Baltimore is known for being home to many things — crab cakes, the National Aquarium and, of course, the Orioles and Ravens. But those birds aren't the only ones flying around Charm City, where endangered peregrine falcons have been known to care for their young on top of our tallest buildings.
In fact, urban areas like Baltimore are actually home to two-thirds of all North American species of wildlife.
As more and more natural spaces are urbanized, it is increasingly critical to think about how wildlife and humans can successfully coexist in city spaces. With this in mind, the National Wildlife Federation has been investing heavily in Baltimore over the past five years with the goal of increasing wildlife habitat throughout the city. We've teamed up with city residents to enhance communities block by block, and neighborhood by neighborhood, creating backyard habitats, and beautifying street corners and school grounds.
Studies have shown that the experiences we have in nature when we're young are the single biggest factor affecting our attitudes toward conservation. We train teachers to ensure nature and wildlife are embedded into the curriculum and that students have hands-on experiences in the outdoor classrooms that they are helping to design and install. Through the creation of pollinator-friendly gardens, students can experience the wonder of monarch butterfly metamorphosis, learn about their incredible 3,000 mile migration and explore conservation strategies for this imperiled species.
With 85 percent of Americans living in cities, towns and urban counties, we have a unique opportunity and important responsibility to protect our natural world and ensure nature-rich experiences for future generations. Heavily developed, metropolitan areas like Baltimore contain valuable habitat in the form of local parks and open spaces that support both year-round and migratory wildlife. The green spaces that support wildlife in the city are also great for people. They improve the quality of the air we breathe, filter runoff to make our waterways cleaner, cool our neighborhoods on hot summer days, reduce flooding from storm events, bring our communities together and help us connect with nature.
The National Wildlife Federation's Community Wildlife Habitat program empowers citizen leaders to take action for wildlife in their own communities and provide habitat where people live, work, learn, play and worship. So far in Baltimore, we've certified more than 500 homes, community spaces, schools and other educational centers. And we are on track to soon achieve an enormous success — Baltimore City's official certification as the largest Community Wildlife Habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Each individual certified site within the community uses sustainable gardening practices and provides the four basic elements that all wildlife need: shelter, food, a water source, and places to raise young — like a nesting box, shrub, or flower bed. Many residents can easily create this environment in their backyard — or even on a balcony — to certify their homes.
Our work is only possible through collaboration. Our incredible partners include: our Maryland state affiliate, the National Aquarium; Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks; Baltimore City Public Schools; Baltimore Office of Sustainability; Blue Water Baltimore; Greater Baltimore Wilderness Coalition; Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education; neighborhood organizations; and many others.
To raise public awareness about connecting urban residents with nature, the National Wildlife Federation and our partners are launching our first-ever Baltimore Wildlife Week from May 6-12. From a night at the Oriole Garden at Camden Yards to the inaugural B'More Wild Festival at Carroll Park, events will provide wildlife and habitat education so we can protect urban wildlife and get people outside. (Learn more here: baltimorewildlifeweek.org)
We can create vibrant green spaces that benefit everyone — kids who will enjoy greater connections to nature and safer places to play, families that will benefit from cleaner air and water, and wildlife that will have improved habitat. By coming together to create wildlife-friendly spaces for orioles, blue crabs, terrapins and many more iconic Maryland species, the people who live, work, learn and play in Baltimore are helping both urban wildlife and their community thrive.
Jennifer Mihills (MihillsJ@nwf.org) is executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center of the National Wildlife Federation.