Partners, naturally – leading homebuilder promotes native plants

Doreen Cubie // Garden for Wildlife //

JUST ABOUT EVERY MORNING, Khushal Habibi walks along the banks of Walnut Creek, a small stream that runs through Skyestone, a 500-home development in Broomfield, Colorado. “It’s a great place for wildlife watching,” says Habibi, a retired U.S. Department of Defense biologist who is originally from Afghanistan. He has seen 84 species of birds on his strolls, including belted king fishers, western kingbirds, snowy egrets, Swainson’s hawks and great horned owls. “I really enjoy going there and so do my neighbors.”

Not long ago, Walnut Creek was nothing more than a degraded area used for cattle grazing and to contain stormwater runoff. But in 2014, Skyestone’s developer, Taylor Morrison , began restoring the tract along with two adjacent ponds. “Today, this open space has native grasses and plants that attract butter ies, pollinators, birds and other wildlife,” says Phillip Cross, the company’s Denver vice president of land acquisition. Last year, after verifying the 7-acre space was 100 percent native and pesticide free, the National Wildlife Federation designated it a Certified Wildlife Habitat® —the first step of an innovative new partnership between NWF and Taylor Morrison, the country’s fifth-largest homebuilding company, with 430 communities in 11 states.

Under the partnership, Taylor Morrison will work with NWF to certify as wildlife habitat more than 8,000 acres of open space in its developments. It will also design and plant butterfly gardens, build nature-oriented playgrounds and draft wildlife-friendly habitat management plans. Building on its reputation as an environmentally friendly developer, “Taylor Morrison was looking to take their conservation efforts to the next level,” explains Carey Stanton, NWF’s senior director for education and partnerships. “This partnership with the Federation has given them the opportunity to do that.”

“We build thousands of homes every year, and we want to respect the environment.”

Wherever Taylor Morrison builds homes, it works with natural features that already characterize a region. In Sky Crossing, a community outside Phoenix, Arizona, for example, the company was careful to preserve existing wash, or flood corridors. In addition to maintaining drainage, these intermittent waterways allow wildlife to move through the community. “And they are pretty,” adds Colin Phipps, Taylor Morrison’s director of land acquisition. “They are natural deserts flowing through the neighborhoods.” In three other Arizona communities—Copper Sky, Ironhorse and Andaluza—builders enhanced open areas to connect with surrounding desert by cultivating native plants ranging from cottonwoods and desert willows to saguaro and hedgehog cactus.

Since teaming up with NWF, Taylor Morrison has committed to establishing butterfly gardens in many of its communities, including one recently completed at its Esplanade Golf and Country Club in Naples, Florida. The company also is encouraging communities to help monarch butterflies by planting native milkweed in common areas and educating residents about what they can do  their backyards.

Plans are underway as well to build NWF Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) playscapes in select Taylor Morrison neighborhoods. In contrast to traditional playgrounds, ECHO spaces foster children’s imaginations, encouraging them to explore nature by getting their hands dirty and investigating rocks, leaves, insects and more.

At three new Taylor Morrison developments, the Federation is even participating in the design of the communities’ master plans. At Skye Ranch near Sarasota, Florida, for example, “we are reviewing all of the plants going into this community and seeing where we can increase the number of native species,” says Patrick Fitzgerald, NWF’s senior director of community wildlife. “Even small changes in a masterplan can really benefit wildlife.

Bigger changes are expected as the partnership matures. “More and more land will be dedicated to protecting wildlife,” says Stanton. “And these natural spaces have the potential to be there for many generations, not only helping wildlife but also giving people an opportunity to connect with nature in their own communities.”

Nowhere is that more evident than at Skyestone. Habibi, who moved to the community four years ago, has written a book about Walnut Creek illustrated with his own photographs. Soon he plans to start taking out small groups of neighbors to enjoy the new NWF-certified open space. “It will be a good way to get people to appreciate the environment,” he says.

Published by ornithologycenter

I am dedicated to helping birds. I concentrate on making sure they have enough to eat -- and thus promote native plants, and making sure our yards are safe for them -- and thus promote the use of systems to protect birds against deadly window strikes. I worked for national environmental organizations, in the U. S Senate as Chief Counsel of the Senate Agriculture Committee and as a policy adviser in a presidential campaign.

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