With Charlotte’s exponential growth over the past few years, the city’s wildlife has suffered. As development proliferates, the tree canopy shrinks. The city’s skyline grows as the natural landscape dwindles. One local community is hoping that, with a potential certification as a Community Wildlife Habitat, they can take a step toward curbing the harm done by rapid development.
Since 2018, Charlotte has annexed or is set to annex 790 acres — more than a square mile. Although there are regulations surrounding the process of annexation in relation to wildlife, many natural habitats are stripped away in order to make room for new developments.
The National Wildlife Federation helps educate residents in communities across the country on how to help curb the environmental impacts of development, and with the help of the organization’s local chapter, the Charlotte Wildlife Stewards, the city was designated a Community Wildlife Habitat in 2015.
However, development has only accelerated since then. While the National Wildlife Federation cites Charlotte as having “one of the best tree canopies in the U.S.” in its 2015 certification, a 2019 study by the University of Vermont in collaboration with TreesCharlotte found that the city lost around three football fields worth of trees every day between 2012-2018.
Now the Stonehaven community in southeast Charlotte is trying to earn the designation of Community Wildlife Habitat, a first for any neighborhood in Charlotte. Though the city itself is a designated habitat, and there are more than 1,500 properties certified as wildlife habitats within city limits, a Community Wildlife Habitat certification only comes when a certain percentage of properties in a single area earn certification.
According to Monroe Road Advocates (MoRA), a grassroots group of volunteers representing neighborhoods, businesses, nonprofits, and schools along the Monroe Road corridor, only about eight more properties need to be designated as wildlife habitats in order to certify the Stonehaven area as a Community Wildlife Habitat.
Beyond the neighborhood itself, the area includes Queens Grant, Waverly Hall, Old Stonehaven, and part of Thermal Road.
According to the NWF website, residents within Community Wildlife Habitats garden and landscape with wildlife in mind, promoting the use of native trees and plants, working to reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides and chemicals, and integrating wildlife-friendly practices into sustainability plans and park master plans.
“Through this program your communities can enhance and restore islands and corridors of wildlife habitat in urban and suburban areas nationwide, while at the same time connecting to existing work around climate resiliency, community resiliency, urban forestry, water conservation, beautification, and more,” the website reads.
MoRa organizers have been leading an effort to lock down the last eight properties needed to ensure a Community Wildlife Habitat designation in Stonehaven, noting in a Twitter thread this week that wildlife habitats generally cost less to maintain than a typical lawn-focused landscape.
For your property to qualify, it must meet five criteria regarding wildlife: food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices. This means your property and surrounding areas must have native plants that provide food for a variety of wildlife, as well as water, shelter from bad weather, protection from predators, the proper resources to reproduce and nourish their young, and continual maintenance of one’s yard or garden in natural ways.
The online certification process takes less than 15 minutes on the National Wildlife Foundation website. The cost is $20 and includes a year-long subscription to National Wildlife Federation Magazine.
There are currently around 200 municipalities and communities around the country that are certified as Community Wildlife Habitats.