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Stories About NWF's Community Wildlife Habitats

Youth Leadership

Each of these Community Wildlife Habitat projects is being led by a young person who is deeply committed to the environment and the community.


John’s Creek, Georgia – Certified Community Wildlife Habitat

Malcolm Barnard-Johns CreekMalcolm Barnard was 16 years old in April of 2012 when he led the community of Johns Creek, Georgia, the 10th largest city in Georgia, to become a National Wildlife Federation Certified Community Wildlife Habitat. It took him less than two years. This is a daunting achievement for an adult, much less a then-14-year-old middle school student who decided to galvanize his community to make it a priority to provide wildlife habitats all over the city.

In the spring of 2010, Malcolm was a student at Autrey Mill Middle School and he was asked to choose a project for IMPACT—Influencing My Peers and Changing Tomorrow.  He chose the National Wildlife Federation’s Community Wildlife Habitat™ Program.  Malcolm says he chose the National Wildlife Federation “because they do work that matters saving animals and their habitats”.  A Community Wildlife Habitat is a community where the residents make it a priority to provide habitat for wildlife by providing the four basic elements wildlife need:  food, water, cover, and places to raise young.  The residents are also educated about sustainable gardening practices, such as reducing or eliminating chemical fertilizers and pesticides, conserving water and planting native plants.  Malcolm says “I chose this project because I think everyone can relate to their backyard.  It is right there in front of you.  Everyone can do their part and make a difference in their own yard and help their community.”

For his IMPACT project, Malcolm wrote and presented a report about working to make Johns Creek a certified Community Wildlife Habitat.  He later decided he wanted to do more than just write the report.  He contacted the City of Johns Creek to get their support and formed a team of Master Gardeners and community leaders to lead the project. 

Malcolm did a presentation at his school and a lot of children took home information about the project. They then worked with their parents to have their backyards become NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat™ sites.

Malcolm spent from 4-12 hours per month on the project, depending on the season. Malcolm engaged Habitat Steward Jerry Hightower to give a series of workshops on gardening for wildlife.  Malcolm certified the Johns Creek Greenway and Johns Creek Community Garden, where there is also a demonstration habitat garden.  The Wildlife Team hosted numerous wildlife gardening workshops, sponsored community events such as Johns Creek Earth Day, created an educational website for residents, and promoted the use of native plants and environmental conservation as part of sustainable city development. Fourteen local schools were NWF certified and received grants from the program to enhance environmental education at all levels.


Scripps Ranch Estates, California – Certified Community Wildlife Habitat

In 2003, Kate Cary was a Girl Scout when the Cedar Fire devastated the Scripps Ranch neighborhood near San Diego, California. The fire destroyed homes and much of the native chaparral landscape.  Kate started studying the recovery of the native flora and fauna.  Over the following year, she and her fellow Junior Girl Scouts in Troop 8187 earned the Girl Scout’s Bronze Award by studying backyard habitats with an NWF volunteer, certifying their own yards as Certified Wildlife Habitats, and setting up and staffing a booth at the local annual Scripps Ranch Community Fair.

Two years later, Kate decided to form a team of volunteers to pursue certification of Scripps Ranch Estates as a Community Wildlife Habitat.  She was the very first youth to be a team leader for a Community Wildlife Habitat. According to Kate,

"I, for one, had thought I lived in a desert, but as I researched and went out on the hills near my home to observe the plants as they recovered from the fire, I  realized that the area around me was chaparral. I became fascinated with the incredibly diverse plants and animals that live in this amazing area. Today, I am working with my community to use less lawn and more drought-tolerant native plants. One of my favorite projects is a California Native Plant Demonstration Garden, where some volunteers and I replaced a lawn area with native plants in the hopes that not only would our community enjoy the new garden, but that other people would plant native plants in their own gardens, thereby preserving our native ecosystem and providing habitats for wildlife. I was completely floored by the support from my community. Dozens of people came by asking about the garden and giving encouragement, and  some even helped me plant by digging in the rock-hard soil."

Kate spent over 300 volunteer hours to help bring Scripps Ranch Estates to certification.  Some of her activities included:


  • Converting a 2,000 square foot section of lawn in a common area to a native plant demonstration garden, complete with labeled plants
  • Creating a garden guide to the native plant demonstration garden for residents
  • Creating a 1,500 square foot Quail Refuge garden in a common area that had been lawn
  • Wrote e-newsletters to residents to inform them about the activities of the team and progress towards community certification
  • Had an information booth and gave garden tours of the Quail Refuge at the community’s annual Labor Day picnic
  • Held a native plant sale at the picnic, so that residents could purchase their own plants for their yards


Scripps Ranch Estates became a certified Community Wildlife Habitat in November, 2009.


North Andover, Massachusetts – Registered Community Wildlife Habitat

James McCarthy-North Andover Wildlife TeamJames McCarthy, the leader of the North Andover, Massachusetts Community Wildlife Habitat team, was born and raised in North Andover, but spent 1999-2002 living in Düsseldorf, Germany. He is 26 years old. North Andover registered their Community Wildlife Habitat project in March of 2013.

In October, 2013 we asked James, “What motivated you to want to certify your community? He responded:

"A sense of history, a love of learning new things, spending time outdoors and especially out of the country help me appreciate what we have in the United States - and motivate me to preserve them for future generations. No one asked the generations alive today if we would prefer to have the American chestnut tree or if we would rather it be wiped out almost completely. I believe if we were to ask the grandchildren of children alive today if they would prefer to have oak trees, healthy bird populations and Monarch Butterflies the answer would be a resounding "yes". I want to do everything I can to make sure people 100 years from now have all of these things.
One of my favorite lines from any speech comes from the eulogy of Bobby Kennedy and it goes: "our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control." I do not believe we can control the future but I know we, as individuals, can push it or shape it in certain ways. This is a huge motivation for me. I want to make sure we move as fast as we can away from the 20th century model of "cut down all the trees, plant a few alien plants and cover everything else in grass and mulch" towards a more sustainable approach. There seem to be few things in this world as black and white as choosing a native plant over an alien plant. If all 310 million Americans started with that premise when they landscape their homes and businesses we would go a long way to helping preserve our wonderful country for generations to come."

How did the North Andover Community Wildlife Habitat project get started? The NAWT [North Andover Wildlife Team] reached out to the chairman of the Biology Department at Merrimack College, Professor Jonathan Lyon, Ph.D., and he was able to contribute $2,000 to get them started. They purchased about 700 plants with that money and Doctor Lyon and his students took care of them in the greenhouse until they were ready to plant. After they had an article in the local paper, a parent at one of the elementary schools reached out and offered to get them in touch with parents from all five elementary schools in town. They planned and planted about 55 plants at each school over the course of 3 weekends.

NAWT has already accomplished a lot in its first eight months. They have been extremely active in reaching out to or partnering with local organizations. The North Andover Improvement Society (NAIS) decided that NAWT could fall under their financial umbrella as they are a 501(c)(3) organization with similar goals. NAWT worked with the Friends of North Andover Trails helping them to clear trails. They are working with the Conservation Commission and corresponding with Grow Native Massachusetts. They met with the Merchants Association and the Historical Society. They had an invasive species removal project at an historic home operated by the Historical Society and then replanted the area with natives. They joined the Garden Club and attend their workshops and meetings.

NAWT has also been doing a lot of education, communications and outreach about wildlife gardening and their Community Wildlife Habitat project. They have created a Facebook page and a website (www.nahabitat.com). They had a feature "summer wrap-up" article on Patch.com. They started a demonstration garden at the Stevens Estate. They distributed flyers to 80 NAWT headquarters neighbors. They have been mentioned in all the elementary school newsletters sent home to parents and participated in school clean-ups. They participated in the National Night Out. They were interviewed for the local TV program “Merrimack Valley Visions” (see the interview).

The North Andover Wildlife Team (NAWT) plans on expanding on the progress made at schools and public spaces in 2013 by extending the wildlife habitat gardens they have already installed. They plan to get more people interested in eliminating invasive species from their properties and plan on buying more plants to distribute throughout the town.


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