On March 9, 2015, the National Wildlife Federation revealed and honored the Top 10 Cities for Wildlife in the United States. These cities are ones whose citizens are determined to have the strongest commitment to wildlife as part of their celebration of National Wildlife Week 2015 – and Austin ranks number one!
The National Wildlife Federation ranked America’s largest cities based on three important criteria for wildlife – the percentage of parkland in each city, citizen action to create wildlife habitat, and school adoption of outdoor learning in wildlife gardens.
Thanks to the City of Austin’s commitment to natural spaces and parks, many Parks and Recreation Department’s Nature-Based programs help support community engagement in ensuring knowledge, availability of resources and education, and a path to the “wilder side of Austin”. Summer camps, special events and educational programming at nature-based centers within the Austin Parks and Recreation Department include sites such as the Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin Nature & Science Center, the Community Gardens, the Austin Nature Preserves System, Mayfield Park, the Park Rangers and many more. Let’s face it…Austin is all about nature and our parks!
The National Wildlife Federation determined the Top 10 Cities for Wildlife by analyzing the total number of NWF Certified Wildlife Habitats per capita in each city to measure citizen engagement. NWF also tallied the number of schools per capita that participate in NWF’s Schoolyard Habitat or Eco-Schools USA program. Finally, NWF looked at the percentage of parkland within a city, using data from the Trust for Public Land’s Park Score Index. Each criterion was given equal weight.
The top cities are found in every region, from Seattle’s temperate rainforest to Albuquerque’s arid desert:
- Austin, Texas – Austin is a clear-cut choice as America’s best city for wildlife, boasting the most Certified Wildlife Habitats (2,154), most Backyard Habitats per capita, and most Schoolyard Habitats (67). Famous for its Congress Avenue Bridge that’s home to 1.5 million bats, the city of Austin is certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat. Its residents not only want to Keep Austin Weird – they’re the best in America at keeping their city wild.
- Portland, Oregon – The Rose City boasts America’s most Schoolyard Habitats per capita. With more than 8,200 acres of natural parkland certified salmon safe and a commitment to provide nature areas within a half-mile of every Portlandian, the dream of a wildlife-friendly city is alive in Portland.
- Atlanta, Georgia – The City in a Forest ranks highly across the board, coming in #3 in total Schoolyard Habitats (54), #2 in Schoolyard Habitats per capita, and #2 in Backyard Habitats per capita.
- Baltimore, Maryland – Charm City’s commitment to conservation education shines through with 73 EcoSchools, #2 in America, and a #3 ranking in Schoolyard Habitats per capita. Baltimore’s 5,700 acres of parkland include the Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park, the second-largest urban wilderness in the U.S.
- Washington, District of Columbia – Ranked third in parkland as a percent of city area, DC’s efforts to protect and preserve parkland have helped restore America’s previously-endangered bald eagles and are now luring osprey back to the Anacostia River.
- Seattle, Washington –The Emerald City ranks third in Backyard Habitats per capita, with more than 30 municipalities and neighborhoods in the area participate in NWF’s Community Wildlife Habitat program. Seattle's government has a robust environmental stewardship program and a “Green Factor” program that reduces storm water runoff and supports the use of native plants and trees.
- Albuquerque, New Mexico – First in America in parkland as a percent of city area, one quarter of Albuquerque is public park land, providing a home for amazing resident and migratory wildlife like the majestic sandhill crane, Cooper’s hawks, black bears, bobcats and deer.
- Indianapolis, Indiana – With the White River vital to both its people and wildlife, Indianapolis is home to America’s second-largest number of Certified Wildlife Habitats (932). It is also home to its own resident reality star, a peregrine falcon named KathyQ, whose live feed has entertained fans for several years.
- Charlotte, North Carolina – Charlotte ranks third in the US in Certified Wildlife Habitats (849) and the city just achieved certification as a Community Wildlife Habitat. Known as North Carolina’s City of Trees, Charlotte’s City Council has made it a mission to have 50 percent canopy coverage by 2050.
- New York City, New York – New York City has the most EcoSchools in America (270), ranks fourth in parkland as a percent of city area (14 percent), and is home to an incredible 168 species of wildlife and more than five million trees. Home to year-round residents like red-tailed hawks and a tourist destination for migratory birds like black-throated blue warblers, the Big Apple is an urban wildlife haven, from Central Park to the Gateway National Recreation Area, one of America’s largest urban parks that includes the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Wildlife Austin promotes the creation and conservation of wildlife habitats through community-wide collaboration and public education, and helps bridge existing city initiatives that encourage a well-balanced and healthy urban environment for people and wildlife. Austin has a long track record of being dedicated to preserving and enhancing our environment. All of us have an important role to play! We all can make a profound contribution to keep Austin wild!
In March 2007, the City of Austin passed a council resolution to obtain National Wildlife Federation (NWF) community level certification. In November 2008, Austin realized that goal and was recognized as a certified community during the Community Wildlife Habitat Certification Ceremony. To date, the City of Austin has 2,154 certified wildlife habitats and this number is steadily increasing. You can be part of that momentum!
The Community Wildlife Habitat project is being led by the City of Austin, which has named it Wildlife Austin! The project is part of the city's Climate Protection Initiative.
The Community Wildlife Habitat project is part of the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat™ program. These projects benefit the entire community through education, outreach and promoting the use of native plants and landscaping to develop natural habitats that attract wildlife and birds, use little or no fertilizer and require modest watering.
It is a community-wide project which aims to provide habitat for wildlife throughout the community—at homes, on school grounds, at businesses and in public areas such as parks, community gardens, and places of worship. This project can raise awareness and educate citizens through workshops and community events about the value of having a healthy and balanced environment that includes nature and wildlife, while including and engaging citizens in community service projects, such as stream cleanups, natural habitat planting and wildlife care.
Today with urbanization and habitat loss or defragmentation, wildlife species (insects, birds, mammals and others) are faced with only a few patches of good habitat. Through the Community Wildlife Habitat program, communities can create wildlife corridors to provide connected habitat areas and provide more viable avenues for wildlife to thrive.