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Our environment and all of its inhabitants are an important parts our global ecosystem. Globalization has brought growing prosperity to many nations, especially here in the west but afar as well. There’s one area that his seen significant growth as well and not in the anticipatory direction it would like; our wildlife population. Today we brought on David Mizejewski who is the Communication Director for the Nation Wildlife Federation, one of the nations largest and most recognizable conservation organizations. Here he deepens our understanding of the crucial role wildlife plays in the fabric of not only our civilization as people, but also the strength of our world moving forward.
Why You Need an Organic Garden
When thinking of gardens, it’s easy for one to picture vast open fields of plush green land out on large acres of open farmland. Onward growth of urbanization has brought with it creative ways to create our own sustainable gardens, no matter how big or small the amount of space that may be. Whether indoors or outdoors, beginning the process of constructing your own garden is actually easier than you probably think. David discusses the four basic needs for any flourishing habitat and how the effects chemically enriched gardens have on our environment.
Nature vs. Business: Can we all just get along?
Many believe that simultaneous growth of the environmental and commercial capacities are too contradictory to coexist. No matter the political line in which one may identify with, nature is one where a balanced grey line can help both sides of the coin grow with each other. Listen in to learn the nonpartisan standard to which the NWF measures it’s philosophy on and why for the first time in its over 80 year history it opposed the EPA’s most recently appointed cabinet member.
Actionable Steps for Change
There are unwritten rules that all of mankind aspires for. Some aren’t as clear as others, but nonetheless there are those that are well understand without even being vocally expressed. Cleanliness of air and water, proper shelter, and access to food, are on the minds of us all on a day-to-day basis. These fundamental life necessities are paramount to procreation, longevity, and our overall happiness. Tune in to discover how just a couple small changes today can lead to quantifiable ripples in our own communities, thus spearheading change on a larger scale.
– Welcome back to The Urban Monk. Dr. Pedram Shojai here. Today I want to talk about gardening. As you may or may not know, I tore out the lawn at my house and put in raised beds and have been gardening for the last couple years. I love it. My kids are out there all the time. We just had a couple solid gardening days. And it’s near and dear to my heart, and it’s something that I’ve constantly been kind of emphasizing with my friends and family. And people in my world are startin’ to get into it, just because my kids are so into it. And it’s a big deal. So we called in an expert. And the expert is from the National Wildlife Federation, so this is a big deal. David Mizejewski is Communications Director. He does all the media over there. And they have an initiative called Garden for Wildlife. And to me, it’s fascinating. I love this work and I want to just jump in. So David, welcome to the show.
– Thanks for having me.
– Hey, great, so let’s start with the National Wildlife Federation, because I don’t know if everyone knows what NWF is. What is it, what’s your mission?
– Yeah, so we’re one of the oldest and largest wildlife conservation organizations here in the US. We focus on North America, and our mission is to inspire Americans to unite and make sure that wildlife thrives in a rapidly changing world. And it’s really no secret that the cause of that rapid change is pretty much human activity. You know, so unfortunately as we develop things and we pollute and we destroy habitat, wildlife is negatively impacted. So that’s what we do. And again, we focus on North America. So we’re doing everything from working here in Washington, D.C. where I live, to make sure that we have strong wildlife protection laws. We’re working on the ground in regional offices and through a network of state affiliates that really give us a grassroots component. We are also doing a lot of work to help get kids connected to nature, and I’m really thrilled to hear that you’re getting your kids out in the garden, ’cause that’s a big part of the work that we do at National Wildlife Federation, is all about. You might have heard of Ranger Rick? He is our ambassador. We’ve got a magazine called Ranger Rick that we’ve been publishing for 50 years. I read it as a kid growing up and it really did help inspire me to want to go on and be a naturalist and learn about the natural world and want to protect it. So, we do a lot of different things at the National Wildlife Federation, but at the core, it’s all about making sure we have a future where wildlife can thrive.
– So, we’re in a climate that’s a little hostile to it now. I mean it’s either you’re pro-business or you’re pro-nature, you can’t be somewhere in-between, because obviously the world’s black and white somehow.
– So what’s the current overview of what our challenges are, especially in North America, with wildlife.
– Oh gosh, that’s a huge question. I mean, I think you hit the nail on the head though, by calling out this, what I would say is a false black and white nature, that conservation issues and environmental issues often fall into. Here’s the reality. Conservation is not a partisan issue. We all need clean air, we all need clean water. You know, most of us love the fact that there’s wildlife out in the world. We’re inspired by it and we love to see it. And the National Wildlife Federation really does try to embody that. You hear the term big tent thrown around a lot. The National Wildlife Federation truly is a big tent organization. I mean, we were founded back in 1936, in part because we were seeing wildlife species decline, and hunters and anglers were our initial constituents and they continue to be to this day. At the same time, we’ve got folks that are animal lovers and they really want to get out there and protect wildlife. And wildlife gardeners and birders, and hikers and campers. So our role at the National Wildlife Federation in our eyes, is to be that unifying voice, because no matter what your political affiliation or views are, again, we all need a clean environment and we all love wildlife. And so our role at National Wildlife Federation is to bring people together from across the political spectrum and say hey, listen, this is important and we’ve really got to work together to make sure that we have a future where wildlife is part of it.
– Amazing. You know, we had a guest not too long ago. Nature’s Allies? Something like that, where, I’d never even heard this before. I consider myself an environmentalist, and he’s like, well there’s conservationists and environmentalists, right? Like what’s the difference, right?
– Right. ‘Cause a lot of the conservation efforts that have happened in North America that I have now come to understand, are from hunters, because you know, suddenly you’re out there tryin’ to find deer and there is no more deer, that’s a problem.
– And so a lot of people who I know in that space are very, very serious about the tags and the polices and all that.
– Absolutely. Now I’m personally not a hunter, right? That’s not something that I personally would enjoy doing, but I absolutely recognize that hunters and anglers in many ways were the first conservationists, and I think we have this impression, that’s probably outdated, of this sort of ravenous mad man out there, killing and shooting every animal out there. But the fact of the matter is today that hunting is managed by professional wildlife biologists. It’s done, it’s regulated and it’s done in a way that is science-based, so that we can again, manage wildlife populations and make sure that they’re sustainable. And at the same time, it’s also a reality that licenses for hunting and fishing go back right into most states’ conservation programs. So that’s how we fund conservation. And so, certainly, yeah, I’m sure you have bad apples out there who are out just sort of to destroy the earth and are only out there shooting because it makes them feel like a big manly man or whatever, but I think generally speaking, most hunters and anglers are really, truly conservationists. And again, they’re a big part of who the National Wildlife Federation is. In addition to people that just love wildlife and care about it.
– Amazing. So, you know it’s funny this came up with the dentist who shot the lion, and then it because this whole thing about the hunting that happens in Africa and a part of the story that broke out for me, which was unknown at the time was, well, it’s those hunting expeditions that fund a lot of the conservation in Africa. And it kind of illustrated some things that were happening here on the home front. Again, I didn’t know any of that. So what species in particular, like what areas do we need to help the most right now in where we’re at?
– Well, you know, it would be really nice if I could say that that was an easy answer and I could just give you one or two species, but the reality is, is that there are many species that are in big trouble. Everything from, we’ve got a great campaign going on right now, in California, in the Los Angeles area, called Save LA Cougars, and I think I love that name because it’s an example of how even conservationists can have a sense of humor. Now we’re not talking about middle age ladies that like to date younger men. We’re talking about the mountain lion, or cougar population that lives in the Santa Monica Mountains. And while mountain lions as a species are doing okay, that particular population is at risk of going extinct. And it’s because of all of the development and the urban sprawl of that area. And what happens is that these animals have to cross roads like the busy 101 and 405 highways. And they get run over. And so we’ve got sort of the poster cougar, his name’s P22 and he’s actually living in Griffith Park, right in Los Angeles. And he has crossed those freeways to get there. And so the idea that we’re trying to promote is building a highway overpass that would allow wildlife to get from point A to point B to find food and find mates. Not just the cougars, all wildlife in that area. And this is a model that has been used really successfully in Europe and other parts of the world. And so that’s one example of a campaign for a group of animals that are in real trouble. We’re also working, at the National Wildlife Federation to get bison re-introduced to their native habitat on America’s Great Plains. Bison, many people know, we almost wiped them out a few hundred years ago, by again, over-hunting, unregulated hunting. And so the bison, we were able to save them, and they’re nowhere near their historic numbers, but most people might not know that the bison that exist today, largely exist on private property. And there’s only a few places where there are true, free-ranging wild bison on public lands. And so the National Wildlife Federation for the last several years, has been working to get bison back onto our public lands. We’ve actually successfully worked with several different American Indian tribes to get bison reintroduced onto their land as well, So really exciting, we’ve got a great program called Adopt-a-Wildlife-Acre where what we do is we work with the ranching community, where there are conflicts with bison and other wildlife, and we basically buy out their grazing rights to certain pieces of contested land. So the rancher benefits because then he can go buy another allotment elsewhere, where there’s not wildlife conflict and we’re able to turn that land back over to the wildlife. So it’s a really great win-win kind of program. We’re working down in the Gulf of Mexico, we’ve had a real strong presence down in that area for many years, mostly focusing on restoring the Mississippi Delta that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. And of course when the BP oil disaster happened, we were there on the ground, and one of the roles we play at the National Wildlife Federation, was to tell the story. If you recall, there was a little bit of a sense of media suppression going on and so what we did as National Wildlife Federation that we chartered boats and we took reporters out and showed them the damage. And so we”re still actively working down there to make sure that the fines that BP has to pay are actually going to restore wildlife habitat. So just a sampling of some of the things we do. And of course I mentioned all of our work with kids and nature. Ranger Rick magazine. We’ve actually got three Ranger Rick magazines. Ranger Rick Cub is our newest one, for the little itty-bitty guys that you read to, you know you read it to them. We’ve got Ranger Rick Junior, which is four to seven, and then classic Ranger Rick magazine which is seven to 12. So the National Wildlife Federation does a whole bunch of work and it’s all focused on protecting wildlife and getting people reconnected to nature so that we can appreciate and love the wildlife so that we want to protect it.
– I love this idea of setting up wildlife corridors here in North America. I know one of the big success stories in Africa in Kruger Park and some of these, is just opening up national borders to allow these elephants and migratory species to move, and it’s been a very successful program. So you know, whether it’s a bridge or whatever, just gettin’ wildlife to actually cruise around.
– Well yeah, and that’s actually another thing that I should mention. Monarch butterflies have again, declined by almost 90% in just the last 20 years. And the reason for that is because we’ve removed the only plant that their caterpillars can eat, and the plant is called milkweed. There’s a bunch of different species of milkweed that are native to North America, but it’s complicated, probably too much to get into here, but milkweed has a PR problem because it’s got weed in the name. And so we historically have viewed it as a weed and we tried to get rid of it in our suburban and urban landscapes and agricultural lands you know, it’s kind of viewed as a pest, and so they try to herbicide it. And so we’ve gotten really good at getting rid of the milkweed, The agricultural community using GMO crops that are herbicide resistant, are now able to spray more herbicides, therefore killing more milkweed and again, the home gardener is so obsessed with their lawn that they do the same thing. And as result, the milkweed has gone away and the monarch’s breeding habitat, which is all of the US up into southern Canada, and the population has plummeted. So what the National Wildlife Federation is doing is working with a coalition of other conservation groups, government agencies, to really try to focus on the migratory corridor of the monarch butterfly. The eastern population, everything east of the Rockies, they fly down to Mexico and spend the winter, and then they have to fly back up, an over the course of several generations, repopulate all of the US and southern Canada, It’s pretty amazing. And in order to do that, they need milkweed in the central flyway from Texas up to Minnesota, which happens to be where a big chunk of our agriculture is in this country. So what we’re trying to do is create a migratory flyway with lots of milkweed and with lots of nectar plants for the adults as well, so that we can really bolster the monarch population. And we’re working with mayors, we’ve got something called the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, where mayors and other community leaders are pledging to do a series of things at our recommendation to make their communities better for wildlife. We’ve got a campaign going on right now, called Butterfly Heroes, which is a fun campaign designed to get kids involved in planting butterfly gardens. And so we’re doing a lot of work along that idea of creating this sort of corridor for the monarchs, and of course, like I mentioned earlier, when you create a habitat and protect a habitat for one species, typically you’re also benefiting dozens if not hundreds of others.
– So let’s talk about that the wildlife habitat garden, because we have, we’ve got this house and we had a lawn, and southern California doesn’t have water. We have no business watering a lawn, so we tore it out, we put in six raised beds. My kids are out there all the time, it’s delightful. I mean I literally spent the last, all day Sunday and a few hours yesterday evening out there and it was great. There are all kinds of bugs, there’s all kinds of rolly pollies and caterpillars and my kids get to know these. It is a habitat.
– So how does this program work? How does one set up a garden habit and avoid using all the chemicals and the crap to kill off the pests?
– Right, well that’s a big part of it. So you already have experienced it. And that’s really what this program is all about. It’s just trying to inspire people to get outside and just do some simple things. And everybody can do this. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 acres of land or if you live in the city and all you have is a little balcony where you could do a couple containers. If you can plant something, you can make a wildlife habitat. And I think, you know, taking a step back, I always like to begin by trying to connect the dots between why a wildlife conservation group has a garden program. Because most gardeners are taught you don’t want wildlife around, right?
– The first thing you should do is spray everything and keep the animals out. Here’s why. It’s because plants are the foundation of wildlife habitat in any ecosystem. They’re the bottom of the food chain. And so without plants and specifically native plants, the plants that naturally evolved in your region, without those native plant communities, there will be no wildlife. That’s just an ecological, scientific fact. And so, because of that, that’s why we have spun this as a garden program. ‘Cause ultimately, what the Garden for Wildlife program is trying to do, is inspire people to plant more native plants in their yards and whatever other garden spaces throughout their community. And in doing so, they’re gonna begin to support and kind of reconnect what I call the human-dominated landscape. So our cities, our towns, our neighborhoods, we can reconnect with those back into the bigger ecosystem, Versus what we have done, what we intended to do over the last 100 years, which is banish the wildlife out by removing all the native plants and only planting non-native things that don’t support wildlife, and spraying pesticides and herbicides everywhere. And so it’s just about living a little bit more gently on the land. About sharing our space with appropriate wildlife. Again, we’re talking birds and butterflies and bees and you know, maybe frogs and toads. We’re not talkin’ about attracting bears or mountain lions to your yard. But that’s really what this is all about. And that’s why we call it a garden program. And it’s pretty simple. It’s a formula, and it’s based on just basic, again, wildlife biology 101. All wildlife need habitat and habitat is made up for four things, food, water, cover, and a place where they can breed and raise their young. And those are the things that you can create right in the garden setting to support wildlife.
– So the food, the water, the cover makes sense. Now cover also includes groundcover, right? Because, you know, using mulch, using shade to keep the sun from penetrating and killing the soil’s a big deal. Am I right about the cover there?
– Yeah, so yeah when we talk about cover for wildlife it’s really, it helps wildlife in a couple of different ways. Number one, wildlife are like us, when the weather’s bad they need to get out of it. The want to find cover somewhere. You know, if it’s really windy, it’s raining, if it’s snowing, if it’s hailing, imagine a butterfly in a heavy rainstorm, right? They’re gonna be pummeled, right? So they typically are looking for dense vegetation where they can hide from, again, the bad weather or you know, crevices or cracks in trees bark and rocks and things like that. So animals need just cover from the elements. They also need cover if they’re a prey species, from their predators. You know, if you’re just sitting out in the open on a lawn, you’re kind of a sitting duck. So animals are constantly seeking places to hide and it goes for predators too. You know predators need places to hide from their prey so they can get a meal. And the key here, going back to plants, is that in a garden setting, really your plants are gonna be the main way that you provide cover for wildlife. And in this case it’s oftentimes a little bit less about what you plant, and more about how you plant it. So what we recommend is that you try to think when you’re designing your garden or your landscape to plant densely. You know, don’t just plant one tree in the middle of a big, open lawn. What you might do instead is mimic Mother Nature and if you do have a big, say a canopy tree, maybe you can underplant that with a smaller understory tree or some shrubs and underplant those with some smaller shrubs and wildflowers. And ultimately what you do, you get this layering effect where there’s vertical habitat. You know, if you can’t do that, maybe instead of planting just like one bush out in your yard, maybe instead you plant a row of them along your property line. And it becomes a living fence, almost like a hedge and if you pick native plant species, not only will it provide cover and a corridor across that open suburban landscape, but if you pick the right species, those same plants will also provide food in the form of seeds or berries or nectar or sap or nuts. I mean these are all ways that our native plants provide food for wildlife. So it really is all about your plants, both for cover, also for food. And this is really important, especially if you’re a bird lover. And most people that get into this get into it because they like seeing colorful songbirds in their backyard. I always joke that birds are kind of the gateway drug into this world of wildlife gardening. But here’s the thing about birds. Again, plants are gonna be the best way that you can feed them sustainably in the long-term. I mean you could fill a bird feeder and that’s okay to do, as a supplement. But most birds only use feeders, again, as a supplement to their natural foods. And a lot of bird species will never visit a bird feeder. So if you really want to sustainably support local and migratory bird populations it’s all about putting those native plants in, again, that provide the seeds and the nuts and the berries and all that. But here’s a key thing. Those native plants also support insects. Some studies have shown up to 60% more insects than a typical landscape that’s planted with just a bunch of non-native species. And 96% of our upland terrestrial birds, that the songbirds that you’re trying to attract to your yard, absolutely rely on insects and other invertebrates as a critical food source for themselves, and at this time of year, to feed their babies. So what that boils down to is, if you want to see birds you needs bugs. And in order to have bugs, you need native plant communities and not to be spraying pesticides. So that’s how you feed wildlife. You plant stuff that’s gonna feed them directly. You do it once and then you walk away and you can sip your coffee and watch the animals. You don’t have to refill a feeder everyday. That’s kind of the genius things about this.
– So one of the things that, so when we talk about native, you know, I live in Southern California, you know there’s native California poppies, there’s sage brush, there’s things that are kind of chaparral landscape and then we have our vegetable garden. Do you talk about maybe doing like square foot gardening where you kind of mix the different species in with each other so you get some food, you get some stuff for the bugs, like it’s almost like an offering to the local birds?
– Yeah, so this is a great point. What we’re not necessarily advocating is that, you know, you need to go out and completely start from scratch or rip out your entire landscape or you know, even though it doesn’t really help wildlife, you know, you don’t have to get rid of every square inch on your lawn. But what we try to encourage people to do is you know, even if it’s in small increments each year is add more natives, add more habitat features and you know, start small. I mean, a garden is never really done, right? If you’re a gardener you know that. You’re constantly tinkering and adding. And so, yeah, you can absolutely incorporate vegetables or even some non-native plants are fine too as long as they’re not invasive. This is when a non-native plant or other species kind of escapes our cultivation, it jumps the garden fence if you will, and reproduces like crazy and overtakes the habitat of native species. And unfortunately, a lot of our worst native plants are introduced at the garden tray. But even with that said, there are things for your region in particular. Things like lavender, which is not native here in North America, but it does, it’s not invasive, and it does have some habitat value. It’s a great nectar source for bees, so yeah, you can incorporate vegetables, you can incorporate some non-invasive exotics as long as you’re really trying to add as many native species as you can and yeah, this is all about sharing our little piece of the earth. Our own yards, our own gardens, our own communities, and it doesn’t have to be a wilderness habitat, right? It can be a beautiful, neat and tidy looking garden as long as you’re planting the right things and put some thought into those habitat features, like a water feature. That’s the second component of habitat. We’ve talked about food a little bit. We talked about cover. Water is something that all animals need. They either need to drink it or, in the case of birds, they need to bathe in it to keep their feather clean. Some species actually live in the water. And so, you know, you can put in a garden pond, that’s a fabulous way of providing a water resource, but you know what? A bird bath works just fine. You know, different species are gonna use water in different ways. So if you want aquatic turtles and wading birds, yeah, you’re gonna have to have a bigger pond. But if you’re cool with just the songbirds and the butterflies and things like that, something like a bird bath is just fine. So you really have a lot of options, you know? This formula of food, water, cover, places to raise young can really be implemented in a million different ways. And it’s totally conducive to your local regional condition. So it’s kind of neat in that way.
– You know what’s funny is it’s started to spawn advocacy amongst myself and my kids. Because what we have is I’m in a neighborhood where I have a delicious garden, there’s all kinds of life comin’ through and there’s just this kind of proclivity towards seeing all these dead bees on the ground. And so I started looking into it and realizing that a lot of the neighbors were buying plants with neonics, right? So these neonicotinoids are killing. So the bees are comin’ over, hangin’ out and havin’ a great party in my yard, going over to the neighbor’s yard and gettin’ poisoned. And so now like we’ve mobilized the kids in the community to go through and be like look, this is, we’re trying to be habitat-friendly here. And then you know, there’s the association, like you know, no one knows, no one cares, right? And so it gets you to become a lot more involved when you’re seeing everything dying around you.
– Yeah, and that’s, again, you’re really perceptive. And that is also one of our goals with our Garden for Wildlife program. We know that when people have a personal experience, it’s meaningful. And you know, we could preach until we’re blue in the face you know, oh, protect the environment, you know, do this and do that, but if we can help people have a personal experience where they learn in a fun way what wildlife need to survive and then they help create that and the wildlife show up, and I guarantee, the wildlife will show up if you do this. I always, you know, paraphrase Field of Dreams. If you plant it, they will come. It absolutely works. And when you plant a vine that has a red, tubular flower and that same day the hummingbirds show up. I mean wow, what an incredible experience. And it really kind of ignites people’s passion and what we have found at the National Wildlife Federation from doing this program for 40 plus years is that it’s a really incredible way of engaging people and getting them a little bit more aware about what wildlife needs to survive, not just on their local level, you know? And so a lot of our folks who create wildlife-friendly gardens and participate in this program, also are very active in larger wildlife conservation issues and they absolutely can be a consumer voice for things like the issue of neonicotinoid pesticides, which, I don’t know how many people know what they are but essentially they are systemic pesticides that inhabit all the parts of a plant. And they’re really great for the garden industry because they keep the plant stock from getting you know, nibbled on and otherwise destroyed by potential pests. Unfortunately, they poison insects, and again, it’s systemic so it’s in the leaves, it’s in the nectar, it’s in the pollen. And a lot of plants that are currently treated with those can actually be bad for wildlife, even if it’s a native plant that’s advertised to plant to attract butterflies or birds. So what we are really trying to do at National Wildlife Federation, is exactly what you described, is you guys out there in the world who don’t want to see your garden plants treated with neonicotinoids need to go to your garden center. And you need to tell them, we want neonicotinoid-free plants. You need to call your big box retailers and tell them that you don’t want plants treated with that. And there are a lot of nurseries, like my local nursery that I go to in Maryland, right over the border with D.C. is a neonicotinoid-free nursery and they’re proud of that and they announce it. So, as consumers, we can be a really powerful voice. And if each of us does that, you better bet that the industry is gonna hear and they’re gonna try to come up with other alternatives or just abandoning the use of those neonicotinoids. So yeah, the Garden for Wildlife program is just so multi-faceted. It gives you this great feeling of reward when you see the animals show up, but it really is maybe a first step into becoming an even deeper conservationist. So it’s kind of cool that way.
– I love it, I mean I was in on the garden with the kids and I started doin’ it and it just started growing into a thing that I just love coming home to now. And you know, it’s made me passionate about the neonics, it’s made me passionate about a lot of things. So I’m reading that I can actually get my garden certified?
– What is that?
– So, the certification is basically the National Wildlife Federation’s way of saying thank you and recognizing the efforts of everybody out there that cares enough to try to make a little space for the birds and the butterflies and the other wildlife. And it’s also a way of counting this effort. It helps us know that we’re having an impact and it honestly does help us. You know, when more people participate, it gives us that stronger voice when we try to advocate for things like getting rid of neonicotinoids and allowing landscape ordinances that make allowances for things like native plants and so on and so forth. So I actually have our Certified Wildlife Habitat yard sign here. So this is something that you can get, only people that have certified their yard or other garden space can post this. And here’s how it works. I mentioned those four components of habitat, food, water, cover, places to raise young. By the way, places to raise young is things like nesting boxes for birds, host plants for butterfly caterpillars, you know, a pond where amphibians can breed. The idea there is that it’s great if we can feed one bird that flies through our yard, but if we’re really gonna help wildlife populations we have to give them a habitat that will allow them to reproduce and sustain their populations. So it’s a really, really important piece of what a habitat is all about. But if you provide food, water, cover, places to raise young and you commit to maintaining that yard or that garden space in a natural, sustainable way, so in other words, not spraying pesticides everywhere, not attracting all the birds to your yard and then letting your cat go out and eat them all. You know, doing things like practicing water conservation. If you do those kinds of things and you’re eligible to get certified. And so, May is Garden for Wildlife month. Each year we set aside this entire month to really kind of promote this program and really beat the drum, because what better month to get out into the garden than May pretty much all over the country. And so for the month of May, we’re actually doing kind of a special promotion, that hopefully will get lots of folks out there excited about participating. So what the promotion is all about is we do have fees involved, because it helps us. The money goes right back into our programs and helps us print our materials and run our website and frankly, pay our staff. So what we’re doing is, we have an application fee and then for these yard signs there’s an additional fee. We’re basically reducing that by 20% if you certify during the month of May. So if you go to our website, it’s nwf.org/garden or if you just Google Garden for Wildlife, it’ll take you right to our Garden for Wildlife website. First you can read up on how to do this. We’ve got a ton of information on there on how to provide those four components of habitat, how to maintain it sustainably, and everywhere you’ll see the button that says certify. When you’re ready, you just click on that button and it’s super-simple, it’s a checklist, it goes through each of those components and there’s minimum requirements. This is an honor system, we’re not the yard police, I’m not gonna show up in your yard with a checklist. You know, again, the idea here is to create a movement. We want to engage everybody out there that’s even doing the basic stuff and reward them and giving them the sort of the honor, the bragging rights to say that I have a Certified Wildlife Habitat garden with the National Wildlife Federation. How cool is that? And when people do that and they post the yard sign, it is an incredible grassroots way of promoting this idea throughout your communities. And as I travel the country, I can’t tell you how amazing it is when I’m just like walkin’ down the street or driving down the street and I see our Certified Habitat yard signs. It’s pretty incredible. And it’s a simple way that we each can make a difference. It’s really literally the best embodiment of that idea of think globally, but act locally, right?
– You can make a wildlife habitat literally right outside your door. It’s gonna help local wildlife, it’s gonna help migratory wildlife and it’s gonna be a place where you can go outside everyday and get that dose of nature that most of us don’t get. And so there’s so many cool elements to our Garden for Wildlife program that I really hope lots of people go out and get involved and get certified and help us spread the word.
– I love it, I love it. I’m gonna go online, I think I gotta fix our pond to qualify for all of it, and just get it. You know, we’ve had trouble with like algae blooming in the pond because it’s gets so warm here. We’re lookin’ at like gettin’ frogs and puttin’ some fish in there or something to eat that. I’ve looked at a couple solutions.
– I’ll give you a tip. My advice with algae is is to plant your pond. Because the more sort of aquatic wetland emergent-type plants that you have in and around your pond, what that’s gonna do, it’s number one, it’s gonna shade the water and algae typically blooms when it gets a ton of sun, when the water is really warm and when there’s sort of excess nutrients in the water. So if you have other plants in the water, it shades out the algae, it keeps the water cool, and those plants will out-compete the algae for the nutrients in the water. And so you can pretty much manage your algae population that way. So I would try that and that might be a little but more natural than getting into, you know, you can get chemicals that will kill the algae and things like that, but ah yeah.
– It’s a common problem with ponds.
– Yeah, yeah, it’s a common problem and so we’ve been looking at you know, what to do ’cause it’s got a waterfall kind of feature thing, so it’s like a lot of suction. But you know, these are things that you work out, right? I want my kids to know what tadpoles are right there in their backyard. Yeah, so awesome, I’m in. I’m in, I’m doin’ this, I’ll do some Facebook Lives from the yard just to kind of track the progress through May and do what it takes to kinda get it to the next level and go. So this is great. It’s grassroots as it gets, it’s very folksy and it’s very hands-on, and so I love these types of initiatives.
– And it works, I guarantee you. If you go out and plant some native plants, you are gonna see birds, you’re gonna see butterflies, you’re gonna see bees. You know, pollinators as a class of animals, bees in particular, are declining. And I’m not just talking about honeybees, which are really a domesticated European species. We have 4000 species of bees that are native to North America. You probably have them in your yard and you don’t even know it. And many of them are declining too. And so again, the simple act of planting a native wildflower is a powerful conservation act that will help support those animals and give them a habitat that used to be there and then we wiped it out. So, it’s just such a feel-good program and I’m, if you can’t tell, it’s one of my favorite things that I get to work on. In fact, I was doing the stuff before I even came to work at the National Wildlife Federation 17 years ago. I was in college, and I made my parents pull up all their landscaping and you know, but it really does work and it really is inspirational and it really does help.
– I love it, ’cause we’re in a political climate right now that isn’t really pro-wildlife. And so these types of grassroots efforts are incredibly important, especially now when legislation is starting to move in directions that take away some of the protections. Are there any concerns there for the NWF that you would like my audience to know about? Like what do we need to watch out for, where do we need to be meticulous?
– Well, I think the simplest thing I can give as far as advice goes, is what the National Wildlife Federation’s position is. And that is, you know, we need to be science-based and we need to obviously make sure that whatever policy-level decisions are made that it accommodates wildlife. And so, for example, for the first time in our entire 81-year history, the National Wildlife Federation opposed a presidential cabinet appointee in Scott Pruitt for the Administrator of the EPA because he has a record of ignoring science and that is not something that we can tolerate. And somebody responsible for the health of our environment that we all rely, people and wildlife alike. Unfortunately, we didn’t win that battle, but I would say, follow the National Wildlife Federation, not just our Garden for Wildlife program, but visit our website. Again, it nwf.org. we’re on Twitter, we’re on Facebook, we have a whole branch called Wildlife Action where if you a little bit more policy-oriented and you know, kind of identify more as an activist, we are always putting out action alerts and ways that you can get involved on the legislative level to really let your voice as an American who cares about wildlife, heard. And so we definitely need as many people as possible to do that. You know, everything from climate change to clean energy, to protecting our national monuments and parks that could be under threat. So, I would definitely recommend that as well. And you can do both. You know, you can do the fun, feel-good stuff, you can get your kid a subscription to Ranger Rick magazine, you can create a wildlife habitat garden, and you can also, you know, come to D.C. and march with us.
– Um-hmm, um-hmm, yeah, whatever you can, but do something.
– Moral of the story is do something, get involved. Well, I’m inspired, I’m gonna get my garden hooked up this next week or so, just get my pond sorted out and I think I’m ready, and then I’m gonna start some advocacy in my neighborhood.
– I love it.
– It’s just part of being a good citizen is.
– Hey listen, I would love it if you came onto our Gardening for Wildlife Facebook group and shared photos of what you’ve done in your yard and as you continue down the path of being a wildlife gardener, we love hearing those stories from the participants, and we’re Garden for Wildlife on Facebook, on Twitter we’re Garden, the number four Wildlife. And again, we love seeing photos of the wildlife and the plants and answering questions. I’m the admin on both of those social media pages, so it’s a great way to connect directly with me. If you or if anybody listening out there, or watching wants, has any questions, please do. We love interaction with people that way and we’re doing one more special promotion this month only for Garden for Wildlife month. And that is, if you sign up for our newsletter, we’re gonna enter you in for a chance to win what we’re calling a Habitat Helper Kit. And what’s included in that is a nesting box for a wren, a bird bath, a butterfly house, a bird feeder and a signed copy of my book, which is called Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife. If you sign up for our newsletter, this month in May, at nwf.org/garden, then you’ll get entered in to win this whole Habitat Helper Kit. So hopefully people will do that as well, and honestly, when you sign up for the newsletter or you join the community on social media, it just allows us to share more great information with you, that’s what we’re really tryin’ to do, is just spread our expertise and our knowledge about restoring habitat for wildlife through a garden, and get more people involved.
– I love it, I love it. David, you’re a hero. I appreciate all the work that you’re doin’ and keep up the good work, and you’ll see me on the Facebook page, I’ll start snappin’ some shots and get in there and get involved. And you know what, to my audience, my fans out there, let’s get goin’. Let me see what you’re doing, let’s start gardening together, it’s the perfect time of year anyways. Let’s start sharing best practices and looking at what we can do to be kind of bastions of health and stability within our communities and let it grow out from there. I love the orientation growing from grassroots out and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doin’ advocacy work, but I mean, you know, do what you gotta do at your home. So David, thank you so much. Give us the websites one more time?
– It’s NWF as in National Wildlife Federation, nwf.org/garden that’ll take you right to our Garden for Wildlife homepage.
– Love it, love it. Let me know what you think, let me know what you’re gonna do with your garden. Join the group and let us know within our Urban Monk Academy group what you’re doing. Let’s do this together. I will see you next time, thank you.