Back in November of 2018, I briefly touched upon an urban neighborhood habitat project that was underway, starting in Black Rock and Riverside. At the time, the goal of establishing a roadmap of interwoven “Wildlife Federation Certified Habitats” throughout the city was just getting underway, thanks to the efforts of the Black Rock Riverside Alliance and the Black Rock Historical Society (BRHS).
Taking pages from efforts throughout the country that serve as best practice models, Board President and a founding member of The Alliance, Mary Ann Kedron, along with Project Manager Anne McCooey, set out to strategically align with proactive partners that understood the environmental implications set forth. Doreen Deboth, president of BRHS, has also been an ardent supporter.
The overarching goal of the project, which was officially launched on May 4, 2019, was to certify the city of Buffalo as a National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat. This would be done by relying upon the city’s residents (as well as businesses) to reevaluate their front and backyards, with the intention of establishing a network of wildlife habitats that would buck the growing trends of habitat destruction.
The following interview was conducted with Anne McCooey.
Tell us about the formations of the project.
The project launched with the goal to be certified in less than the usual 3 years it takes for a city of our size to certify. The BRRAlliance initiated this project as part of their efforts to improve the environment of the community and believing that with the right partners this could be done in one year.
How does the certification work?
Certification is based on a points system. You need points for administering the project, doing community outreach, marketing and promotion of the project and education. You also need points by having individual green spaces certified and the number of points is based on population.
How is progress thus far?
To date we have almost all of our administrative points fulfilled, and now we are really focusing on getting the points for individual green spaces certified.
What is the point breakdown?
We need a total of 400 points to certify the city and we get 1 point for each private yard or greenspace, 3 for each community green space and 5 points for every school that creates a habitat and uses the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) School Habitat Course as a teaching tool with their students.
Are the points adding up?
So far, with the addition of certifying 36 of the City of Buffalo Parks this week, we will be 160 points away from finishing this project. Our hope is that a push from Grassroots Gardens to get another 30 of the community gardens certified and a push to get at least 70 gardeners to certify their yards we will get this done before the end of spring.
Wow! How are you accomplishing this tremendous goal?
As a very small community based not for profit, annually the BRRAlliance works with over 40 other organizations to get things done and fulfill our mission of improving the quality of life in the northwest corner of the city. Partnering on this project with Andy Rabb and the City of Buffalo Parks Department, Grassroots Gardens, small block clubs and business associations and Gardens Buffalo Niagara to get the word out and get people in the city understanding what planting with purpose is and how they can be part of this has been the only reason we have been able to get this project as far as we have this quickly.
What does this mean for Buffalo?
Once certified, Buffalo will be the largest city in the state to certify. There are only two others currently certified – Lily Dale (population 300) and Pound Ridge (population 4900). And there are two others that are registered for certification- Hyde Park, population 21,500 and Rye, population 15,100. Buffalo will also place in the top 20 in the country once certification has been achieved.
What is your underlying reason to do this?
Why did we do this? It’s important! Now more than ever our city, our corner of the country, which is so blessed with natural resources and wildlife, needs to right so many of the wrongs that were done to the environment for so many years and in some cases those wrongs have done irreparable damage to our eco-system and our wildlife.
Is there a sense of urgency?
If we don’t do it now, species specific to our region will become extinct; the migratory paths of birds and monarchs will either change or their populations will diminish; and our own personal environment will be unsustainable for future generations.
Are you leading by example?
By having this grassroots community effort we are not only setting the bar high for other cities in New York State to follow suit, but we are showing the country that here in Buffalo, we care about the health of our environment and the future of our wildlife.
How about funding?
We are also helping the cause to drive funding for a healthy environment into our community by showing funders that this concern for quality environmental programs and projects isn’t just a few people with a cause, but an entire city, the second largest in the state, that cares enough to support this project and plant with the purpose of protecting and preserving wildlife.
Are people getting excited about this? Is this difficult to get behind?
It’s easy! We are getting everyday people engaged in learning about what is needed to have a certified habitat – sources for food, water, nesting and raising young, and using sustainable practices.
And the response?
They are usually amazed that with very little effort their back yards, patio gardens or neighborhood vacant green space that they planted flowers in so it wouldn’t look so bad are actually able to be qualified with a few clicks of button and a small donation to the NWF.
The lessons learned? The takeaway?
This is a great teaching tool. We have had school groups come and help us establish new habitats in community green spaces. We had work days, with volunteers from business and sororities come and help us plant and clean up – we have had youngsters from a small neighborhood transform a vacant lot into a beautiful, safe community space for both themselves and wildlife.
Where are you getting the most support?
We have also been supporting this project by tying it into other programs and projects we are doing.
Give us a success story or two.
Last year and again this year, we have selected sunflower seeds that are specifically for pollinators and birds as part of our 1000 Sunflower project (which is now closer to 5,000 sunflowers). Right now we are hosting our second Seed Bank Give-Away – Social Distancing Style and we have packets of native purple coneflowers as one of the seeds types we are giving away, which are perfect to help qualify as food for wildlife as they really attract pollinators.
What’s an important aspect of the project, to date?
We made sure that all of the community green spaces we manage are certified as habitats and that people understand what that means when they come into the spaces.
How about another fun example of progress underway?
We have taken most of the trees from the original native planting beds that were started in one of our community gardens 6 years ago (some of which are saplings from seeds from the Franklin Street Sycamore) and put them into the community. And later this spring we will be refreshing and replanting in those native beds so we can provide even more native trees and plants to the community for planting with a purpose.
Want to give a shout out to a supporter?
This project has been made possible through the generosity of the Paul & Helen Ellis Charitable Trust as part of their support for the environmental and beautification work we do in the northwest part of the city.
Lead image courtesy BRRAlliance