Prince George’s Audubon Society partners with homeowners to create wildlife habitat
By Michael Purdie
Spring is right around the corner, and the Prince George’s County Audubon Society is resuming their Wildlife Habitat Program to encourage homeowners to create wildlife-friendly habitats in their yards.
Kathy Shollenberger and Barry Stahl, directors of the program, which is a free service available to all county residents, spoke with the Here & Now and described how the program partners homeowners with trained volunteers.
“Our approach is to train volunteers in habitat creation and go to people’s homes – and go to places of worship, businesses, municipalities – all to try to get as much empty space turned into habitat as possible,” said Stahl, a retired professional gardener and horticulturist.
Volunteers work with homeowners to identify actions they could take to attract and shelter wildlife, and emphasize the importance of planting native species. Homeowners receive a written report of the visit that includes references to additional resources. Stahl underscored that creating wildlife habitats doesn’t have to be complicated. “This is something simple that anyone can do if they have an understanding of how wildlife is attracted, the needs for wildlife, and how they have more than enough room on their property to set aside for wildlife,” he said.
The Wildlife Habitat Program, which is funded by the Prince George’s Audubon Society, is about a year old, and some 125 homeowners in the county have already participated in it. Volunteers will begin visiting yards in early April; homeowners who would like to participate can request more information by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org “The idea is really to empower residents,” said Shollenberger, who is also a board member with the Prince George’s Audubon Society. “We’re wanting to leave there not having them say to themselves, ‘Oh, my goodness, I could never do that,’ but instead feel like they know where to look for things, and they know what tools there are to help them.”
The society also received a $5,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust to collaborate with Joe’s Movement Emporium in the City of Mount Rainier to develop a pollinator- and bird-friendly demonstration garden in front of their building. The emporium also plans to incorporate elements of the program in their afterschool and summer programs, teaching children how to propagate seeds and work in the garden, according to Shollenberger.
The Wildlife Habitat Program has teamed up with the Patterson Park Audubon Center, in Baltimore City, to train some 40 volunteers and produce yard signs. The signs, which are in both English and Spanish, designate a property as a bird-friendly habitat. Any resident can apply for a yard sign, and the society then visits the property to ensure that it is bird-friendly before providing a sign.
Most yards have non-native plants, which provide little to no benefit to wildlife. Many yards also have invasive species, which typically outcompete native plants.
“If you look around, you’ll see the same thing,” said Stahl. “You see lawn, shrubs, and flowering plants from Asia and Europe, and most people don’t even know what a native plant is. They think, ‘I see these plants all over my neighborhood; they must be local.’ Well, no, they’re what Home Depot sells.”
While nature and gardening have always been central to Shollenberger’s life, she shifted her focus from traditional gardening to sustainable, wildlife–friendly practices about 10 years ago. Now, she strives to share her knowledge with other gardeners.
Shollenberger and Stahl came to the Prince George’s Audubon Society about two years ago to see if they would support the project. Nationally, the organization focuses on bird conservation and advocacy, as well as rebuilding and protecting the environment.
“The thing that is different is that we’re taking individual conversations to individual homes,” Stahl said. “Audubon was a natural fit for us because they already had a bird friendly community orientation, but we said, ‘Let’s take it a step further’; people have a lot of trouble getting started.”
The Prince George’s chapter of the Audubon Society was established in 1972 as a nonprofit with a goal of protecting, conserving, and rebuilding wildlife habitat. The society frequently hosts bird walks and holds speaker events for members. Some members of the organization were active in the Save Guilford Woods protests last fall.
“We’re a bunch of bird geeks that get together,” said Shollenberger.
Ultimately, Shollenberger and Stahl would like to have more bird-friendly communities and what they think of as home-grown national parks in the county, and they see the Audubon Society’s Wildlife Habitat Program as the first step to creating them.
“One of the big things that I’m not sure we realized we were offering, but end[ed] up doing, was just help with building community,” said Shollenberger. “This is a really good way to build community, because people start to talk to each other, and people start to share plants from their gardens. It really is kind of amazing what it does in a community even though that may not be the main goal.”