By Brittany Weber/Energy Corps

Gardening in the Garden City has taken on a new meaning with help from the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife Program, which helps people restore habitat and wildlife populations to our cities, towns and neighborhoods.

Since 1973, the program has been educating and empowering people to turn their own piece of the Earth – their yards and gardens – into thriving habitats for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. In doing so, the Garden for Wildlife Program helps wildlife and gives people a daily connection to the natural world, literally right outside their door.

You can get involved with creating wildlife-friendly gardens and landscapes in your own yard but also throughout your community. The National Wildlife Federation has recognized more than 200,000 spaces, representing 1.5 million acres as Certified Wildlife Habitats in suburban yards, schools, campuses, corporate properties, farms, parks and more.

Through the Missoula Community Habitat Initiative, NWF is working with the city of Missoula to become certified as the first "wildlife habitat community" in all of Montana.

By working with the absolutely incredible community, which is dedicated in protecting and nurturing healthy habitats for wildlife, we are already two-thirds of the way there.

Not only is this a chance for wildlife to flourish and to be cared for, but is an opportunity for the people of our region to put their hands in the dirt and to reconnect with a world we often forget is right at our fingertips. This is an opportunity that allows us to imagine a different relationship, in which people and land are good medicine for each other.

Alongside habitat restoration work, NWF is continuing with its mission of preparing the next generation of environmental stewards through the Eco-Schools USA Program, which helps schools in “greening” their curriculum, while simultaneously raising awareness about the impacts climate change is having on people, wildlife and beyond.

This program is fostering the next generation of environmental stewards through schoolyard habitats, healthy living, energy and waste reduction, water conservation efforts, improving nutrition, food sustainability and more.

Through the framework that Eco-Schools USA provides, schools have the opportunity to receive recognition for their accomplishments and continued support for the projects they are looking to achieve.

One way that schools are bringing nature to their students is by creating a Schoolyard Habitat, a certified wildlife habitat area a school can utilize as an outdoor classroom, wildlife viewing area and a place to cultivate students’ interest in the natural world.

For three years, an Energy Corps member has supported the goals of NWF by helping Missoula achieve a Community Wildlife Habitat status and by providing in-person support for Eco-Schools throughout the region.

This year’s Energy Corps member (me) has been working to support these efforts and to help the Garden City and the state of Montana reach their full potential. The impact of having an Energy Corps member serving with NWF has helped promote sustainable energy consumption and education, fostered community sustainability, and has helped to mitigate the effects of global climate change.

The Energy Corps program may be a small group of people working to meet the needs of the future, but as the anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Brittany Weber is the third AmeriCorps member to serve with the National Wildlife Federation as their habitat and sustainability education coordinator. She supports the Missoula Community Wildlife Habitat Initiative and coordinates the Eco-Schools USA Program throughout the state.