Backyard sanctuaries shelter critters galore
June 13, 2008 · Updated 9:46 AM
Barb Schamberg, 51, was intrigued when she found patches of slime in her yard, but no slugs.
And then, looking out her window one day, she discovered the culprit. A raccoon was rolling a slug on the grass to get the slime off before munching on it like a hot dog.
Raccoons are some of the many wild critters that call Schamberg's yard, a designated wildlife sanctuary, home. She has also seen varieties of birds, squirrels possums, bees and butterflies.
"I have enough room here, I don't mind sharing," Schamberg said.
Schamberg is one of several Federal Way folks who make an effort to provide habitat for wildlife in their own yards. Those who do can receive a plaque from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife declaring their yard an official backyard wildlife sanctuary.
"With all of the development that's going on, our wildlife, the birds and small mammals are kind of under siege," said Margery Godfrey, who also has a wildlife sanctuary in her Federal Way yard.
The state created the backyard wildlife sanctuary program in the mid-1980s in an effort to combat the effects of habitat destruction caused by rapid development. More than 35,000 acres of wildlife habitat are converted to housing and other developments each year in Washington state.
The backyard sanctuary program is a powerful tool because it educates landowners on being good environmental stewards, said Chris Anderson, a field biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
There are currently more than 5,000 registered backyard wildlife sanctuaries in Western Washington, Anderson said. Over time, more than 9,000 people in Western Washington have participated.
There is no minimum size for backyard wildlife sanctuaries, Anderson said. Some apartment and condo dwellers have designated areas on the property as wildlife sanctuaries. There are also opportunities at parks, schools and vacant lots. The state grants a certificate to every person who applies.
"We never turn anyone away," Anderson said. "Basically it's an educational program. When people make a point to support this, other people learn about it and other people start doing it as well. It helps enhance the overall area."
The state has not tracked whether there has been an increase in wildlife populations since the backyard wildlife sanctuary program began, Anderson said.
The steps to create a wildlife sanctuary are simple. Animals and birds need water, food and shelter in bushes and trees. Trees and plants should vary in size from short to tall to appeal to a variety of wildlife. Many plants are also food sources.
"Just by letting it kind of go wild, that creates great habitat," Schamberg said.
Schamberg also provides bird feeders and birdbaths. It's important to have birdbaths up high and down low for different birds, she said.
"Water draws critters," she said. "When it's dry, they get thirsty."
It doesn't require a huge forest to create a sanctuary. Schamberg has one-third of an acre. It helps that neighbors in the area also leave parts of their property wild and there are some surrounding woods.
Outdoor cats are a problem for wildlife, Schamberg said. In her neighborhood, there are two that roam around posing a threat to birds that feed or bathe on the ground. Luckily, the coyotes tend to take pretty good care of the cat problem, she said.
At Godfrey's house, she keeps her cat indoors to protect the wildlife and also protect her cat from coyotes.
Godfrey estimates she has more than 200 trees on just more than an acre of land.
On her property, Godfrey sees birds, squirrels, raccoons, ferrets, possums, rabbits and various other wildlife. The sound of birds calling and chirping echoes throughout her yard. All day, birds flock to Godfrey's six bird-feeders full of thistle and chipped sunflower seeds.
On hot days, she fills the birdbaths every day. She makes sure her baths satisfy a variety of birds by keeping some low to the ground, some high and the water at varying depths. The surfaces are all textured so as not to be slippery. Near each birdbath are trees and shrubs for birds to quickly fly to shelter.
Godfrey allows a large portion of the land to grow wild with native plants, although she manages invasive weeds such as ivy. When trees and branches fall down or die, Godfrey leaves them there for birds or critters to nest in and find food and shelter.
Godfrey said in a wildlife sanctuary, it's important to not use harmful chemicals such as pesticides and weed killers.
"Weed and Feed is very lethal. It not only kills vegetation, but it kills worms and stuff," she said, adding that Round-Up is less destructive.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife notes on its Web site that most insects aren't destructive and they are a much-needed source of food for wildlife such as baby birds.
Godfrey said she would like to see more neighbors working together to create wildlife sanctuary belts.
Although having an acre of property helps, folks with much smaller yards can still create a wildlife sanctuary, Godfrey said.
"Someone should not be discouraged because they don't have a big yard," she said. "You don't have to have a great big place, just the basics and a desire to do something to help the environment that's the key."
For people who do choose to create a wildlife sanctuary, the rewards extend to humans too, Schamberg said.
"Look at it. You just look around at the trees. I would rather look at a tree than a building or a pole or something," she said. "I think it's good for people's soul."
Contact Margo Horner: email@example.com or (253) 925-5565.
Ways to make your property better for wildlife:
Plant more trees and shrubs. Keep dead trees on property if they pose no safety hazard.
Add a birdbath, garden pond or other source of water.
Add bird feeders. One each for millet, sunflower seeds and suet will attract a variety of birds.
Add bird houses.
Cover openings under the eaves or places on house where sparrows and starlings nest. Those non-native birds are undesirable competitors for food and nesting with native birds.
Control cats that may prowl in the property.
Get neighbors involved. Several adjacent yards with good wildlife resources are more effective.
Source: The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
To learn more about plants, attend a master gardener clinic at 7 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Federal Way 320th Library, 848 S. 320th St. Information: (253) 839-0257.
To learn more about creating a backyard wildlife sanctuary, visit http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/backyard/.