One Community’s Journey to Certification in the Midst of a Pandemic

Moss Creek’s Guide to Community Wildlife Habitat Certification

Moss Creek is a waterfront residential community developed in the 1970s in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The community has over 1,000 acres bordered by salt marsh, boasts more than 20 designated open spaces, and is home to three wildlife sanctuaries (Fording Island, Devil’s Elbow, and Blue Heron). It was the perfect neighborhood to join the Community Wildlife Habitat program. According to Lou Natale (Community Wildlife Habitat Team Lead for Moss Creek), “we had a great start, but it was just the beginning.”

Creating the Momentum

With the support of the community and a Nature Club of over 200 members, Lou Natale, Wayne Fredrick (Community Wildlife Habitat Co-Lead for Moss Creek), and their team embarked upon numerous activities over the past eight years to enhance and preserve Moss Creek’s natural habitat and engage their community.

Activities include but are not limited to shorescaping containment ponds, constructing blue bird, owl, and bat boxes (which are regularly cleaned) and placing them in common areas, conducting garden tours, holding native planting events, organizing naturalist-led tours, and more! Most of these activities continue today and new ones are added every year.

Moss Creek was confident that their work would satisfy the outreach requirements for Community Certification, but they were far short of reaching their minimum habitat certification point goal. As part of the Community Wildlife Habitat program, volunteers focus on community engagement to encourage residents to certify community common areas, homes, and parks as wildlife habitats.

In considering how to address this requirement, Lou, Wayne, and the team also had to deal with pandemic restrictions that essentially eliminated all face-to-face community and club events. The elimination of these venues limited options to convey the benefits of property certification, as it impacted all indoor community-based work in the program.

In order to address these challenges, the Moss Creek Community Wildlife Habitat team came up with several initiatives to engage their community. They developed a video for YouTube and posted it to the community and Nature Club Facebook accounts, included information in Nature Club newsletters, sent individual letters to Nature Club members, set up an information booth at events, and contacted neighbors to promote the program. Natale has found the most success by connecting directly with community members, “we were confident that by working together we could create opportunities to achieve our goal.”

Credit: Rick Garman

“You have to be persistent, you have to try and get personal,” says Natale, “Talk to your neighbors about it – they become ambassadors for you and help promote the program.” By November 2021, the Nature Club Board believed the community could meet habitat certification points and community certification requirements. Moss Creek registered in the Community Wildlife Habitat program in December 2021.

The Path to Certification

Lou Natale and Wayne Fredrick formalized their team with other members of the Nature Club Board and community administration. Prior to the first meeting, the team agreed to assign specific responsibilities to each member. One was assigned to prepare minutes of the meetings; others were designated to be our interface with other communities in the state. Lou and Wayne held the responsibility of coordinating with the National Wildlife Federation and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, respectively.

The pandemic further challenged the work by limiting the team’s ability to meet in-person. They still planned and conducted meetings regularly outdoors and through teleconference, and maintained constant communication with one another. 

adopt a highway crew
Credit: Kathie Panepinto

With their outreach work having already been established, Moss Creek was able to swiftly meet the requirements of the Community Wildlife Habitat program. The team maintained their educational programming and activities and continued to connect with neighbors and increase habitat certification points. In May 2022, Moss Creek was awarded certification. “The combined cooperative efforts of the people and groups of our community have made this possible,” says Natale.

As for the next steps, Moss Creek will continue their work with the Nature Club to meet annual recertification requirements, continue to add more wildlife habitats to their community, and brainstorm how they might include their Community Certification Achievement in the community’s marketing. 

To learn more about the Community Wildlife Habitat program and register your community, visit our website: https://www.nwf.org/CommunityWildlifeHabitat/.

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