Meet Mat Paulson – Community Leader and Wildlife Gardener
Having a Certified Wildlife Habitat can be a commitment. However– through NWF's habitat program we have had the opportunity to work with some incredible community leaders and volunteers. Mat Paulson, from Minnesota has done amazing work around creating a space for wildlife in an backyard setting. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me– So read on and meet one of NWF's great leaders.
Tell us about why you certified your backyard habitat:
I have always believed that wildlife and nature need all the help it can get! We can do so much with so little and I am frustrated with the way landscape companies in my area have no consideration for the benefits that the proper landscaping can provide. Be it shading in the summer, letting the sun in in the winter, conserving water, but most importantly by providing the resources that have been lost by urban development for the beneficial wildlife that we all need.
"How many people know that there is a decrease in the honey bee population and that we need them for our everyday lifestyle? Häagen-Dazs® ice cream depends on it and we all would be lost without that."
I cannot speak for all parts of the country but up here in Minnesota the Mosquito population is out of
control and the beneficial insects are on the decline. Why is that I wonder? Bats, dragonflies and other beneficial wildlife could help us out and maybe we could cut down on pesticide use and start enjoying the outdoors more.
Migratory bird populations are fluctuating and taking different paths. I hear from many people that they just don’t see the birds that they used to, like the meadowlark or cardinals up in this area just to name a couple.
If we all took part and took pride in our communities by improving the way we landscaped we would benefit in so many ways. As a landscaper I do not have the best yard, kind of like a plumber not wanting to fix his own leaks at home :) but I do have a small butterfly garden and will be working on a rain garden this summer. My kids really enjoy being outside and finding squirrels, butterflies, hummingbirds, toads etc… in our yard.
Have you always been inspired by gardening?
My Dad was always a gardener but I didn’t get into it until I went to college at NDSU in Fargo. I got a summer job with a local Nursery selling and installing. Out of High School I worked at the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck and worked there for a couple years and that was what I was going to do for the rest of my life unless Wild Kingdom called and wanted me to work along side of Jim Fowler. Once I started doing landscaping I enjoyed it a lot in the summers but always wanted to get back to the Zoo and working with animals. I was offered a job by the zoo, but after only 6 months had to move.
I went back to landscaping, moving from job to job trying to find an employer that would start landscaping for wildlife. With no luck after 14 years in the business I went ahead and started 3 Little Birds Landscaping a business that specializes in attracting wildlife and 'Green' improvements.
I am now ready to start my 3rd year in business, became an Ambassador for the Wildlife Habitat Program through the National Wildlife Federation and am trying to inspire the Communities of Fargo and Moorhead to become Community Habitats.
Have you ever helped a friend make environmentally friendly choices?
I have become involved with the local Valley Earth Week Committee and try to inspire everyone to become more ‘Green’. Last year I was also selected to attend the Advocate Training for the Audubon Society in Washington DC and it was the most life changing week I’ve had, aside from my 3 kids being born. Since learning to be an active advocate for the environment I have become involved with many organizations and have tried to inspire many to speak up for wildlife and our environment. Being from North Dakota and now living right across the river in Minnesota I contact legislators from both states on issues regarding these subjects.
It is so easy to advocate for what you believe in but many do not know how easy it is to help make changes by being an active advocate and contacting your representatives.
When did you feel like your investment was really making a difference?
I feel it all the time and nothing is more rewarding than when a customer, friend or anyone tells me of the joy they had seeing a new bird, butterfly or any other wildlife we are trying to attract finds their yard. But the most rewarding part of the last few years was when my 2 oldest children Ashlyn 8 and Tanner 7 at this time last year entered a project entitled ‘Birds For Brains’ into the Nim’s Island Environmental Challenge. This program that brings children together with seniors and both closer to nature won 4th place and I have implemented it in the Fargo area!
Birds For Brains is a program that has kids groups like daycares, 4H and Scout groups build bird feeders and houses out of discarded wood from old cedar fence panels or anything we can get our hands on. We then set them up at Nursing and Assisted Living Homes and the kids visit them every week and keep the feeders filled. A local feed store ‘Critters Feed and Seed’ supplies all the seed for our projects. I am hoping that Birds For Brains can be taken over by a non-profit group to give it some legitimacy and implement in other parts of the country!
It has been great to see how my love for wildlife and nature has inspired my kids. To see their faces when I told them that an Audubon Group in New York is now doing the same thing and that a 4H group is going to start this project in a small town south of Moorhead which will also include bat houses is priceless.
What's your favorite type of wildlife?
This is a tough question…I have always loved the feline family and I’d have to say that the Mt. Lion is my favorite but all wildlife is near and dear to my heart with the exception of spiders! I’ve helped raise many animals in my zoo days, been a TA for the Herpetology department at NDSU, even studied prairie dogs in Arizona for four months and slept under the stars in Medora while a herd of Bison came rolling through the camp. I’ve seen a lot, would love to see more and can only hope that everything is still around when my kids grow up.
When did you first feel connected to the environment?
I can remember watching the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom at a very early age and always wanted to be Merlin Perkins’ right hand man. I got the chance to meet and hang out with Jim Fowler many years ago when he visited the Dakota Zoo and spent hours listening to his stories about the show and got to hear the story behind the Anaconda episode when he was wrestling with it while Merlin was watching :)
Can you name one person who has inspired you? Why?
I can’t name one person, there are so many. My Dad for his love of gardening, the Wild Kingdom boys, Jeff Corwin with his sense of humor and love of wildlife, my high school Biology teacher Mr. Forester who gave me the chance to do a farm out at the Zoo, Stan Hoogland whom I did the P’ dog research for and it goes without saying David Mizejewski with the National Wildlife Federation and their Habitat Program.
I am now a facebook junkie and my motto is that I’m here to Advocate, Educate, Learn and Inspire. I have met hundreds of wonderful people networking through my 3 Little Birds Landscaping, Birds For Brains and Community Habitat groups there and always seem to see threads get started when I start advocating about something. If you are on facebook I always love meeting new people and discussing many topics so befriend me at anytime or join my groups and we’ll talk about many subjects there. I will also point anyone in the right direction to become an active advocate for what we all love.
ACT on what you believe in and you CAN help make a difference!