes weekly classes with two Saturday field trips, is scheduled for April in Kitsap and Thurston counties and May in Pierce County. Only a few seats remain for the Kitsap training to be held in Silverdale.

Marianne, 56, took the course last year and came away with a much deeper knowledge of the ecosystem. She had already ripped out her grassy lawn years ago to create what became a series of connected gardens, but the classes taught her how native plant species and water features can help native birds and butterflies.

“I already had the interest,” she said. “Now I have a lot more knowledge that I can put to use. I’m planning to get my yard certified.”

Owners of certified habitat can get a sign to post on their property.
Photo: National Wildlife Federation

The National Wildlife Federation will declare gardens, backyards and small properties as “certified wildlife habitat” once the owners take certain steps to offer food, water and refuge for birds and wildlife. Review the checklist for garden certification.

Also check out the information on “Butterfly Heroes” and the use of “Native Plants” on the NWF’s Garden for Wildlife page.

Beyond her garden, Marianne has put her energy into helping create more natural habitats in parks and other public places. She said she enjoyed learning from the variety of speakers that Sarah enlisted into her classes, experts who were able to explain how to protect and restore habitats of all sizes.

“My biggest concern is what is going to be left for our children and future generations,” Marianne told me. “What kind of community do we want? We need to start with the young people and teach them that all things are connected.”

Not far from Marianne’s home is a stormwater pond for the surrounding development that includes a natural drainage fed by a spring. A red-winged blackbird has managed to find a home there, she said. Working with Des Moines city officials, she hopes to turn the pond into something more than a depository for dirty water.

I told her about the efforts taking place to renew stormwater ponds in Kitsap County, which I described in a blog post in January. See Water Ways, Jan. 13.

Marianne said the backyard stewardship program helped her identify projects in the community and tie into a network of experts to help her make the changes.

Sarah, who holds degrees in conservation biology and anthropology, is an AmeriCorps worker who coordinates the NWF’s Habitat Stewardship Program in Western Washington.

“Habitat loss is one of the greatest threats we face,” Sarah told me. “Creating wildlife habitat one little space at a time is the goal of the program.”

While development results in habitat fragmentation, putting small pieces of habitat back into a functioning condition can reduce the damage across the landscape, she said. If enough neighbors get involved, it can even restore wildlife corridors for birds and small animals to migrate among the homes.

The Kitsap County training, supported by One Heart Wild Education Sanctuary, will take place every Wednesday in April from 6 to 9 p.m. with two Saturday field trips. One will be an inside look at IslandWood, an environmental learning center on Bainbridge Island. Brownpaper Tickets offers info and registration.

The Thurston County training, supported by Veteran Conservation Corps, will take place every Tuesday in April from 6 to 9 p.m. in Lacey with two Saturday fieldtrips. One will be a restoration project at Glacial Heritage Preserve, a unique prairie ecosystem not generally open to the public. Brownpaper Tickets offers info and registration.

The Pierce County training, supported by Tahoma Audubon Society, will take place every Monday in May with two Saturday fieldtrips. Brownpaper Tickets offers info and registration.

The cost of the training is $30, which covers classroom materials for each session and a recently updated 120-page “Habitat Steward Manual.” Scholarships are available for those who cannot afford the fee.

For a detailed schedule of speakers or to register directly, contact Sarah Bruemmer at WAHabitatCoordinator@nwf.org or (206) 577-7809.

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