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Helping wildlife thrive

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By Katy Korkos

“This property provides the four basic habitat elements needed for wildlife to thrive: food, water, cover and places to raise young,” states the sign on the gate of the Moss home on Arizona Avenue. Similar signs are popping up all over town, the most recent appearing in the yard of Skip and Hedy Dunn on Sierra Vista in White Rock,  the 25th certified backyard habitat in Los Alamos County, and number 92,126 with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).“It was really easy to become certified,” Hedy Dunn said. “We already had a lot of scrub for cover, and we keep our cat inside.” She added that they have been using a birdbath heater for many years for water in the winter, and that they have not seen an increase in the number of pesky animals since they began providing water.Skip Dunn, whose sister, Erica H. Dunn, is the co-author of a book called “Birds at Your Feeder,” said that his family’s interest in birds stemmed from an inspiring eighth-grade science teacher named Doug Sands.“He was legendary,” Skip Dunn said. “He would take us on birding trips, and I remember going to Cape Cod, and to North Carolina with our class.” Dunn said his sister was founder of Project FeederWatch,which he participates in by noting birds that come to his feeder.“We’ve had juncos, house finches, chickadees, white crowned sparrows, towhees, nuthatches, bush tits, flickers and Steller’s jay,” he said, adding that he was very excited to see an albino finch at his feeder, but was told that they are not all that uncommon.Ronnie and Joel Moss, whose yard on Arizona Avenue was certified as a habitat in December 2006, play host to dozens of birds each day, year-round. Their showcase garden, featuring a wide variety of native plants, was opened to the public on the 2006 Garden Tour. The Arizona Avenue neighborhood was one that burned in the Cerro Grande fire in 2000, leaving only a few Ponderosa pines standing, and leaving the Mosses with a blank slate on which to create a place for wildlife to survive and thrive.“It’s a great program,” Ronnie Moss said. “It would be great if more people knew about it.”NWF’s Habitat Program Coordinator Roxanne Paul said that there were many additional benefits to creating backyard habitats besides the immediate one of residents’ pleasure in seeing wildlife up close.“Creating habitats not only helps wildlife, it can help reduce global warming pollution and save energy costs as well,” Paul said. “Replacing lawns with strategically located trees and other native vegetation can insulate our homes from heart, cold and wind, reducing our heating and cooling needs and thus our carbon dioxide emissions. Unlike lawns, wildlife-friendly native plants don’t need constant maintenance from gas-guzzling lawn mowers or fertilizers that require fossil fuels to manufacture.”Paul said there are 505 certified habitats in New Mexico and 96,661 nationwide.“The program has really taken off,” she said. “It’s more than doubled in the last four years.” She attributed the rapid growth in the number to two main factors. “People are seeing habitats disappear all over the country,” Paul said, “and they don’t have the opportunities to see wildlife as much.” She added that putting native plants in helps to “develop a sense of place for people, and gives them pride in their place.”The wildlife federation does not advocate feeding mammals. Unlike birds, which will still take only a portion of their food from bird feeders and plants in tended gardens, mammals tend to associate people with food. Participants who achieve certification receive membership in the National Wildlife Federation, including a one-year subscription to the National Wildlife magazine. More information about gardening for wildlife is available at www.nwf.org/ habitat or by calling 1-800-822-9919.