By Juliet Bennett Rylah
WEST HOLLYWOOD — Two local parks — Formosa and Havenhurst — have become certified wildlife habitats through the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden of Wildlife program.
Residents can also turn their own homes and businesses into certified habitats, from a backyard or community garden, to even a balcony.
The National Wildlife Federation’s Garden of Wildlife program began in 1973 to help people restore habitats for birds, butterflies, bees, frogs, lizards and other wildlife in urban and suburban environments.
Formosa Park, 1140 N. Formosa Ave., and Havenhurt Park, 1351 Havenhurst Drive, both achieved certification in October 2020, and the city is now encouraging others to pursue their own certifications.
Participants receive a certificate with their unique habitat number, a one-year membership to the National Wildlife Federation, discounts and other perks.
According to David Mizejewski, a federation naturalist, there are currently more than 250,000 certified wildlife habitats in the U.S. To qualify, a habitat must satisfy four elements: food, water, shelter and resources for wildlife to raise their young.
What that entails is dependent on the habitat’s location, weather challenges and the wildlife in question.
Mizejewski said plants typically form those elements, whether it’s fruit, seeds or leaves to eat; trees or brush to nest in; or shelter from snowstorms or high heat. The federation frames the program as a gardening project because choosing the right plants is crucial for a thriving wildlife habitat.
“These are the plants that the wildlife have co-evolved with and their life cycles are in sync with each other,” Mizejewski said. “They literally, in many cases, can’t survive without each other.
For example, Mizejewski said most butterfly species rely on native plants, known as host plants, to lay their eggs and for caterpillars to feed on the leaves. Without access to their host plants, butterflies can’t reproduce and their populations dwindle.
Take the western monarch butterfly. The Xerces Society, a nonprofit focused on the conservation of invertebrates, counted fewer than 2,000 western monarchs in its most recent count, compared to about 29,400 last winter.
In the 1980s, some 4.5 million western monarch butterflies could be found wintering along the Pacific Coast and Baja, Mexico, resulting in a population decline of 99.9%. Researchers believe the sharp drop can be linked to the destruction of milkweed habitats due to construction and the use of pesticides.
Milkweed is one of many native plants that can grow in Los Angeles. In fact, West Hollywood’s Green City Awards, which recognizes sustainable projects from individuals, businesses and organizations or schools, chose Mike Carter’s Monarch Sanctuary Project as one of its inaugural winners last year.
The program encourages residents to buy native milkweed and nectar-rich plants for monarch butterflies to feed and reproduce.
Whether residents hope to attract butterflies, birds or other creatures, Mizejewski said yard size doesn’t matter. People can even create habitats on their balconies or another space where they can garden in containers.
“For somebody just starting out, I’d say make it a goal to make one garden bed and fill it with some native blooming wildflowers,” he said. “That’s going to provide nectar to butterflies and bees and other insects. Usually, those [flowers] then go to seed and provide natural birdseed. That’s a food source.
“If you pick your plants right, you might even choose a couple that are caterpillar host plants, so that counts as a place to raise young,” he added. “If you do that and put out a birdbath, that’s all four components and you have a complete mini-habitat.”
In 2020, the National Wildlife Federation saw a huge spike in participation in the program, as well as web traffic and the sale of how-to books. Mizejewski attributes that, in part, to people staying home during the pandemic.
“So many people really were just focused on home and gardening and getting outdoors, even if it’s just right outside their door,” he said. “All the great benefits of gardening — the physical activity, fresh air and just the connection to nature that really recharges our spirits — was desperately needed this year.”
Anyone interested in building a certified wildlife habitat can visit nwf.org/garden for more information, including a certification checklist, tutorials and more.
Juliet Bennett Rylah is a freelance reporter who covers Hollywood and West Hollywood. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.