Backyard Habitat

Want to share your yard with wildlife and improve local water quality? 

Bellingham parks, natural areas, and greenways are important habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, amphibians, fish, and other wildlife. Home, school, and business landscapes can provide wildlife habitat, too.

Creating habitat with native plants provides food and shelter for local songbirds and other wildlife, reduces the need for water and chemical pest control, and improves water quality of local streams by reducing pollution runoff and erosion (helping salmon, too!). Encouraging the growth of native plants is also an important way to slow climate change, since native plants absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the air, produce oxygen, and protect biodiversity.

Bellingham was certified by the National Wildlife Federation as the nation’s 37th Community Wildlife Habitat in March 2010, and has retained this certification for over a dozen years and counting!

You can help support wildlife in Bellingham, too, by creating habitat in your backyard! Take action to preserve and restore wildlife habitat and visit the NWF’s Certify Your Habitat webpage to register your property.”

Please contact the Permit Center at or 360-778-8300 (M-F, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) prior to completing backyard landscaping projects that are bigger than 500 square feet, or if your property is in the Lake Whatcom watershed or near a critical area (wetland, creek, shoreline, steep slope). Landscaping projects are not permitted in right-of-way or utility easement areas.

Getting Started in your Backyard

Native plants are adapted to the climate in the Pacific Northwest with late dry summer and wet winter. Maintaining native plants is generally easier as they are naturally more pest resistant and require less water. Over time, native plants have evolved features to attract wildlife for pollination and seed-dispersal. In turn, the native plants provide food, shelter, and places to raise young. Due to this interdependence, planting native plants supports wildlife. The best time of year to plant native trees and shrubs in Western Washington is in the fall.

Snowberry – a native plant in Whatcom County

To improve soil quality for native plants, spread a layer of organic mulch over the surface of the soil. Some benefits of mulch include:

  • Weed control. Mulch can keep light from reaching weed seeds to prevent seed germination and can smother perennial weeds.
  • Soil temperature moderation. Mulch keeps the soil cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
  • Nutrients. Mulch slowly releases nutrients over time as it decomposes.
  • Moisture retention. Mulch retains moisture in the soil, reducing the need for watering plants.

Mulch materials can be found in your own yard or home, including shredded leaves, pine needles, compost, and newspaper (black ink only). You can also use shredded or chipped bark around trees and shrubs, which can be found at local garden centers or nurseries.

Newly planted plants in blue tubes with mulch layer on top of soil
Newly planted native plants with layer of mulch after a community work party

“Noxious” and “invasive” are terms given to the non-native plants that compete directly with native plants for moisture, sunlight, nutrients, and space, which changes the structure of wildlife habitat and eliminates sources of food and shelter. According to the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board, nearly half of all invasive and non-native plants are escapees from yards and gardens which threaten crops, ecosystems, and habitats.

You can help native plants thrive by removing invasive plants from your own yard to prevent their spread to other areas. Examples of harmful invasive plants that cause extensive problems in Whatcom County include English ivy, English holly, Himalayan blackberry, yellow archangel, butterfly bush, scotch broom, and tansy ragwort. The City has a general guide for when and how to remove common invasive plants, as well as a webpage with tips for naturally managing weeds:

The Whatcom County Noxious Weed Control Board has fact sheets and management information for a variety of weeds that are commonly found in Whatcom County: 

The Garden Wise website provides native plant alternatives to common invasive or noxious weeds found in Western Washington:

English Ivy – an invasive plant in Whatcom County

Elements of a Wildlife-Friendly Backyard

According to the National Wildlife Federation, a wildlife-friendly backyard should include the five elements below. You can click on each element to learn more.

Attracting and Co-Existing with Wildlife

Golden-Crowned Kinglet at Whatcom Creek

Certifying your yard, school or business helps Bellingham keep its Community Wildlife Habitat certification!

Additional Ways to Restore Habitat in Bellingham

  • Join a volunteer work party: The City’s Parks Volunteer Program hosts community work parties during fall, winter, and spring at parks and trails throughout the city. All ages welcome, no experience necessary.
  • Become a Park Steward: You can adopt a trail, open space, or greenway to care for. The Parks Volunteer Coordinator will provide all training necessary to complete your duties.

Email Updates: Receive email updates about habitat restoration in Bellingham by signing up for our Volunteer Newsletter, Climate Newsletter, and Habitat News.


Parks Volunteer Program
Phone: (360) 778-7105
Learn more about our Parks Volunteer Program.

Parks and Recreation Contacts
City of Bellingham Habitat Restoration Program