Why Communities Matter for Wildlife

Sometimes it takes a village to make a difference for imperiled species

  • Laura Tangley
  • Gardening
  • Jan 29, 2016
CHARLIE LIVIO WILL NEVER FORGET one morning in October 2014. A horticulturist for Oakland Park, Florida, Livio was surveying the city’s Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve when he spotted a palm-sized gopher tortoise, a juvenile, scooting across the white sand—a sure sign that adult tortoises introduced to the reserve were not just surviving but reproducing. “It knocked my socks off,” he recalls.

A remnant of sand-pine scrub that once blanketed thousands of acres of South Florida, the 5.6-acre preserve has the deep, fast-draining sandy soil gopher tortoises need to dig burrows that protect them from heat and predation. It’s likely the rare reptiles once inhabited this chunk of land—now 800 feet south of busy Oakland Park Boulevard—but they had long been absent before 10 were reintroduced beginning in 2011.

Wildlife-Friendly Zones

The Lakeside preserve is one of more than 150 wildlife-friendly public and private properties that have earned Oakland Park designation as a National Wildlife Federation-certified Community Wildlife Habitat™. Launched in 1998, the certification program today includes more than 150 communities in more than 35 states. “When a community targets a rare species like the gopher tortoise, it can take conservation to a higher level,” says Patrick Fitzgerald, NWF’s senior director of community wildlife.

Other certified communities helping at-risk species include:

Austin, Texas. Named “the most wildlife-friendly city in America” by NWF in 2015, Austin sits at a critical point along the monarch butterfly’s migratory route to and from Mexico. Last May, the city council resolved to plant more native milkweeds, the only plants monarch caterpillars can eat.

Slaughter Beach, Delaware. Residents of this Delaware Bay town patrol beaches to rescue stranded horseshoe crabs during the mating season and to educate beachgoers about the plight of the imperiled animals, whose eggs are critical food for migratory shorebirds, including the endangered red knot.

Fripp Island, South Carolina. Designating 2016 the “Year of the Bluebird,” the Naturally Fripp Community Wildlife Habitat Team helped install two bluebird trails of 10 nest boxes each for a species that has lost natural nesting sites to habitat destruction and competition from nonnative birds. Residents also spread the conservation message to tourists “so what we do here has an impact beyond our island,” says Linda Freeman, who, with her husband, Bob, are habitat-team leaders.

Similar long-term participation is critical to all community species-rescue efforts. In Oakland Park, for example, “we organize an annual volunteer day,” Livio says. “One task is to cut back scrub oaks that once were controlled by fire. Both gopher tortoises and the native plants they depend on require sand and open ground.” 

Certify Your Community

NWF’s Community Certified Habitats provide habitat for wildlife throughout the community — where people live, work, learn, play, and worship.

Laura Tangley is senior editor.

More from National Wildlife magazine and NWF

Read More Wildlife Gardening Articles
Community Wildlife Habitat Stories
Gardening for Wildlife Tips
The Subterranean World of Gopher Tortoises
Shorebirds' Fate Hinges on Horseshoe Crabs

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