“We wondered: Where could this turtle be coming from or going?” Pearson said, after having identified it as a type of water turtle known as a slider. “We knew my backyard was not appropriate habitat and couldn’t think of a pond nearby. So I put it in a container and put the word out on the Wild West website.”
Pearson, who lives south of Western Boulevard near Interstate 440, is a member of Wild West Avent, a gardening-for-wildlife group that hosts an online blog and email chat group for members.
After settling the turtle into a plastic tub, Pearson hopped on the internet to look for information about slider turtle habitat. But instead of turning to Google, she navigated to the Wild West group’s Listserv and posted her question. Soon, she was given directions to a nearby wetlands area, where she and her grandson could release the turtle safely.“I felt so fortunate that I could reach out to this group,” Pearson said.
Wild West Avent was founded in 2006 by neighbor and wildlife/botanical illustrator Patricia Savage.
“I got it going because I wanted people to give back to nature, versus always taking,” Savage said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes since I was growing up in Cary. I remember when there was nothing but woods between Walnut (Street) and Kildaire Farm Road.”
Heavy residential and commercial development has meant shrinking resources for wildlife, a concern that Savage shares with many of her neighbors. She added: “In our neighborhood, we’ve got a lot of N.C. State professors, natural resources people, native plant people, botanical people, master gardeners. I knew we had a really good network of people that are like-minded.”
The organization also welcomes involvement from people outside the neighborhood, as long as they share the group’s interest in supporting habitat for wildlife in suburban and urban environments.
Besides frequent online communications, Wild West members get together face-to-face three or four times a year for educational programs. Pearson and her grandson have attended several of those programs to learn about native bats, amphibians, spiders, composting and more.
“We’ve learned about using native plants in the yard and making sure to plant species that will attract pollinators and produce seeds so birds can have something to eat,” Pearson said. “I’ve been trying to do that in my yard now for a number of years.”
Two green spaces within the neighborhood also benefit from the efforts of Wild West members: Powell Drive Park near Method Community Center and Jackson Park, a 5-acre plot at Linville Drive and Grove Avenue that was donated to the city by a local resident.
“We are custodians of those two parks through the city of Raleigh’s Adopt-a-Park program,” Savage said. “It’s a chance for our members to help create spaces in our neighborhood that provide for wildlife.”
Volunteers John Gerwin, Heather Summer and others have worked to replace many non-native plants with wildlife-friendly native species in Powell Park, which includes a shade garden, pond and wetland filled with turtles, fish and other animals.
At Jackson Park, Savage and other Wild West members are working with the city of Raleigh to establish trees, shrubs and other plants that will provide food and shelter for pollinators and other wildlife.
“It’s a great group of people,” Raleigh horticulturist Gretchen Sedaris said of Wild West Avent. “There are several good gardening groups in town, but what makes this one unique is the focus on wildlife. People who want more than just a pretty flower can plant host-plants for butterflies or birds and get that extra layer in the garden.”
On the email Listserv, recent posts have discussed migrating birds, bird nests, hawks and chickadees, volunteer opportunities and plant swaps – in addition to the slider turtle discussion.
“I don’t think we’ve had a question yet where somebody didn’t know the answer,” Savage said. “Our members often post pictures of something in their yard asking: ‘What is this?’ It’s just a lot of fun.”
If there isn’t a wildlife-gardening group near your neighborhood, Savage invites you consider hooking up with Wild West.
Or better yet, why not start a wildlife support group of your own?
Reach Elder at firstname.lastname@example.org
photo – Chris Seward email@example.com