MISSOULA – The native garden surrounding the Payne Family Native American Center at the University of Montana is now designated Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. UM will celebrate the certification during a reception held at 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 14, at the Fire Circle located on the east side of the Payne Center, including a brief guided tour of the garden at 4:15 p.m.
The NWF program encourages homeowners, schools and businesses to provide habitat for wildlife through landscaping practices that promote visits from birds, butterflies and more. To earn certification, an area must provide food, water, cover and places to raise young, and must be maintained using sustainable landscape practices. UM Natural Areas Specialist Marilyn Marler pursued the NWF certification to enhance the community’s understanding of native gardens and to increase awareness in Missoula about the Certified Wildlife Habitat program.
UM’s native garden features wide swathes of native grasses that are drought resistant and provide food for caterpillars and other beneficial insects. A grove of serviceberries produces a delicious berry crop for visiting birds, and nine rock circles in the garden each represent culturally important plants from Montana’s Native American cultures and people.
“The Payne Center garden has a different aesthetic than the lawn and manicured areas that make up most of campus,” Marler said. “While UM has a very attractive campus, I hope that raising awareness of conservation benefits such as helping wildlife and conserving water will increase support for native plants in institutional settings.”
Juliet Slutzker, an AmeriCorps member serving with the National Wildlife Federation as sustainability and habitat educator, helped Marler pursue the certification. Missoula is home to a number of Certified Wildlife Habitats, Slutzker said, but this marks the first time the organization has certified a space on the UM campus.
“The National Wildlife Federation has partnered with the City of Missoula to promote the creation and conservation of wildlife habitats throughout the city, with an ultimate goal of recognizing Missoula as the first Certified Community Wildlife Habitat in Montana,” Slutzker said. “To accomplish this, we need to raise awareness of the benefits provided by certifying yards and gardens as wildlife habitat. The University showcasing a very public native garden as Certified Wildlife Habitat is a great step forward in these efforts.”
UM’s native garden also serves as a classroom for students participating in an internship created by Marler and Assistant Professor Rosalyn LaPier to share their knowledge of Montana’s native plants and their traditional cultural uses.
“I’m excited to have this recognition for the Payne Center garden so that the broader campus community can better understand our goals over here, and so that the students who work in the garden can get some kudos for their efforts,” Marler said. “I always love opportunities for UM to partner with awesome community groups, too.”
Residents, schools and businesses interested in pursuing NWF wildlife habitat certification for their property can call Slutzker at 406-406-541-6708 or email MTEducationCoordinator@nwf.org.