Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Making A Difference In Your Own Backyard

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Making A Difference In Your Own Backyard

Raccoons, beavers, wild turkeys, squirrels, groundhogs, bobcats, birds, deer, geese, ducks, owls, hawks, great blue herons, night herons, opossums, foxes, river otters, turtles, and snakes make their homes in our backyard. That’s just the residents that I’ve seen. I’m sure there are more.

To put it mildly, our yard is critter friendly. When we built our home on a canal and next to a swampy area, I knew it would be wild, but not this wild. The grandchildren and visitors love it. We put in a sidewalk so I wouldn’t step on a snake walking down to the pier. My husband laughed at me, of course.

Last Christmas my sister and brother-in-law gave us one of the most cherished presents that we’ve ever gotten. They took the time to go online and complete the application for our yard to be registered as a wildlife habitat with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). I knew about the program, but I’d never taken the time to complete the process. We were thrilled with the whole idea.

When the application is completed and the $20 is sent in, you receive a personalized certificate that recognizes your yard as a NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat. Along with that comes a free NWF membership which includes a year’s magazine subscription, 10% off catalog purchases, and a free subscription to the e-newsletter, HABITATS, full of tips and information on gardening and attracting wildlife.

In addition, the owner’s name is listed in NWF’s National registry of certified habitats in recognition of the contribution to the well- being of wildlife. You can also purchase a yard sign that shows your commitment to conserving wildlife. In completing the application you certify that you have elements from certain areas:
  • Food sources: native plants, seeds, nuts, berries, nectar
  • Water sources: birdbath, pond, stream
  • Places for cover: thickets, rock pile, birdhouses
  • Places to raise young: dense shrubs, vegetation, nesting box, pond
  • Sustainable Gardening: mulch, compost, chemical free fertilizer

Right now the organization is trying to reach a goal of 150,000 wildlife habitats by December 31, 2011. If you are interested in participating, go online to and do a search for the wildlife habitat application.

Putting yourself and your children in close contact with nature and wildlife brings immeasurable rewards. We used to have a fish pond in our backyard, and one summer our youngest daughter, age 10 at the time, decided to keep a wildlife journal. All of her daily observations and drawings were carefully entered into that journal. It was quite a learning experience, and it didn’t cost a thing.

PBS recently broadcasted a beautiful documentary on the life of John Muir, a Scottish born American (1838-1914), who was an activist for the preservation of wilderness areas. He founded the Sierra Club which today is one of the strongest conservation organizations. He spent his whole life studying the natural world, and he truly made a difference. You too can make a difference for wildlife right in your own backyard.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Preserving the Gift

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Preserving the Gift

Chief Seattle was a Susquamish leader who lived in the mid-1800s on the islands of the Puget Sound. The courageous warrior is famous for a letter he is credited for writing to the Congress in 1854 when the president requested to purchase some land from the Indians.

I used to teach my students about the letter as a compare and contrast between the Indians and the settler’s philosophy about the earth and its ownership and preservation. The noble chief states that “every part of the earth is sacred to my people...We are part of the earth and it is part of us.” He charges the settlers to teach their children that “what befalls the earth befalls all the sons of earth..” and that “earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth.”

The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970 at the urging of Senator Gaylord of Wisconsin. He himself was shocked when 20,000 people took part in the observation. That day marked the beginning of a new focus on environmental politics. Enactments of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act followed in the years that passed. Events like oil spills and nuclear accidents recently have driven home the need for concern followed by action.

Our awareness about our stewardship of the planet has improved over time, but we are far from where we should be in terms of our behavior. Some of us make a serious effort in our daily lives to reduce our ecological footprint, but we can always do more. Being a good citizen of the planet requires constant vigilance and maintenance.

Families can celebrated Earth Day on April 22 and all month long by doing things like building a birdhouse, planting a tree, growing sunflowers, learning how to compost, increasing the use of rechargeable batteries and disposing of hazardous materials properly. Help your kids write a letter to one of their representatives about their views on the environment. The list of possibilities is endless. April at Port Discover will be marked by programs like “Water, Water Everywhere,” “Thank You, Earth,” and “Green Thumb Challenge.”

“Kids Grow” a community garden project being done through a partnership among Port Discover, Project Grow and Albemarle Food Bank and is being sponsored by Ag Carolina that will begin this month. Produce grown in the raised garden beds behind the center will be used as healthy snacks during programs for kids, and the surplus will be contributed to the Albemarle Food Bank.

The outdoor area will provide more teaching opportunities and a beautiful setting for learning in downtown Elizabeth City. Stop by for a visit and check on our progress or volunteer. Bring your friends, children, and grandchildren and share in the excitement.

As our native forefather said in his letter, “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself...Preserve the land for all children, and love it.”
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