OSU’s innovative 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program, designed to bring native plants back to school grounds, is catching on around the state and may be on the verge of becoming nationwide.

Oregon elementary students
Oregon elementary students

An innovative program to bring native plants and wildlife back to school grounds is growing out of the Portland area and into rural Oregon.

Oregon State University’s 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program was founded four years ago by Maureen Hosty, an urban natural resources faculty member in the Multnomah County office of the OSU Extension Service. Since that time, she has watched the program grow like a vine maple.

Today, 4-H Wildlife Stewards programs can be found at 42 schools. Most are in the greater Portland area, but in recent months schools in the mid-Willamette Valley, central Oregon, on the coast, and in southern Oregon have established schoolyard natural areas.

Now the program is poised to go national. Hosty is working with the National 4-H Council to secure corporate and government funding that could return native landscapes to schools across the country.

For the past four years, program volunteers, parents, teachers and community members have worked to establish natural areas on school grounds that create habitat for native plants and wildlife-and a learning laboratory for students, for teaching sciences ranging from ecology to math. These combination natural area/laboratories boast butterfly gardens, native woodlands, flowers, nesting boxes, nurseries, bogs, and wetlands.

Volunteers help organize fund-raising efforts to provide the $2,000 to $5,000 in start-up costs necessary to establish a natural area as 4-H Wildlife Stewards usually receives no direct school district money.

At Rose City Park Elementary School in northeast Portland, volunteers reclaimed a patch of natural green from the city block of pavement that has surrounded the school building for more than 50 years. The spot was replenished with rich soil and planted with native bushes and flowers. A Brownie troop created an in-ground birdbath. Students added nesting boxes and a worm composting station.

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