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.
Portland Audubon, the Columbia Land Trust, and our 5000+ participants are the primary program partners. We partner with Friends of Tryon Creek to implement the program in Lake Oswego and the Watershed Alliance in Clark County.
Public Agencies, Utilities, and Other Institutions
Public agencies, utilities and other institutions provide technical expertise (such as certification criteria review), political support, and financial support (where indicated with an asterisk): Metro*, West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District*, Clackamas Soil & Water Conservation District*, East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District*, City of Portland*, City of Lake Oswego*, City of Gresham*, City of Wilsonville*, City of Milwaukie*, Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District*, City of Tigard*, Clean Water Services, City of Beaverton, City of Tualatin, City of West Linn*, Tualatin Valley Water District, Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District, Land Trust Alliance*, PGE*, Clackamas County Water Environment Services*, Oak Lodge Sanitary District*, Clark County*, City of Vancouver, City of Camas, City of Washougal, City of Ridgefield, and Oregon State University Master Gardeners.
Community-based organizations, “friends of” groups, and other non-profit partners support outreach, publicity, special events and equity initiatives (listed alphabetically): APANO, Clackamas River Basin Council, Columbia Slough Watershed Council, Dharma Rain Zen Center, Friends of Baltimore Woods, Friends of Mt Tabor Park, Friends of Nadaka Nature Park, Friends of Overlook Bluff, Friends of Terwilliger, Friends of Trees, Green Lents, Gresham Natural Resources & Sustainability Committee, Habitat for Humanity, Johnson Creek Watershed Council, Land Trust Alliance*, Oregon Food Bank, North Clackamas Urban Watershed Council, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Sandy River Watershed Council, Sustainable Overlook, Tryon Creek Watershed Council, Verde, Xerces Society, Zenger Farm, and countless neighborhood associations.
Working Groups and Collaborations
Working groups and collaborations and ensure the BHCP is operating in alignment with regional priorities: 4 County Cooperative Weed Management Association (CWMA), Greening the Jade, Greening School Yards Task Force (Leadership Committee), Oak Prairie Working Group (outreach sub-committee lead), West Willamette Restoration Partnership, Pacific Northwest Urban Meadowscaping Initiative, and Tabor to the River.
Business partners provide in-kind incentives and/or technical support: Bosky Dell Native Nursery, Echo Valley Native Nursery, Cornell Farms Native Nursery, Scholl’s Valley Nursery, One Green World Nursery, Backyard Bird Shop, Timber Press Publishers, and 35+ landscape professionals that participated in our program-specific training and signed the MOU to be listed in our directory of landscape professionals.