Sustainable Missoula: Schools, homeowners plant gardens for urban wildlife

Eco-School Club students at Lowell Elementary created butterfly puddlers for their garden. (Claire Grisham)

These days, it seems land is more likely to be developed than conserved. Wildlife habitat is quickly disappearing, and to ensure we continue seeing some of our unique and fantastic species in the future, humans need to make the effort.

Gardening for Wildlife is a program hosted by the National Wildlife Federation that encourages people to create sustainable gardens that help wildlife by providing food, water, cover and places to raise young.

Here in Missoula, we’ve made a commitment to create habitat in backyards, schools, businesses and any green spaces that can support wildlife.

This effort, known as the Missoula Community Wildlife Habitat Initiative, was endorsed by Mayor John Engen. Since this endeavor started in 2015, the National Wildlife Federation, the city of Missoula and local citizens have worked together to raise awareness about the importance of wildlife habitat in urban areas.

Any space can become a Certified Wildlife Habitat by simply providing the four habitat components: food, water, cover and places to raise young. You can easily certify your garden online, plus our Missoula office will provide you with a free sign for your yard.

Each new certification in Missoula brings us closer to becoming the first certified wildlife-friendly community in Montana.

While certifying Missoula as a wildlife community is a top priority, another important aspect is engaging with different organizations in the community.

One exciting opportunity is the upcoming Gardening for Wildlife in Bear Country Workshop. On April 12 at the Montana Natural History Center, we’re partnering with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Defenders of Wildlife and Garden City Harvest to host a workshop that will look at some of the unique issues Missoula gardeners face.

One of the most beloved qualities of Missoula is its proximity to wild areas. However, thriving bear populations near urban areas in western Montana present a unique challenge.

When gardening for wildlife in Missoula, gardeners must be conscientious and take preventative measures to reduce wildlife conflict, such as bears coming into city limits to eat apples. In practice, we need to set these hungry mammals up for success.

At the workshop, wildlife management experts will share tips and tactics, as well as demonstrate an electric fencing operation.

Another important piece of this complex conservation puzzle is being mindful and inclusive of the future generation who will be making the decisions regarding our environment.

In addition to our upcoming bear workshop, we are also partnering with Flagship to host an Eco-School club at three local elementary schools.

Eco-School Club is a new after-school program where students will learn about environmental stewardship and how to create refuge for wildlife in their own backyards. By instilling values of environmental stewardship in our youth, we hope to create a future of eco-conscious adults.

Lowell, Franklin and Hawthorne elementary schools were chosen for the program because they have food gardens being updated or rebuilt this spring by Garden City Harvest. That presents a unique opportunity to add elements to the garden to help wildlife thrive.

The Eco-School Club students will make butterfly puddlers and other habitat elements that, upon completion of the garden, will be added to certify the gardens as Schoolyard Habitats®.

While at times conservation seems like a daunting effort, it’s important to keep in mind that every little bit helps. Creating a backyard habitat is an easy way to contribute, and viewing wildlife is just one of the perks.

Claire Grisham is an Energy Corps/AmeriCorps service member with the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula. This column is part of a 2018 series, Sustainable Missoula, which highlights community sustainability efforts.

Upcoming sustainability events:

April 2, 7 p.m. at the Roxy Theater, Free Film Screening: Saving Snow.

April 4, 5-8 p.m. at the Northside KettleHouse. Community UNite for Missoula Community Wildlife Habitat program.

April 5, 5-7 p.m. at Imagine Nation Brewing. Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly Meetup, on the topic of trees and urban forestry.

April 12, 5-8 p.m. at the Montana Natural History Center, Gardening for Wildlife in Bear Country Workshop.