Become a ‘wildlife champion’ as a habitat steward

National Widlife Federation’s first Kitsap County training session for the Wildlife Steward program starts April 5

BREMERTON — Being a habitat steward means being a “wildlife champion.”

Sarab Bruemmer, Washington Habitat Steward Program coordinator, said the Habitat Steward program began in 1994 and is now the nationwide “keystone volunteer program” of the National Wildlife Federation.

“Habitat Stewards are wildlife champions and serve as mentors in their community by assisting friends, neighbors and other community members in the creation, restoration and preservation of habitat,” Bruemmer said.

The first-ever Kitsap County training session will start at 6 p.m. April 5 at the One Heart Wild Education Sanctuary, enabling any participants to become stewards.

“As long as individuals have an interest in wildlife, nature and our environment, they are encouraged to enroll in the program,” Bruemmer said. “We have had kids as young as 12 become certified habitat stewards.”

The training consists of 12 classroom hours (spread out over four classes) and 12 field hours. The classes for this session include:

  • “Gardening for Wildlife”: all about native plants and sustainable gardening practices.
  • “Get Grounded”: learn about healthy soils, fungi and more.
  • The Birds and the Bees”: learn about native birds and pollinators.
  • “Water You Waiting For?”: rain gardens, low impact development, salmon recovery and habitat restoration.

The 12 field hours comprise two Saturday field trips, which will take place April 15 at IslandWood and April 22 at One Heart Wild Education Sanctuary.

Once a participant has completed the training, they will become a certified Habitat Steward — which can mean something a little different for everybody.

“We encourage each habitat steward to define their title based on their main interests,” Bruemmer said. “For example, some individuals really enjoy working with schools, so we provide them with the resources and tools to ‘green’ curricula and create outside learning areas through our Schoolyard Habitats program.

“Others prefer to work outside, getting their hands dirty, and for those we put them in contact with local professionals so that they can spearhead and complete their own restoration projects.

“A few enjoy more solitary work, and focus on influencing local politics and legislations.”

Program graduates are required to complete 30 hours of service in a project of their choosing, Bruemmer said, “such as working to certify a backyard or public space as a certified wildlife habitat.” National Wildlife Federation will take into account volunteer work a steward is already doing; if already volunteering with an environmental group, “those hours can absolutely be used to satisfy the 30-hour requirement.”

“All in all, habitat stewards are mentors in their community and champions for local wildlife and habitat,” she said.

Bruemmer said this program is important because “habitat loss is one of the biggest threats to wildlife, and the more habitat we can restore, create and/or preserve, the better.”

Bruemmer said wildlife habitat is beneficial to humans, animals and plants because it:

  • Provides critical elements needed for species survival.
  • Provides outdoor learning experiences for all ages.
  • Beautifies and creates a sense of place.
  • Reduces costs and maintenance.
  • Does not require chemical fertilizers or pesticides, therefore reduces run-off into local rivers, lakes and other water sources.
  • Reduces mowing, which leads to improved air quality and reduced noise pollution.
  • Provides an opportunity for team-building and teamwork.
  • Encourages participation in other citizen science activities, such as species monitoring programs.

“The Habitat Steward training program is intense, but also extremely fun and engaging,” Bruemmer said. “It is a unique opportunity to hear from prominent local professionals from various organizations, businesses and institutions.

“Those that complete the program … are eligible for free tip sheets and handouts for community events, can get discounted rates on NWF’s online store and receive a 12-month subscription to NWF’s Wildlife Magazine. Habitat stewards are offered continued support by the NWF regional staff as well as our state affiliates. Finally, the program gives folks the opportunity to meet and interact with other like-minded individuals.”

For more information on the National Wildlife Foundation, visit www.nwf.org. For more information on the Habitat Steward program, visit www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Volunteer.aspx. To register for the training, visit nwfkitsap.brownpapertickets.com or contact Sarah Bruemmer at WAHabitatCoordinator@nwf.org or 206-577-7809.

Michelle Beahm is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at mbeahm@soundpublishing.com.

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