Digging Deeper: Backyard Habitat Certification Program Update

by Katherine Noble, Backyard Habitat Certification Program Co-Manager

The Backyard Habitat Certification Program (BHCP) enters its 17th year of operation this year. This program, co-managed by Bird Alliance of Oregon and Columbia Land Trust, now covers Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, and Clark Counties. BHCP focuses on five main elements: planting native plants, removing noxious weeds, reducing pesticide use, improving stormwater management, and increasing wildlife stewardship within participants’ yards and at community sites within the urban areas. In 2022, BHCP hit a programmatic milestone of enrolling the 10,000th participant! Our enrolled participants’ land now totals over 2,453 acres, which together is about four times the size of Powell Butte Nature Park in East Portland. These pockets of habitat form important corridors to support wildlife, manage stormwater, and increase access to greenspaces within urban spaces.

People planting together
Backyard Habitat planting with Verde.

BHCP is composed of a small team of staff, contract technicians, and dedicated program volunteers. Recently our team has seen a few changes. Megan Van de Mark left her position of co-manager this past winter for her new role as deputy director of Friends of Trees. In February, I was hired as her replacement and I am quickly getting up to speed. I joined Columbia Land Trust Co-manager Susie Peterson, Program Coordinator JP Marchetti-Mendez, Community Coordinator Victor Vasquez-Ibarra, and Interim Contracts Coordinator Mariah Jaing.

Since our expansion to the four-county area in 2020, BHCP has focused on digging deeper into its work in these urban spaces. Foremost in our goal is centering equity within our work. We know that greenspaces aren’t evenly distributed throughout the four-county area due to historic and systemic disparities in investment within different neighborhoods. Not only do these disparities affect whether or not you have access to greenspaces dependent, but research by Dr. Vivek Shandas of Portland State University shows that these same communities experience up to 13 degrees higher temperatures in peak summer weather than neighborhoods with more greenspace, creating what is known as the Urban Heat Island Effect. This is only one of many ways that we see climate change disproportionately affecting marginalized communities. By intentionally focusing our outreach and resources with this in mind, BHCP can help mitigate these effects and build climate resiliency within our program area.

BHCP has been working to identify and mitigate the barriers that marginalized communities experience when accessing a program like ours. One way we are doing this is by partnering with Community Engagement Liaisons (CELs) to complete surveys with members of specific communities within our four-county service area that infrequently access our program. Over 240 surveys were completed through these liaisons, and we are beginning to compile the results and identify ways we can shift our program to become more accessible to these communities.

Additionally, BHCP hired a community coordinator to specifically focus on building partnerships with a focus on equity. Victor Ibarra recently celebrated his one-year anniversary with the team and has focused his work on building depth to existing community partnerships such as those with Verde in the Cully neighborhood of Portland.

BHCP encompasses more than just residential yards. Our program also works with community spaces such as schools, places of worship, and businesses. Utilizing specific funding Bird Alliance of Oregon was awarded last year, our program has been able to focus on supporting community sites that emphasize public equity and accessibility within a certain geographic area. Through this project, we are piloting a stipend program and working with the Connecting Canopies coalition to provide a workforce component to our partnerships and help with the installation of naturescapes and other on-site rehabilitation work. Connecting Canopies is a collaborative between the Blueprint Foundation, Urban Greenspaces Institute, Portland State University, and the Nature Conservancy to design a green sector career training program for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) youth and young adults and create a pathway for entering the environmental job sector. A naturescape at Buckman Elementary was recently installed within this model. The project was very successful in its naturescape installation while providing a workforce development opportunity to the current cohort of Connecting Canopies trainees. We are excited to continue expanding this and similar models that will mitigate financial, physical, and resource barriers for our participants.

BHCP would not be successful without our many community partners, funders, volunteers, and participants. To learn more about how you can enroll in the Backyard Habitat Program or what you can do in your outdoor space, visit our website at: www.backyardhabitats.org