The National Wildlife Federation's Backyard Wildlife Habitat program has led to the creation of nearly 3,000 certified habitats in Virginia and more than 57,000 nationally.
Now a new program offered by the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia also aims to make yards, office parks and other built-up land more environmentally friendly.
Audubon at Home is part of a larger movement to encourage landscaping that saves water, minimizes the use of lawns, employs native plants as much as possible, discourages invasive nonnative plants that can crowd out beneficial local species on which birds, insects and animals depend, and tries to eliminate harmful fertilizers and pesticides. The result is less stress on the environment and more accommodation for wildlife as development gobbles up habitat.
"We've been trying to point out exemplary sites around Northern Virginia, from Prince William to Loudoun to the inner counties," said Jim Waggener, director of the local program, which is patterned after a nationwide effort by the National Audubon Society. "This is a very intimidating process for people looking at a turfgrass slate when they move in."
He described one of the program's goals as "conserving the bits that we have left."
Audubon at Home began nationally in 2003 with a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It includes tours, open houses, workshops, a Web site and demonstration projects. More than 50 sites are enrolled across Northern Virginia.
One of those sites is a lush garden at Hunters Woods Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in south Reston. It includes not only vegetable crops but also wildflowers, a butterfly bush, mint and sunflowers planted to draw birds and butterflies. "School programs to instill [environmental] values in children are doing communities a great service," Waggener said.
Still, said Rob Fergus, science coordinator for the National Audubon Society, "most people aren't going to become activists. They want to have a nice place for themselves and local wildlife. . . . Most people don't get to live next door to a wildlife refuge, but there is wildlife where they live."