South Charlotte

HAWK celebrates 10 years helping wildlife

After grabbing dinner for the evening, a great blue heron flies to its perch at Squirrel Lake Park in Matthews. The bird is just an example of the wildlife that lives at the park. For the past 10 years HAWK has been working to make the park, and the town, as wildlife friendly as possible.
After grabbing dinner for the evening, a great blue heron flies to its perch at Squirrel Lake Park in Matthews. The bird is just an example of the wildlife that lives at the park. For the past 10 years HAWK has been working to make the park, and the town, as wildlife friendly as possible. MELINDA JOHNSTON

Since Habitat and Wildlife Keepers (HAWK) arrived in Matthews almost a decade ago, countless folks have developed a greater appreciation for trees, plants and creatures found in their backyards.

For nine years, HAWK, a local chapter of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, has met the first Tuesday of each month, September through May, for educational programs, discussions and fellowship. Members learned about snakes and owls, native plants and composting, bats and bugs. For the chapter’s 10th season of meetings, which begins Sept. 1, the club has assembled notable naturalists to entertain and inform members and guests.

But HAWK’s reach stretches further than Matthews. As the first local chapter of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, it has become a model for groups across the state wishing to start their own local chapter.

When North Carolina Wildlife Federation CEO Tim Gestwicki approached Carol Buie-Jackson about forming a local chapter, he had no idea how much the group would accomplish.

“Without the success of HAWK, it would have been difficult to build other chapters. They’ve paved the way for the chapter network across the country,” said Gestwicki. “We are the only state that has local chapters and now other states are coming to me to see how we did it. And it all started with HAWK.”

Spurred into action by meetings and each other, HAWK members have joined forces on initiatives during the years that have helped change the face of Matthews.

Through Matthews Naturally, an effort to get the town certified as a Wildlife Community through the National Wildlife Federation, more than 250 certified wildlife habitats have been created. A wildlife habitat is an area – backyard, school, business or other place – that provides birds and other wildlife with food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young.

Former HAWK president and Matthews Naturally leader Jill Palmer says Matthews must re-certify each year to maintain its Wildlife Community designation.

“For our 10th year, we would like to see 50 new sites, homes, private schools (all public schools in town are already certified), businesses and places of worship. We currently don’t have a single place of worship certified, so that would be huge,” Palmer said.

Thanks to all the wildlife habitats and other HAWK efforts, wildlife is thriving Matthews. Bees are collecting more pollen, and native plants are helping conserve water and other natural resources.

Buie-Jackson, a founding member and first president of HAWK, said if people would listen to nature, they would save themselves a lot of work.

“We need to take our cues from nature instead of fighting against it. If we use the natural processes in our landscaping and gardening it makes things so much easier,” said Buie-Jackson. “It’s a paradigm shift. You learn to celebrate the fact that caterpillars are eating your spicebush leaves because that means that you will have spicebush swallowtail butterflies.”

HAWK founding member and current at large board member Debbie Foster said she’s pleased at what the group has accomplished.

“I think we have done a wonderful job making a positive change in our little corner of the world,” she said. “An example is the Habitat Steward classes we have conducted (a 24-hour class through the National Wildlife Federation that teaches people to be better stewards of the environment) and the education we provide through HAWK programs.”

Members have started the annual Kids in Nature Day at Squirrel Lake Park where kids can come learn about nature through activities and exhibits. The next one is scheduled for Oct. 3.

They’ve labeled many native and invasive plants at the park and explained the vegetation’s role in helping or harming the environment to encourage folks to plant native plants. They’ve collected and recycled corks, caps, aluminum tabs, egg cartons and more, either passing them along to folks who can use them or disposing of them in a responsible way.

They volunteer at Matthews Alive each year, co-sponsor Earth Day with the town of Matthews, and have helped form a program at UNC Charlotte where students learn about the importance of native plants and earn a Native Plant Certificate.

HAWK president Mary Bures says it’s a group that truly makes a difference.

“I’ve watched it grow over the past 10 years, and seen the impact it’s had on the community in terms of developing an awareness and understanding of our natural world and being a voice for wildlife,” Bures said.

Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor and most Matthews council members have their yards officially certified as wildlife habitats. Taylor said the wildlife group is part of what makes Matthews special.

“I’m extremely proud and thankful for all that HAWK has done in our town,” Taylor said. “There are many components that work together to make Matthews such a great community and HAWK is one of those components. Matthews is a better place because of their active presence in our community.”

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer:

Want to go?

Rob Bierregaard will present “Satellite Tracking Osprey: Migration, Ecology and Conservation” at HAWK’s next meeting, 7 p.m. Sept. 1 at the Matthews Community Center.

Bierregaard is an expert in ornithology, owls and ospreys, and a research associate of the Academy of Natural Sciences.

The meeting is free and open to the public. For information about HAWK or any of its programs or activities, visit or its Facebook page.