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Okaloosa needs your help to become a Community Wildlife Habitat

Heron on Okaloosa Island
Nicholas Stowell
Heron on Okaloosa Island

Trees on the Coast have started the process of certifying Okaloosa County as a National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat.

Bobby Wagner, executive director ofTrees on the Coast, says the certification would validate what the county has already been striving toward.

“What we are trying to do is put a legal document to what we already know as locals. Our community really does care about the quality of our environment, how it looks, how it runs, and about giving back to the environment.”

The NWF program certifies wildlife-friendly land for homeowners, businesses, schools, universities, places of worship, parks, and community-based organizations as community wildlife habitats. However, the county can only do so much. Wagner is asking for residents to take action.

“We have to get to 400 points to be certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat. Us as the hosting entity, and the county, can only earn up to 200 of those points.” Wagner stated. “To make this a very community-based effort, half of the point backing has to come from the residents of the community.”

To earn points, residents can certify any natural area that supports wildlife with food, water, cover, and places to raise young. NWF also asks residents to implement sustainable landscaping efforts like rain barrels, reducing water usage, removing invasive plants, using native plants, and eliminating pesticides.

“We are needing and asking our community to certify their individual homes, small public or private parks, ponds, small lakes, anything of that nature,” Wagner said. “Without their help we aren’t able to get certified. It’s what makes this a really interesting and legitimate certification. The little bit of money that it costs, which we can help with, goes back to environmental conservation.”

In order to earn their share of points, Okaloosa and Trees on the Coast are undertaking a park cleanup project. The first cleanup is Saturday at Little Marler Park on Okaloosa Island. This is the first in a series of 12 made possible by a grant from the CITGO Caring for Our Coast initiative. Wagner says all people need to do is show up.

“People can expect a really great family-friendly atmosphere where people can take an hour out of their day to really give back to the community,” Wagner said. We are providing all the equipment and everything, so all people need to show up with a smile on their faces and we can get to work making our community that much cleaner and our environment more sustainable. ”

To get involved and find out more information about Community Wildlife Habitats and certify your property, visit nwf.org/CommunityWildlifeHabitat. To get involved with future cleanups visitfacebook.com/okaloosacommunitywildlifehabitat.