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This yard just naturally attracts wildlife

The National Wildlife Federation certifies qualified yards – and even balcony gardens – as wildlife habitats to encourage people to maintain natural landscapes.

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The Johnsons even created a blog to chronicle the evolution of their backyard and to inspire others to create their own wildlife refuge.

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"We started it (the project) for the enjoyment, but when you realize that you truly can do something environmental at the same time, I mean that's a good feeling ... and it makes you want to do more," David Johnson said.

His wife agreed. "It's a feel good that you can do something that you enjoy and is beneficial," she said.

It is this message that the NWF wants others to understand about the initiative.

"A lot of wildlife is losing their homes," Paul said. "If we can each have a little habitat in our own backyard and put in some native plants, it replaces the habitat that's lost."

With the nation's population now exceeding 300 million and development encroaching into what were once pristine ecosystems, much of the nation's wildlife is being forced out of its native habitats.

As an example, from 1990 to 2000, the rate at which the developed world pushed into undeveloped lands increased by 19 percent nationwide, according to a 2005 study by the University of Wisconsin. In the South, however, that intrusion was 24.3 percent, and in Georgia, it was 24.4 percent.

In fact, Atlanta ranked fourth in the nation out of 83 metropolitan areas measured for experiencing the most urban sprawl, according to Smart Growth America, a national coalition pushing for better growth practices.

In addition to a loss of wildlife habitat, people, too, are losing sight of wildlife. "As green spaces keep disappearing across the country, people have fewer and fewer opportunities to get to see wildlife," Paul explained.

A property can be certified once the following wildlife needs are present: food, water, cover and places to raise young, as well as sustainable gardening practices.

But that doesn't mean the task is difficult.

"Every year we try to do one extra thing," Cindy Johnson said. "So, every year, if you add just one thing, in three or four years, you have a lot and it didn't take a lot of effort or time."

Paul said it boils down to "quality (rather) than quantity" when transforming a property. People have certified properties as large as a farm to as small as a balcony, she said.

The initiative can also bring participants closer together, as in the Johnsons' case.

"This has been something that me and my wife have been able to do together, that we both enjoy," David Johnson said.

The couple's 14-year-old son, Ian, enjoys the hobby as well. Cindy Johnson said he loves cooking fresh produce from the family's vegetable garden, sweet potatoes especially.

As the Johnsons continue to expand their small refuge, the number of critters frequenting their backyard will likely grow as well, a benefit for both sides, Paul said.

"You can say that, well, one person doesn't make that much difference, but if it's multiplied by the effect of a lot of people doing it, it probably does make a difference," she said.

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