2011-05-12 / Local & State

Bethlehem Vies For Backyard Wildlife Habitat Title

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) – A former eastern Pennsylvania steel town may not strike many people as the most bucolic location, but some Bethlehem residents are trying to get the city certified as a backyard wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.

No community in Pennsylvania has gained that designation, but Bethlehem and two others are trying. So environment minded residents are combing the city’s backyards, schools and public parks for evidence of food, water, cover and nesting spots for wildlife.

In the last two years, the Bethlehem group, led by the city’s four-year-old Environmental Advisory Council, has helped three schools, four public parks and 128 homeowners get certified. Bethlehem needs certification for 72 more private backyards, two more schools and a public area to get the citywide designation. To become certified, a property needs to provide everything wildlife needs to survive, which could mean installing a bird bath as a water source, piling up brush for cover, or planting milkweed – a staple of Monarch caterpillar diets.

Bethlehem Councilwoman Karen Dolan, who lobbied for the environmental council, said blocks of backyards can serve as “migratory highways’’ for wildlife.

A total of 53 communities across the country from Sonoma County, Calif., to Arlington County, Va., have adapted plans to create habitat for wildlife since 1998. The other Pennsylvania communities trying for certification are the Berks County’ borough of Hamburg, just south of Hawk Mountain, and Cumberland county’s Hampden Township, which is near the Kittatinny Ridge.

Proponents say Bethlehem has assets that may not be immediately apparent, notably the Lehigh River, which drew industry in the past also provides lush habitat for a variety of animals in city parks.

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