Islander Julia Lakey said that many people are attracted to Vashon because they recognize and value its natural beauty.
Now, in partnership with the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, Lakey’s mission is to help educate and inspire islanders to create change that benefits the environment in their own backyards while tackling the threat to all species posed by climate change.
“We want to show people how you can plant natives for privacy and for beauty and benefit native creatures,” she said.
Calling the island home for 45 years, Lakey, a retired teacher, lauded the community’s many groups and events that have worked toward protecting and preserving Vashon’s beaches, trails and wild green spaces all along. Building on those well-documented efforts, launched with support from the Vashon-Maury Island Garden Club, last July Lakey accomplished her mission of certifying the island as a wildlife habitat community through the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) with the goal of replenishing lost native plants that support birds and pollinators. Signs commemorating the island’s status as a certified wildlife habitat community will go up at two locations in town and on the island later this spring.
The NWF certifies both entire communities and public and private gardens as wildlife habitats — businesses, schools, community organizations and homeowners can join in, using a checklist available on the NWF’s website. Applicants need to verify that they have provided five major resources including leafy food, water, foliage cover and places to raise young while employing sustainable practices, but the requirements are not onerous and can be met on a small scale.
“The whole point of certifying your property is to make it a place that works in tandem with wildlife, and when we only plant exotics that, you know, might make our yards pop — ‘oh, wow look at that’ — they’re not developed for the creatures that we have here,” said Lakey. “We have pollinators and birds that need the native plants here. That’s what they have developed over the millennium for.”
A growing contingent on the island has already certified their properties — more than 175 of Vashon’s landowners — including the land trust building and Windermere, which turned a narrow, neglected planting bed between the sidewalk and parking lot of its location next to the Village Green into a habitat for wildlife. Once there were tall bushes that obstructed the view of the facade of the office and tangled tree roots that winded under the sidewalk, but no longer, said John de Groen of Windermere. Soon after the business moved into the space and removed the bushes, Lakey approached and proposed they certify the plot as habitat. The idea resonated with de Groen, he said, adding that such contributions help improve the health of the island. Soon the plot will feature native, low-lying plants and include irrigation and a birdbath.
“I love to help out the community, number one, in all sorts of different ways,” he said.
The bar to certifying a habitat is intentionally low, former land trust director of development Erika Carleton said in a radio interview on Voice of Vashon last summer. No need to rush out to the garden supplier — you might already have nearly everything you need on NWF’s checklist.
“The idea is to get people to participate, not to scare them, not to overwhelm them, not to make them feel like they have to be a wildlife biologist to do this project,” she said. “This is really about trying to bring in everybody. You can do this on the balcony of your condo in Seattle, and that’s what they’re really trying to get at, is the more people we have that are participating and thinking about their space as habitat and needing those five things, that’s a good thing.”
Lakey said there’s no reason to slow down, or for the majority of Vashon’s residents not to take the steps necessary for providing wildlife habitat and becoming certified themselves.
Meanwhile, Lakey and her planning team have big plans in the weeks and months ahead, from creating a pollinator garden at Matsuda Farm with seedlings planted by the end of April, to planting demonstration hedgerows at a land trust property later this fall. The team, which meets monthly and has begun planning for a new season of educational activities, will be tabling at local events with certification applications and educational handouts in the future, as well.
A large part of her motivation to continue the work and see to the island’s ecological wellbeing, she said, centers on the fight against climate change, which for many can feel debilitating and too large.
“People always say ‘start where you are,’ so I wanted something that affirmed local restoration,” she said, adding that she was encouraged by the enthusiasm displayed by the Chautauqua Elementary School Green Team and student body as well as students of The Harbor School, who embraced the cause for saving native species and promoting pollinator gardens last year.
That gives her hope. With the island now a certified habitat, Lakey wants to give hope back to them.
“I want to leave this world a better place for our young people, and I wanted them to feel hopeful,” she said.