On Saturday, Aug. 1, drapes were drawn in a conference room at the LangTree Clubhouse in Mooresville. While habitat steward trainees focused on slides of invasive plants, samples of invaders like periwinkle and English ivy littered the floor.
When the 24-hour workshop ended, the 10 men and women had amassed an arsenal of materials and knowledge about creating and maintaining wildlife habitats, recognizing native and invasive plants and maintaining wetlands.
This gathering was the first habitat steward training program for the Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists (LNWC) chapter.
Debbie Foster, a National Wildlife Federation habitat steward host, organizes steward training sessions in North Carolina, including sessions in Charlotte, Matthews and Concord.
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When I did this, it just lit me up. I loved everything about my habitat steward training, so that made me ready for the next step.
Debbie Foster, National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward host
“My goal is to give trainees as much information as possible and that information comes in the form of presentations by experts and in the form of physical, tangible resources that I give them in their kit,” Foster said. “I also connect them with experts in the area such as Leslie N. Vanden Herik, a Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation district manager.
“As a result of taking classes, trainees know who the experts are.”
For Foster, habitat steward training is the first step on a journey. She’s been a habitat steward for over 15 years.
“When I did this, it just lit me up,” said Foster who’s also a habitat ambassador and Mecklenburg County master composter. “I loved everything about my habitat steward training, so that made me ready for the next step.”
Like Foster, Patrick Stark, 30, and Kristen Meng, 31, members of LNWC, are taking the next step to broaden their knowledge. They recognize a need to learn and promote the best practices to help the community and wildlife.
In addition to undergoing training, each steward must donate 30 hours of service to the LNWC chapter within the next year. These activities can include everything from speaking to civic associations about the importance of wildlife habitat to establishing butterfly gardens.
Although another day of classes was ahead, Stark and Meng were brainstorming about future activities.
“It’s fairly easy to get 30 hours because of the different projects and events LNWC puts on,” Meng said.
For instance, the chapter has been working with the town of Cornelius to revamp Robbins Park, a nature preserve.
“We’re cleaning it up,” Meng said. “It’s full of bamboo. We’ve learned a lot about bamboo here and good ways to remove it that are safe and environmentally friendly.”
There’s a butterfly garden where we’ve planted native plants to keep our native butterflies here and producing.
Patrick Stark, member of Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists
“There’s a butterfly garden where we’ve planted native plants to keep our native butterflies here and producing,” Stark added.
Other chapter activities include building heron platforms and osprey nests for Lake Norman and planting dogwood shrubs along the lake’s banks.
In conjunction with community groups, LNWC, a chapter of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, led the way in certifying the eight towns that are contiguous around Lake Norman as a National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat. It’s the largest certified Community Wildlife Habitat in the nation that surrounds a body of water.
Individuals can certify their property as well.
In order to be meet the requirements of a certified wildlife habitat, an area must provide food such as native plants/feeders, clean water sources for drinking and bathing, and natural materials or nesting boxes that serve as shelter and allow animals to reproduce and raise their young. The area must also be maintained through sustainable gardening practices, such as removing invasive plants and restoring native plants.
One of Foster’s goals for the workshop was for participants to certify their yards. One couple in the workshop discovered they had all the elements for a wildlife habitat and certified their property online with the National Wildlife Federation.
While apartment dwellers investigated ways to create a habitat on a balcony, others devised plans to add missing elements to their property that prevented it from being certified.
Foster emphasized that groups have to accrue points and recertify community wildlife habitats every year. Habitat steward training equips people like Stark and Meng with the skills to provide resources.
“If I have one habitat steward, as far as I’m concerned, that’s worth 10 people with boots on the ground because they are educated in specific areas and either they know the answer or where to find the answer,” Foster said.
Sandra Phillips is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
The next Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists educational program about wildlife will be held 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Mooresville Public Library. Information about LNWC is available at www.lakenormanwildlife.org/.