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News / Clark County News

Vancouver homeowner first to earn backyard habitat certification

By Jeffrey Mize, Columbian staff reporter
Published: May 22, 2019, 8:34pm
3 Photos
Vancouver resident Toree Hiebert, in green pants, leads a group through her backyard Wednesday afternoon before becoming the first person in Clark County to achieve silver certification under the Backyard Habitat Certification Program.
Vancouver resident Toree Hiebert, in green pants, leads a group through her backyard Wednesday afternoon before becoming the first person in Clark County to achieve silver certification under the Backyard Habitat Certification Program. Amanda Cowan/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Toree Hiebert’s path to becoming the first homeowner in Clark County to achieve backyard habitat certification was covered with English ivy and vinca.

It wasn’t easy ridding her yard in Vancouver’s Father Blanchet Park Neighborhood of the two invasive species that had smothered rhododendrons and other vegetation.

Hiebert, with some help from family members, worked virtually nonstop during her free time since May 4 to get her yard ready for certification.

“You could just pull and pull and pull, and the vines would never stop,” she said.

Hiebert, a horticulture teacher at Fort Vancouver High School, received her reward Wednesday: formal recognition through the Backyard Habitat Certification Program.

The program, previously sponsored by Portland Audubon and Columbia Land Trust, has expanded to include the Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington as it branches into Clark County.

Nearly 5,500 properties in Oregon’s Multnomah and Clackamas counties already have been certified. Next week, organizers will expand into Washington County so it can cover all four counties in the Portland-Vancouver region.

“Small changes in people’s yards really do make a difference,” said Nikkie West, backyard habitat program manager with Portland Audubon.

The program has five primary elements:

• Invasive weeds: Control English ivy and invasive weeds that can force out native vegetation and limit habitat value.

• Native plants: Provide native vegetation that requires less maintenance, creates habitat and is naturally resistent to pests and diseases, a process the program calls naturescaping.

• Pesticide reduction: Reduce and ultimately eliminate chemicals — herbicides, fungicides and insecticides — which in turn improves conditions for wildlife, birds, mason bees and other pollinators.

• Stormwater management: Manage rainwater on-site that otherwise could carry pesticides, pet waste and other pollutants to urban waterways.

• Wildlife stewardship: Reduce hazards for wildlife and provide nesting and roosting structures for birds and bats.

There are three levels of certification — silver, gold and platinum — with each level requiring additional effort and commitment.

For example, to achieve silver certification, a homeowner must naturescape at least 5 percent of the available area. That requirement ratchets up to 15 percent for gold certification and 50 percent for platinum certification.

There are additional requirements for vegetation heights, with platinum status requiring a diversity of overstory and understory canopies, large and small shrub layers, and a covering of ground vegetation.

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Before receiving her silver certification, Hiebert guided program sponsors, city and county representatives and program financial partners through all four sides of her yard Wednesday. Midway through the informal tour, the family’s orange tabby cat, Chewie, made an appearance.

“That beast is the real reason why I won’t ever be platinum,” Hiebert said. “I love him, but he’s the devil.”

Cats might be soft, cuddly and make comforting purring sounds, but they are decidedly less loving to birds and other wildlife. To achieve platinum certification, homeowners are required to keep their cats indoors or in outdoor enclosures so they can’t go on killing rampages.

Hiebert kept up her good cheer as the group lumbered through her yard. Immediately after showing off her herb garden, she pointed to other nearby vegetation.

“That’s my weed garden under the deck,” she said. “That’s where I grow all my weeds.”

The Backyard Habitat Certification Program started in 2006 when a group of southwest Portland residents living near Marquam Nature Park decided they wanted to mimic the park’s habitat on their own properties. Portland Audubon and Columbia Land Trust got involved and developed a formal program a few years later.

The program primarily works with residential parcels of no more than 1 acre, but about 200 businesses, schools and other properties also have been certified.

There is a one-time $35 application fee. A technician will come out and assess the entire site, identify invasive species for removal, listen to the homeowner’s ideas and goals, and prepare a report with plant recommendations and specific steps to achieve certification. The program offers discounts for purchasing plants and other materials from participating businesses.

During busy periods in the spring, it can take up to four weeks following registration before a technician can visit a site. Homeowners typically take up to a year to work through all items and achieve certification.

Backyard habitat certifications are good for three years. Program participants sometimes work to obtain a higher level of certification during this period.

Columbian staff reporter