Bethlehem Backyards for Wildlife

Jun 26, 2013

Martha Christine is the team leader of the Bethlehem Backyards for Wildlife, a group of volunteers working as a subcommittee of the Bethlehem Environmental Advisory Council. Bethlehem Backyards for Wildlife recently obtained Community Wildlife Habitat certification from the National Wildlife Federation for the city of Bethlehem. Can you tell us about how you obtained this?

A group of dedicated volunteers worked together for about 5 years towards this goal. We provided educational opportunities about the importance of wildlife-friendly and sustainable gardening practices. We also sponsored and participated in service projects, such as native plantings at various city parks. We worked with schools, churches, and universities to help them certify their grounds as wildlife habitats. And we promoted certification of residences.

How many homes were certified in Bethlehem?

We had almost 250 homes certified. In addition to that we had 9 community parks, 4 churches, and 8 educational settings.

What is required to certify one's home as a backyard habitat?

To qualify as a backyard habitat one has to provide food, shelter, places to raise young, water, and follow sustainable gardening practices. So food could be as simple as hanging up a bird feeder, but in addition to that, native plants are a great source for food for all types of wildlife: butterflies, pollinators, birds, and toads. Examples of shelter and places to raise young would be shrubs, mature trees, a bird or bat house, stone wall, or a brush pile. Water can be supplied with a bird bath or a small fountain, or even a shallow puddle for butterflies. Sustainable gardening practices would be using compost, a rain barrel, planting native species, avoiding chemical pesticides.

How does your committee go about encouraging people to garden for wildlife?

We are sponsoring a "Gardening for Wildlife" contest! This is the fourth year that we're offering this contest as a way to motivate citizens to garden with the intent to support biodiversity and minimize negative environmental impacts. To enter the contest all you need to do is send us a few pictures of your yard, along with a brief description of how your yard attracts wildlife.  If you’re modest about your own yard, but have a friend or a neighbor whose yard you admire you can enter them in the contest. You can also enter your school or place of worship or business. Simply send information  via email to, or through snail mail to 107 mt. airy ave. Bethlehem, PA 18018. You can also find us on facebook--just search for bethlehem backyards for wildlife. The deadline for the contest is June 30.

What are the qualifications for winning the contest?

After we receive all the entries we'll be contacting contestants to arrange a visit from our committee. We'll look at your yard and specifically look for the elements recommended by the National Wildlife Federation: sources for food, shelter, a place to raise young, water and the use of sustainable gardening practices.

Can people see examples of past winners?

Yes, you can go to our facebook page and click on the photos, you can see photographs of the yards of past winners in various categories. You can also see photos of some of the public spaces we’ve certified such as Calypso Elementary School, East Hills Middle School, Sand Island Native Plant Preserve and Friendship Park.

So what happens if you win the contest?
Well, we have some great prizes donated from local businesses--gift certificates from plant nurseries, a free consultation from a master gardener, a beautiful original watercolor painting.  We'll then celebrate our winners with an awards ceremony in August.