In 2006, in an ivy-riddled area of Portland’s Southwest Hills, a group called the West Willamette Restoration Partnership launched a pilot program to achieve (what seemed) a modest goal: to help 25 homeowners remove noxious weeds and restore the native habitat to their yards. The Backyard Program, as it was called, was one sliver of a much bigger effort by many, many partners to restore a 35,000-acre forested corridor that was one of this region’s most important remaining wildlife habitat. Coyote, deer, birds and beneficial insects all lived in the area, but its health was seriously threatened by invasive weeds.
The Backyard Habitat program, then as now, recognized that homeowners, whose yards adjoined—or even were a part of—this natural area had to be part of the effort to keep the native habitat healthy and thriving. In a developed area, people had to be part of the solution.
It wasn’t clear that the Backyard Habitat pilot would even work. After all, it asked participating homeowners to remove all invasive weeds and replant with native plants. Its marketing consisted of yard signs and word-of-mouth. Would they even be interested?
They weren’t just interested, they became enthusiasts. The more weeds they removed, the more native plants had space to grow. The more birds showed up to forage. Word spread. Other wanted to join from throughout the region.
In 2009, Columbia Land Trust and the Audubon Society of Portland joined forced to launch the program Portland-wide. Nearly seven years later, the program now has over 3,200 participants, over 20 partners and funders, and has developed deep roots in communities throughout Portland, Lake Oswego, Gresham, and Fairview.
Why the Program Matters
According to our regional government estimates, the population of the Portland-Vancouver Metro area is expected to double by 2050. Development will follow, a fact that has real consequences for the natural world, our animals and our native plant communities. Over the past decades, we have witnessed loss of native species on the landscape, countless new invasive weed infestations, alarming declines in native pollinator populations, increased urban hazards to the 209 species of migratory birds that live or fly through this region, and radically altered streams—the lifelines of many natural areas.
To date, regional protection and restoration efforts have focused most heavily on public lands, public right of way, and regulating new development. However, residential landscapes make up about 40 percent of the Portland metropolitan area. Therefore, they have a significant role to play in developing healthy habitats for people and wildlife. People’s good gardening and maintenance efforts on their own land can prevent future introductions and the spread of invasive species and provide safe passage for wildlife, and reduce contaminated runoff into our waterways.
Metro, West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, City of Lake Oswego, City of Gresham, Clackamas Soil & Water Conservation District, Rose E. Tucker Charitable Trust, PGE, Water Environment Services – Clackamas County, and donations from private individuals
Agency and Organizational Partners
The following provide technical expertise, certification criteria review and community outreach services
Metro, West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, City of Lake Oswego, Clackamas Soil & Water Conservation District, City of Portland, Oregon State University Master Gardeners, Oregon Tilth, City of Gresham, Xerces Society, and Water Environment Services – Clackamas County.
Local Green Businesses and Nurseries
These folks provide discounts and incentives to our participants helping to grow as many certifications as possible. We thank them for their generous donations!
Community Based Organizations
These types of partnerships help spread knowledge through grass roots channels, resulting in high concentrations of backyard habitats in target areas throughout our region
Living Cully Habitat (a project of Verde), West Willamette Restoration Partnership, Friends of Baltimore Woods, Pacific Northwest Urban Meadowscaping, 4 County Cooperative Weed Management Association (CWMA), Green Lents, Friends of Overlook Bluff, Sustainable Overlook, Sellwood Natural Amenities Committee, Friends of Nadaka Nature Park and the more more neighborhood associations, garden clubs and community-based organizations throughout Portland and Lake Oswego