Is Your City One of the Nation’s Top 10 for Wildlife?
Posted by Richard Conniff on March 13, 2015
I’ll be writing soon about what you can do if your community doesn’t quite measure up. But meanwhile, here’s the top ten ranking for U.S. cities from the National Wildlife Federation:
Which American cities are going above and beyond the call of duty to protect America’s wildlife? The National Wildlife Federation is honoring the Top 10 Cities for Wildlife whose citizens have the strongest commitment to wildlife as part of our celebration of National Wildlife Week 2015.
“America’s most wildlife-friendly cities are located in every corner of our nation from sea to shining sea,” said Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation. “The common thread between these cities is that citizens are coming together for a common purpose – to create a community where people and wildlife can thrive.”
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. 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 Certified Wildlife 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 Certified Wildlife Habitats per capita.
- Baltimore, Maryland – Charm City’s commitment to conservation education shines through with the second-most Eco-Schools in America (73), 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 Certified Wildlife 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 stormwater 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 Eco-Schools 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.
Honorable mentions: Broward County, Florida is America’s largest certified Community Wildlife Habitat and protects breeding beaches for endangered sea turtles; Los Angeles, California is home to 390 public parks, one million trees, and our favorite plucky mountain lion, P-22.
“No matter where you live in America, amazing wildlife is just outside your front door, even in big cities,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, senior director for community wildlife with the National Wildlife Federation. “Whether you have an enormous yard or just a corner of your school grounds that you can let go wild, everyone benefits when we make nature a welcomed part of our communities.”
National Wildlife Week is National Wildlife Federation’s longest-running education program designed around teaching and connecting kids to the awesome wonders of wildlife. Each year, we pick a theme and provide fun and informative educational materials, curriculum and activities for educators and caregivers to use with kids. The theme of this year’s 77th Annual National Wildlife Week is “Living with Wildlife.”
Over several decades, America has achieved historic successes, conserving critical habitat, waterways and landscapes while bringing species like bald eagles, grizzly bears, and wolves back from the brink of extinction. We’re restoring bison populations and reintroducing them on western and tribal lands for the first time in a century. And thanks to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, the air we breathe and the water we drink are cleaner than they have been in generations.
But at the same time, some of our most familiar species, from key pollinators like monarch butterflies and bees to pest-eaters like frogs and bats, are on the decline and at risk of disappearing from communities across America. The exact causes are still under investigation, with habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change all key suspects, but it’s clear that many species are reaching their tipping points.
NWF is working to reverse that trend through our Certified Wildlife Habitat program that helps people take personal action on behalf of wildlife. It engages homeowners, businesses, schools, places of worship, parks and other institutions that want to make their communities wildlife-friendly through the creation of sustainable landscapes that provide food, water, shelter and places to raise young for wildlife and require little or no pesticides, fertilizers, and excess watering. There are now nearly 200,000 certified habitats nationwide and to date, 84 communities have been recognized with Community Wildlife Habitat certification and another 50 are actively working towards certification.
The National Wildlife Federation determined our 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.