On a clear day, there’s a spectacular view of Mt. Hood from the picnic shelter at the top of Scouters Mountain Nature Park in Happy Valley. It’s a peaceful place. The pavilion looks out onto lawn as well as flowering plants, shrubs and trees. These low-maintenance, native plants provide food and shelter for birds and insects.
Visitors to the area might notice the rocks with hollows in them to collect rainwater for birds to drink or bathe in. A few logs, decomposing on the ground, feed the soil and provide shelter for beneficial insects and seedlings. All this is intentional. Think of it as gardening for wildlife. The area surrounding the shelter has recently been certified as a backyard habitat at the silver level.
The Backyard Habitat Certification Program, co-managed by Columbia Land Trust and Portland Audubon, operates in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Clark counties to support people in making their communities healthier for people and wildlife. Currently there are more than 10,400 participants and 2,500 acres of land enrolled in the program.
Now, it may seem a nature park wouldn’t need to put in a special effort to support nature. But the lawn and the pavilion, while major attractions to people, are turn-offs to most wildlife. The plantings Metro made for the certification create habitat for more animals. It helps connect the picnic area to the rest of the park.
There are exciting opportunities for transformations like this near Scouters Mountain.
The park is surrounded by housing with new development continuing. A lot of people live nearby. “We want folks to be inspired by what they see at Scouters Mountain and be able to create that in their own gardens” says Gaylen Beatty, special projects manager in Metro Parks and Nature. “We focused in areas around the picnic shelter where neighbors spend lots of time.”
Backyard Habitat certification manager Susie Peterson says, “Scouters Mountain is a great habitat for wildlife, so if folks living around it take some of those habitat elements to an urban yard scale, it gives wildlife some living space beyond the area of the park.” Yards in the subdivisions around Scouters Mountain, she adds, could become part of wildlife corridors connecting the park to other green spaces. The program lays out ways to make your yard a place where beautiful birds, butterflies and pollinators come for food, rest and shelter.
“You don’t have to know anything about gardening or native plants in order to participate in our program,” says Peterson.
Once you’re enrolled, a habitat expert will do a walkthrough of your yard with you to talk about your goals for your space and check out growing conditions: where there’s sun or shade, where rainwater runs off or collects, which native plants and weeds might already be growing. You’ll get a site report with recommendations in five key areas:
- Planting native plants
- Creating wildlife habitat
- Removing harmful weeds
- Managing rainwater
- Reducing the use of pesticides
You can use the recommendations to work towards certification at the silver, gold or platinum level. You’ll get discounts on native plants, as well as other benefits and incentives, and a wealth of information and resources on how to help birds, native pollinators and plants thrive in and beautify your yard.
The program is not limited to single-family homes and yards. “We have hundreds of churches, schools, businesses, apartment complexes and community gardens in the program,” says Peterson. “People who are interested can also engage in that way.”
When you care for the land by reducing pesticides or replacing harmful weeds with native plants, you improve the soil, water and air. “If you have enough people doing this in their yards,’” says Peterson, “it really makes