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Kansas - Community wildlife habitat

  • Subject: [cg] Kansas - Community wildlife habitat
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Tue, 8 Aug 2006 14:29:13 -0700 (PDT)

The Wichita Eagle, Wichita, Kansas
August 7, 2006

BY ANNIE CALOVICH
The Wichita Eagle

Wild about nature
Hesston is Kansas' first community wildlife habitat

It's not too unusual for somebody's green backyard to
be certified as a wildlife habitat. But it's pretty
rare for a whole town to be. Leave it to Hesston, home
of the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains, a half-hour north
of Wichita, to be the first community wildlife habitat
certified in Kansas, and only the 18th in the nation.

The arboretum,18 acres of native plants and lake, gave
the town a huge head start, to be sure. When it
reached out to get home and other communal landscapes
involved, a sort of contagion built.

The police station is a habitat. So is the golf
course.

The pharmacy planted a plot of black-eyed Susans out
front. The mayor's house has a prairie pocket garden
out back.

The new coffee shop's patio garden is certified, and a
nearby garden belonging to Larry and Becky Fuqua is,
too.

Becky Fuqua can attest to the fact that it attracts
wildlife.

"We have a lot of rabbits in our backyard," she says.
Her husband nods and smiles wryly.

On Tuesday evening, 57 residences, 13 businesses,
parks and government entities and two schools in
Hesston will be recognized for rebuilding some of the
wildlife habitat that is lost daily around the world
to development and pesticides. A celebration at the
arboretum will see the certification of the community
wildlife habitat conferred on the city of Hesston.

"I think it will give an additional sense of place to
have this little mosaic of gardens," Allison Hamm,
grant coordinator for the arboretum, said.

Hesston is already known for its pretty trees and
well-kept yards. The growing town of 3,800 regularly
attracts people who fall in love with it just driving
through, says the mayor, John Waltner. The
certification with its emphasis on native plants
expands the pride people take in their property, he
said.

"These things are just plain beautiful. They simply
are," Waltner said. "And just simply to be able to
experience that kind of beauty and value it by
planting and nurturing it, I think for a community
it's a really healthy thing to do."

The certification also builds on the Kansas plant
heritage being nurtured at the arboretum. The idea for
getting habitat certification arose from a project the
arboretum designed for spreading pockets of prairie
throughout Hesston. The ASC Foundation in St. Louis
provided a grant for the project in which residents
attended a class, designed a landscape for their yard
and received $100 in plants from the arboretum's
twice-yearly plant sale. Nearly 40 people got involved
in that program.

Hamm then got the idea of getting the National
Wildlife Federation to certify the community as a
habitat. Requirements for individual-garden
certification include providing four basic habitat
elements -- food, water, cover and places to raise
young -- and taking steps to conserve natural
resources. Community-wide requirements of education
and outreach were easily met because of the resources
and classes already offered at the arboretum.

The wildlife federation doesn't require the use of
native plants in the habitats but encourages it
because the natives save on resources such as water
and fertilizer.

A team was formed to go into the community and
encourage residents to get their own yards certified.
Presentations were made to civic groups and the school
district. The effort took about a year.

After spending money year after year on annuals that
died, Jeannine Hoheisel got involved in the arboretum
and started growing native plants. But as far as
certification, she said, "you think: Not my house. It
doesn't qualify."

But most people's yards do. Most of the gardens in
Hesston that have been certified required only the
addition of a source of water, something as simple as
a birdbath.

"When you bring in the certification, people say, 'Oh
yes, I need to get that birdbath in. I need to think
about berry-producing shrubs,' " said Julie Torseth,
director of the arboretum. "Or they think that their
echinacea and ratibida have seedheads for the birds,
and they'll leave those up for the winter. It made for
the larger picture."

Hoheisel said that once you get started with native
plants, "it's contagious."

"It's great as far as conserving water and your time
and money, and you get to know people: Let's share
plants," she said.

Once she got her own yard in shape, Hoheisel moved on
to the police station, where she works as
administrative assistant and municipal court clerk.
She avoided pinky pastels and planted fiery red and
yellow gaillardias, deep Sunset coneflowers and a
purple butterfly bush for "the guys." She says the
police officers are thrilled.

"The guys won't tell you, but one told me the other
day, he said, 'Jeannine, I was out there pulling
weeds.' And I said, 'OK, I won't tell your wife.'

"It just takes a spark to get things started."

And the habitat effort is just getting started,
organizers said. There's an effort to get people to
move their habitats into their front yards so that
people as well as birds, butterflies and bees benefit.

"We're so excited to be the first community wildlife
habitat in Kansas, and we're hoping it will have a
ripple effect and other communities will do this,"
Torseth said. The nearest of the other 17 community
habitats is Chesterfield, Mo., outside St. Louis.

More Hesstonians -- and anybody within driving
distance -- also will be encouraged to get their own
yards certified. There are more than 68,000 certified
habitats nationwide, 572 in Kansas. The arboretum
offers a one-night class by its horticulturist, Scott
Vogt, to get people started in native plantings with a
plan for an 8-by-10-foot plot that they can put
anywhere in their yard. The next class will be Sept.
7.

"I think people have really seen the benefits,
especially this year, how easy they are to maintain,"
Vogt said of native plants. "And when they see the
different pollinators attracted to the yard, it's been
an eye-opener."

#


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