NWF Backyard Habitat Certification


My peonies in late May.

How many of you have the National Wildlife Federation Certification? Yes, I have my plaque but it is not something I readily show. It is an organization I support, but did you notice the certification process was changed? I wanted to know why too.


My cousin’s rear yard. Her city sized garden is divided up into garden rooms and is twice the size of mine.

I was staying at my cousin’s Pennsylvania home a few weeks ago and she has her NWF sign displayed within her garden. Her garden is one planted in some native plants, one that has thick hedges, tall trees, many weeds, and all the amenities that make for a great place for birds, mammals and insects to feed and raise young.


There is a certain amount of disorder too which wildlife adores. Do I think she should be certified? Absolutely, so what is the issue?


Poppy pods in the morning.

Well it is how certification is obtained. They changed certification to divide the wildlife portion from that of the birds. Two fees are required and only one of them, the birds, required proving the site is certifiable. Yes folks, gone is the process of ACTUALLY PROVING you have a site worth certification for the backyard. When I looked to get my property certified many years ago, there was a process of documentation with pages to fill out and many photographs to justify the application.


Now when I called and asked about this change, it is the honor system used to qualify a backyard. Granted, you only get to talk to someone wanting your money, so I could not get the real reason why this change was made. “It was to make the process easier and faster,” the representative said. It did not need to be easier and faster in my opinion, it needed to be authentic.


My crabapple tree with flowers spent.

Today, they ask you to click the bubbles of what you have that applies. At the end of an online process taking minutes, you get a habitat number, provided you give them your credit card number.

I am disappointed in this process. ANYBODY CAN GET ONE WITH THE FEE based on the honor system. Pick your fee too, or buy both. It very much seems it is to increase the number of people qualifying and of course, increase donations. I think I preferred the way things were, rather than the new process.


Iris late May.

A minimum of three listed items is all you need to qualify in each of two categories, one in another if I remember correctly. You just get a better sign if you pay more money. I see this as a little too easy and minimally a process, and one not necessarily affording the most benefit to the wildlife from the standpoint of the homeowner’s qualifications.

Have you seen my sign?


See the sign?

See it? No… Look again.


I am not one to make note of it on my blog. My garden is special to the wildlife, not an easy to get certification that says it is. I used to be proud my property qualified for certification. It just seems a little less authentic now.


Why did they change the process?  I have no actual idea why, yet have a hunch. Is it possible that it occurred around the time of all the hoopla that happened when they made the move to work with Scotts?

I did call and ask why the process was made simpler. The representative did not say it had anything to do with the mess in 2012, but did say it was a relatively recent change.

Many people must have stopped supporting them at that time last year.  I think they got entangled in a PR nightmare with many swearing to take down their NWF certification signs. Many opponents cited that they were in it for the money, but what are they doing now with this easy and overly convenient, divided certification process? $$$$


Non-profits are in the business of generating money, there is no question on that. They need it for lobbying to amend conservation laws and policy, and in the case of many nature and wildlife non-profits, buy needed lands for wildlife corridors and sensitive habitats.

I support organizations such as theirs and I was never one to come out and pompously say I was pulling support on something I might have reacted to through emotion and not reasoning.  Did all the vocal gardeners ruin the NWF by making life miserable for the them? Did they cause Scotts to pull back on worthwhile programs or possibly become a better environmental citizen (unlikely, but one can always hope)? The passionate pressuring may have stopped the joint venture of wishfully, compatible partnering, but what did it do for the long term? Did the bad PR affect the donation drive?

I very much like the work the NWF is doing in conservation and always felt they do it for the right reason. I would like if the certification process was less easy to get for homeowners. When I discussed it with my cousin, she had the impression it too was about the money. I like to think it is about so much more.


Next two (very long and photo rich) posts explore that and I give you my take on that infamous debate. I never agreed with what the majority of bloggers were posting or threatening to do. I looked to what good might have resulted and tell you why in the next two posts. It is always about the money…and I know what happens if it isn’t.


About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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49 Responses to NWF Backyard Habitat Certification

  1. Ah, I can see what you mean about the certificate and of course you are right.
    However, may I express my admiration for those amazing photographs?!!!!
    Happy Monday and new week!

  2. Victor Ho says:

    It’s not a whole lot of fun to feel that NWF is not serious and is merely collecting money. Charities have had the same issues. How much of your contribution is really being funneled to the needy. Even the Red Cross is guilty. I was sad to see the director ask for blood donations days after 9/11. But? There weren’t any injured in the hospital in need of blood. She defended her plea by saying that blood was always needed. She later lost her job over this misinformation. And, if you check, they have a brand new multistory modern building on the Westside that easily cost millions, that somehow was justified from all the contributions that are made by calling the cell phone number and punching in a code.

    • It is amazing how during times of need and tragedy, that the nonprofits come out of the woodwork. They know people are in a giving mood because they have a need to help in some way. It really is ashamed when trusted organizations take advantage of these circumstances presented on a silver platter. It is hard to believe too that a person in the director’s position would make such a faux pas. They always say blood is needed during their drives so it was a pretty flimsy defense. I did not know about their new building. I must have a look. Spending money on glitzy architecture is not in the best interest of organizations wanting money from those knowing this extravagance of cost. As an architect, I should not be mentioning this, but take note of the expense sometime.

  3. connie661 says:

    It’s possible that the National Wildlife Federation decided that making the process easier would decrease labor costs or volunteer hours on their part, encourage more people to apply for certification, get more signs in people’s yards, increase exposure for the organization and increase donations. This doesn’t seem like a bad strategy. The downside is that people like you now feel that their well deserved certification has been cheapened by the new rules. Perhaps the organization would like to institute a two-tiered system of certification. Someone who goes through the easy process would get a preliminary (or some other adjective here) certification. Successfully going through the more stringent process would result in a premier (or some other adjective here) certification that carries more weight and is more prestigious. (To justify the labor needed to judge the entries, the fee would probably be higher, too.)

    • Connie there is the two tier system currently by paying to certify for the birds. It is similar to how you described. I agree and did think they were cost cutting labor costs, possibly out of necessity and I do understand that. You are very right, it seems to have cheapened the process and all the work necessary to get critters to the yard and make a home for them. I went online to my account and started a second certification and that is how I saw it was made more minimal in requirement. My cousin when asked, said she got it by just paying for it. I understand they need funds and defend them in the next post. I did not even think about the NWF until I asked my cousin how she got her sign. I started thinking of how many others have signs, but really don’t care much for the habitats they are creating. Being a tax write off, it is a great place to donate too besides the good the organization does for conservation.

  4. Cathy says:

    Donna, As usual, your photos are devastatingly gorgeous. Such a feast for the eyes! But the news you share, which I did not know about, causes me the same concern and frustration. Like you, we went through an in-depth certification process and we were proud to be recognized. The new rules make this basically a pro forma thing that takes so little effort, the signs we have are virtually meaningless.

    My husband and I are long time supporters of NWF, the Audubon Society, and some local conservation groups. But in recent years, esp. since we acquired our Bird Certification from NWF, we have been bombarded by almost weekly solicitations from a variety of similar groups who send us cards, address stickers (with our name spelled incorrectly) and offers for “free” gifts for a donation I cringe at the number of trees that were sacrificed as the amount of paper alone is staggering.

    This is so disappointing, and honestly, I feel betrayed. Usually, it’s the ordinary course of things to make certifications harder, not easier, to obtain. We worked hard to create our habitat so that we could enjoy our gardens, the birds and butterflies and bees would be supported and protected, and the wildlife in the neighboring meadow was nurtured and protected from chemical harm as well. And it was a chore to document it as well. It seems, however, that the sign is simply for sale to anyone who wants to post one, whether they embrace the concept or not.

    Maybe if those of us who worked so hard to do it the old-fashioned way,squawked, they might reconsider. Ya think??

    • I did try to talk with someone in management, but was not given that opportunity. What you stated is what happens here as well. The junk mail is relentless and so are the emails. It took minutes, no lie. I was astounded. Like you said, the original documentation process took time and effort. As Connie mentioned, I do understand they must be in dire straights due to many not having expendable income in these times, but having the sign did say something important to those that saw it. I never was one to show it off and it usually lives on the side fence a bit hidden, but I moved it so I could post it for today. Like I said in the post, the habitat or garden is what matters and proof is in the pudding in the various wildlife it supports. I remember when I first applied, they asked for images of birds visiting and plants supporting the wildlife. I asked, and they said to qualify for the birds, one needed to provide photo documentation. I did not investigate further, but at least that sign requires a bit of authenticity.

  5. Actually Donna the process changed before last year to when I finally got my certification at least 2 or 3 years ago… it was changed to the push a few buttons process. I had waited to get my certification as I had things to do for the proof process and then suddenly it changed. I look forward to your posts as I was not a happy camper with NWF last year although I tried to stick to the facts of what I specifically had an issue with. I know many became overly zealous…I will say I was passionate in my comments to the NWF but I have kept my sign as I am proud of my habitat.

    I will say that as I was going through the process I was thinking geesh anyone can get one of these….and not by lying but simply by being ignorant of many important things about creating and maintaining a wildlife habitat.

    • The guy I talked with did say he thought it changed two years ago, but at that time the NWF was in negotiations I believe. When I applied initially, they were pretty strict on what was wanted and now, one barely needs much to qualify. That is the part that shocked me, since I could punch in most of the buttons, all I thought was, “You want just one of these to qualify?”. Since I have worked on a few wetland projects (rehabilitation of brownfields) with the firm I worked for, and each of them took a year of my working life, I am very invested in projects that for which the NWF lobbies. I had the same thought that anyone can get a sign. In fact I have clients that did so and have a garden shed full of Scott’s products. To me, the sign really means little now, but I do enjoy having a property that actually qualifies though.

  6. yourothermotherhere says:

    The white iris at the end reminds me of you.

  7. Interesting! I don’t have a NWF certification but had considered it at one time; however, after the Scotts scandal I decided against it. I do have certifications from other organizations. At the end of the day the animals & insects in our garden don’t really care about our sign(s) they just like that we provide a balanced habitat for them. :O)

    • Exactly. That is why I never posted the sign before. It is in the shade section of my garden behind the Viburnum normally. I never wanted it stolen and things like that happen in the city. And when the scandal broke I remained quiet with the sign hiding on the side fence. I never agreed with all the rhetoric that was spewed against the NWF. I thought the anger was misdirected and dressed in hyperbole. Plus, all the threats never end up having a positive outcome. I am pretty sure all were hurt except for maybe Scotts. I have a take on them too in the third post.

  8. Thanks so much for sharing this information, Donna! I look forward to your next couple posts that will address your ideas on the subject further.

    • Thanks Kenley. I know the next two posts, many garden bloggers may not be pleased, but a bit of the problem is they are GARDEN bloggers and some of those may not be invested to a larger garden of community and beyond. I address it from the standpoint beyond a garden. What the NWF does goes far beyond home gardens and that is why I support them. I also support four other nature and wildlife organizations. Local and national. Each year they switch off in contributions.

  9. janechese says:

    I didn’t know about this plaque business being from Canada but I would assume that the people who bother to apply are supportive of the cause but the federation needs to be held accountable-is buying the plaque support anything or is it just a band-aid?.Make sure the money is actually going toward the good of the environment and not just for a pretty plaque and administration costs. I fear that many short cuts that are being made in so-called environmental departments at both the provincial and federal level are in favour of business and development and actually a detriment to the environment. On another note, I like the lighting on the white iris. I took a photo of an iris in a garden this weekend and nothing could help the photo due to poor lighting.The gardens that you show here would be delightful for the privacy of both humans and wildlife.Keep up the good work.

    • I never really asked about what monies go toward the plaque cost and if the rest is just admin. The fee to apply is necessary too and is separate. I believe that most nonprofits operate from the “corporate level” in that is where big money originates. The individual needs to be multiplied by many to make up the effort it takes to get that money in comparison. Maybe that is also why they streamlined the process.

      Actually, that iris was taken in bright light, I just played with exposure to avoid the blinkies and it blowing out highlights. I am always too busy in early morning and late afternoon to get good light. In my garden, both times of day, the back garden is in shadow anyway.

  10. Phil Lanoue says:

    Wow! That is outstanding that you have created this wonderful environment!

  11. I do have a NWF certification but I don’t remember it costing money. I never displayed the sign but I wanted to encourage the process that NWF provides of getting people to think about whether they had a wildlife friendly environment. I think that even if it’s a less authentic process now, it still gets people thinking about the right issues and so it’s valuable. As far as Scotts, if a large corporation wants to make genuine positive changes in the way it operates, I am all for it no matter what the motivation is. American corporations better be motivated by money or they will get sue by their shareholders and devalued on Wall Street.

    • That is true that getting them to think about the habitats they create is a very good thing. The NWF does a great job of providing tips on the requirements to do so. They have a wonderful website filled with valuable information. Their sales reps, not so much I am afraid. But the new process allows for people to get a certification before they make a suitable habitat just by their honor system process. Not that I think people will cheat, but it may make them more lax in say cleaning the birdbath or leaving seed producing plants in the garden over winter. They need to see the importance of doing it as a ‘complete’ responsibility.

      Also, not that it affects me in anyway as I don’t care per say, but it does make having the certification less authentic for me and others like me that did create spaces to share with wildlife. I also, like you, never made a deal out of getting it, so why should it bother me? Well, when my cousin told me she just bought one it just did not seem right. It made me think how many others just bought it.

      I feel exactly like you with Scotts. If they were going to make an effort, for any reason, I was happy to see them create educational programs. Sure they would sell their birdseed, but so what. The NWF logo would have made sure that birdseed did not have neonicotinoid coated birdseed in those packages (next post).

      As for the money, (third post) I worked on big brownfield projects and one of the most toxic (heavy metals) wetland project (area know for migratory bird nesting) did not get completed because the state funds ran out. It was not safe for people, so how was it safe for birds? This is why I think it is important to have these lobby groups. They are watchdogs and will make sure projects like that don’t fall by the wayside.

  12. b-a-g says:

    It’s coincidental that you should post this today. My garden was completely organic (though I don’t have a certificate to prove it) until this weekend when I zapped some lupin aphids with window cleaner. I regretted it afterwards – a quick fix is not always the best solution.

  13. Beautiful Captures:) I learned something new today too – love that! Happy Monday

  14. That’s too bad! I have one of these signs, too. I think you should feel proud of your stellar wildlife habitat whether it is certified or not, though. 🙂

    • I am pleased that wildlife visits. They would not care if it was approved anyway. But my concern is while they spread the word, the word get a bit watered down if people need less to qualify. It is no different now a days when products advertise as ‘green’. Most don’t even take then seriously anymore because so many prove not all that environmentally compliant.

  15. lucindalines says:

    Saddly too many things are not what they seem anymore.

  16. I have an NWF wildlife certification, which I got about six or seven years ago. All I had to do was fill out a form based on the honors system. I had mixed feelings about this. To some extent, I thought it was a bit of a fundraising gimmick. But then I also thought that perhaps it was still an effective way to increase awareness of ecologically responsible are rewarding landscape practices. And as to fundraising – organizations need money, they can’t do much without it. I’m still torn about it, though I admit I’ve dropped my membership in NWF. I’m still a member of Audubon and the Sierra Club, as well as a couple of local groups like Friends of the Forest Preserves.

    • I would love to know how often they change the requirements and why. I think every garden approved needs to make it legit by sending in photos to prove the certificate. The rep did tell me I could upload photos to my account, but I said that really is not what I was talking about. Not just a show and tell kind of thing. I think the NWF does a good thing in their programs, so I will continue to support them, but all the advertisements are a bit much. I too am a member of Sierra, very worthwhile.

  17. Jim Anderson says:

    It has obviously become a fundraising source pure and simple. I do have to say though I believe that 95% of the people bothering to get this certification probably are meeting the requirements, so if it raises awareness from other people seeing their signs and asking a question, the more the better.

  18. I remember reading about the Scotts/NWF situation last year. I don’t have a sign and never applied, although I’m pretty sure my garden would have passed the more difficult test (I can’t take credit, since I inherited this garden). Anyway, that’s too bad that it’s simply a “punch the button” process now. Sorry to hear it. (I like your cousin’s garden AND your garden. They both have character.)

    • The button pushing is OK if the person applying can push many of them. I was surprised that so few were needed to qualify. My cousin’s garden would not be considered “pretty” by most standards though. Many people up here like lollipop shrubs and lots of annuals.

  19. flora says:

    Hi Donna , your pictures always amazed me..so beautiful, I especially love the wet buds…

  20. Denise says:

    We have something similar over here. It is called ‘tuinreservaten’. Everybody who thinks their garden has seven of the ten requirements can buy a shield. I don’t have a shield but I like the idea. I think it makes people aware of what makes a garden wildlife friendly.

  21. Christy says:

    I certified our garden back in 2011 and I proudly display my sign. In fact, I made a special little bed right by the driveway so everyone can see it. For me it’s not about who the certification is from, but the fact that I want people to know that the garden is wildlife friendly and we work hard to make it that way. People have seen the sign and asked how they can help wildlife and/or get certified. That allows me to explain about the wildlife and how we can all help by planting native plants, providing water and shelter, etc. The birds and other critters (and I have a lot of them) that visit don’t know anything about the sign or the NWF, they only know that our yard is safe and provides things they need. After all, isn’t that the intent of having a wildlife garden.

  22. Jennifer says:

    I am not aware that there is any certification like this in Canada. I would love to think that my garden is a natural habitat. It would be meaningless though if just anybody with a credit card could get certification. I see your point.

  23. A.M.B. says:

    Yeah, I think it’s all for the money. Now the certification is meaningless! Beautiful pictures, though. Your cousin’s garden is lovely, too!

  24. Eva Cahill says:

    Unfortunately, another negative side effect of the diluted certification is that people are getting certified who are not really interested in maintaining a proper wildlife habitat but rather are looking for ways to circumvent city ordinances when it comes to maintaining their property. My neighbor is doing this. He sprinkled some flower seeds in his back yard and just let everything grow – weeds and all. He has posted the signs provided to make it ” legal”. No planning, no maintenance, no obvious goal for wildlife but he doesn’t have to mow now! It looks like hell and like an abandoned property. It is also making it difficult to sell my house in a seller’s market and a very desirable neighborhood. My well maintained yard is more of a habitat then is his. I will never donate to the NWF – it clearly has lost it’s mission focus.

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