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Posted on | October 4, 2016 | No Comments

Online Platform Helps Citizen Scientists Transform Outdoor Space into Wildlife-Friendly Habitat

Daniel Helzer holding a katydid nymph. Helzer yard - Aurora, Nebraska. PHOTO CREDIT: © Chis Helzer/TNC

Daniel Helzer holding a katydid nymph. Helzer yard – Aurora, Nebraska. PHOTO CREDIT: © Chis Helzer/TNC

Did you know that your front yard, office patio, or city park could provide important habitat for dozens of plants and animals?

Today, The Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology launched Habitat Network, a free online citizen science platform that invites people to map their outdoor space, share it with others, and learn more about supporting wildlife habitat and other natural functions in cities and town across the country.

Picture-winged fly on wild garlic (Allium canadense). Helzer native prairie garden. Aurora, Nebraska. PHOTO CREDIT: © Chis Helzer/TNC

Picture-winged fly on wild garlic (Allium canadense). Helzer native prairie garden. Aurora, Nebraska. PHOTO CREDIT: © Chis Helzer/TNC

Forty million acres of U.S. land are covered by lawn – short grass that has minimal ecological function and costs property owners more than $30 billion to maintain. Habitat Network offers alternate solutions for yards, parks and other urban green spaces to support birds, pollinators, and other wildlife, plus manage water resources, and reduce chemical use like pesticides and fertilizers to keep nature in balance. Habitat Network can be used on properties of all sizes and types – from a shared urban garden in a city park to a large suburban backyard or nature preserve.

What can a Habitat Network help you do?

  • Attract a variety of birds to your home, school, or business
  • Manage rainwater
  • Help protect bees and other pollinators
  • Compare your map to other network members’ and get inspired with our new goal-setting feature

“Science shows us that small changes in the way properties are managed can make a huge impact towards improving our environment,” said Megan Whatton, project manager for Habitat Network at The Nature Conservancy. “Creating and conserving nature within cities, towns and neighborhoods are keys to global conservation.”

The free mapping tool is can save you thousands in landscaping design fees by letting it do it yourself. (Image courtesy of Natural Habitat.)

The free mapping tool is can save you thousands in landscaping design fees by letting it do it yourself. (Image courtesy of Habitat Network.)

The mapping tool is also a social network, inviting participants to share information and learn from their neighbors. And over time, the self-reported information from citizen scientists using the Habitat Network will provide data the Conservancy and the Lab can use to understand how much habitat exists in our cities and towns and what role that habitat can play in benefiting wildlife and humans.

“The number and diversity of butterfly species on our property is impressive, especially considering there were essentially zero when we moved in,” said Richard Barry, of Essex, Massachusetts, who has mapped his property with Habitat Network. “The other big success has been the bird life visiting us … often there is a big crowd of birds using the stream as a birdbath,” he said.

The Habitat Network website, which builds on prior habitat programs at the Lab and the Conservancy, already has 345,000 users – primarily in the United States – who have mapped more than 20,000 yards, gardens and parks.

Briani Boyd was selected from the High School of Environmental Studies in New York City to be part of TNC's LEAF internship program this summer. Photo credit: © Erika Nortemann/TNC

Briani Boyd was selected from the High School of Environmental Studies in New York City to be part of TNC’s LEAF internship program this summer. Photo credit: © Erika Nortemann/TNC

“It’s a great way to get to know your yard better. You are really the expert about what’s going on around your house or neighborhood, and we want to tap into that expertise in a way that can benefit the scientific community,” said Rhiannon Crain, project leader for Habitat Network at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are also launching a two-year initiative in a handful of pilot cities where they will work with local organizations to test best practices for creating habitats in urban areas. For example, in Seattle, The Nature Conservancy will use the Habitat Network to track the progress of an initiative to install 20,000 rain gardens across the city.

Additional projects could include planting native trees for shade or to improve air and water quality, and efforts to boost pollinator populations. Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. will develop Habitat Network pilot projects in coordination with local partners over the coming year.

Go to www.habitat.network to sign up for an account and get started mapping, sharing, and learning about sustainable practices you can implement in backyards, schoolyards, parks, and corporate campuses.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org. To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit www.nature.org/global. To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Cornell Lab’s website at www.birds.cornell.edu.

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