Naturalist Who Promoted Back Yard Havens Dies

By Adrian Higgins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 24, 2009; 6:17 PM

Craig Tufts, 62, a naturalist who saw every back yard as a potential haven for wildlife, died June 21 at his home in Middleburg. He had brain cancer.

As chief naturalist of the National Wildlife Federation, Mr. Tufts was the most visible advocate for its highly popular Backyard Wildlife Habitat program. Since the program's inception in 1973, more than 120,000 private gardens across the United States have been certified as being wildlife friendly after owners followed the environmental group's guidelines.

Mr. Tufts, who worked for the Reston-based organization for almost 33 years, did not start the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program, but he refined it and gave it national prominence. He developed its guidelines and promoted it through speaking engagements and frequent media interviews.

"It's somehow just good to know you're sharing your space with other living creatures," he told The Washington Post in 2003.

Under the program, homeowners are encouraged to think of gardens as a place for plants and animals rather than humans. Participants were instructed to add water features and native plants, as well as vegetation and places for animals to hide, shelter and raise young.

Birds, mammals, butterflies, other insects, reptiles and amphibians were all encouraged to make homes in gardens free of pesticides. In return, homeowners got a plaque to display. But Mr. Tufts knew they would be getting something much greater: the pride of nurturing wildlife otherwise displaced by suburban development.

Mary Burnette, a spokeswoman for the federation, said Mr. Tufts was also motivated by the knowledge that "if you got people to care for the wildlife where they live, that concern would transcend to wildlife in distant places."

For his colleagues, one of the abiding memories of Mr. Tufts was the day he saw a duckling foundering in the pond next to his office. He waded in his work clothes to rescue it.

Craig Ellery Tufts was born Nov. 22, 1946, and raised in Brielle, along the central New Jersey shoreline, where his father owned a bait and tackle shop.

Growing up near New Jersey's Pine Barrens forest, he was exposed to nature as a boy and recalled "an insatiable desire" to observe the coastal region's flora and fauna. In the foreword of a book to be published next year, he wrote: "For me, learning to know these new friends, what they did, how they grew and who ate them, became a lifelong process."

He received a bachelor's degree in wildlife conservation and a master's in environmental education, both from Cornell University.

His marriage to the former Cynthia Ross ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of eight years, Jean White Tufts of Middleburg; two sons from his first marriage, Benjamin E. Tufts of Vienna and Daniel C. Tufts of Ashburn; and a brother.

He wrote two books, "The Backyard Naturalist" (1988) and, with Peter Loewer, "The National Wildlife Federation's Guide to Gardening for Wildlife" (1995). He also guided the expansion of wildlife habitat programs to schools and community spaces.

In addition to a love of the outdoors, Mr. Tufts was a long-distance runner. Invited by The Post's Weekend section in 2004 to describe his place to get away from it all, he wrote of two. One was a state park on Virginia's Eastern Shore, a "place of bustle, thousands of gannets and loons heading north in the spring." The other retreat was his garden in Northern Virginia, where he found "adventure, learning, solace, a place of contemplation and exercise."

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