Denver Zoo

Habitat Milestone in the Mile High City

Denver Zoo Garden: Elise Trivers

On Saturday, June 25, 2016, a newly installed pollinator garden at the Denver Zoo was designated the 200,000th Certified Wildlife Habitat® by the National Wildlife Federation's Rocky Mountain Regional Office and the Colorado Wildlife Federation.

The Pollinator Pathway by Swingle, is a 2,500 square foot garden located outside the zoo’s Bird World exhibit. Its goals are to offer pollinators and other local wildlife with habitat and to inspire zoo visitors to practice local conservation by creating their own wildlife-friendly gardens and certifying them through the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program.

Providing Habitat

The Pollinator Pathway garden provides habitat in the following ways:

Food - Approximately 80 different species of blooming perennials, trees and shrubs offer nectar, pollen, berries, nuts and seeds as a food source pollinators and other for wildlife. More than 50 percent of these plants are native to North America and Colorado specifically. Many of the insects these plants support are also a food source for birds. (See sample plant list.)

Water - Nearby ponds provide wildlife with water for drinking and bathing, and a showcase water feature is being planned as a focal point within the garden.

Cover - Trees and shrubs such as elderberry, maple, hawthorn, and juniper provide wildlife with shelter from the elements and concealment from predators. Grasses and perennials are clustered to provide additional cover.

Places to Raise Young - The garden includes host plants for the caterpillars of butterflies and moths. Without host plants, these pollinators can’t complete their life cycle. Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), is a host plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars and Gambel oak (Quercus gambelli)support the caterpillars of state butterfly, the Colorado hairstreak. Trees and shrubs also provide nesting places for birds and ponds a breeding place for dragonflies and amphibians.

Sustainability - The garden is designed to represent plantings from three local ecosystems: dry meadow, moist woodland, and moist meadow. The chosen plants are adapted to these ecosystems so they thrive soils and moisture conditions, which means they won't require supplemental watering or chemicals to thrive.

Certified Wildlife Habitats in our cities and towns have a measurable impact on local wildlife populations and environmental health. Private property makes up approximately one third of the urban landscape. We estimate that with this milestone 200,000th habitat, approximately 1.5 million acres of urban and suburban and rural landscapes are now committed to providing wildlife habitat. These properties can also connect corridors of habitat necessary for migratory species between natural and larger protected areas of habitat on state, municipal and federal lands.

Public Education

In addition to providing local wildlife with habitat, the Pollinator Pathway garden includes a discovery station with hands-on activities, horticulturist talks, sponsored booths by conservation partner, and interpretive signage that explains how guests can help pollinators by creating and certifying their own habitat at home through the Garden for Wildlife program.

With over 2 million annual visitors, the Denver Zoo is playing a pivotal role in helping these visitors understand what they can do to help wildlife at home.

“This 200,000th Certified Wildlife Habitat at the Denver Zoo is a significant example of the conservation power each person and organization has to help wildlife in their own backyards,” said Brian Kurzel, Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center. “The Pollinator Pathway garden uniquely inspires residents in the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S. with a palette of native plants and other nectar-providing perennials anyone can add to their landscape to help pollinators. Certifying wildlife gardens throughout the community can support pollinators, conserve water and beautify neighborhoods, as well as create places for people to interact with nature on a daily basis.”



Denver Zoo's Commitment to Conservation

The Pollinator Pathways garden is one of many examples of the zoo’s conservation and education mission. By recognizing it at the 200,000th Certified Wildlife Habitat, the National Wildlife Federation acknowledges the zoo's commitment to helping pollinators, educating visitors about local ecology and inspiring them to create wildlife habitat gardens when at home.

Certification of the garden also means the Pollinator Pathway garden counts toward the million garden goal set by the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, which was recently highlighted when the White House Office of Science, Technology and Policy released the Pollinator Partnership Action Plan.

Beyond the Pollinator Pathway garden, the Denver Zoo has several bigger strategies in place to makes sure that its entire 80 acres support local wildlife, including:

  • Campus Reforestation increases the zoo's tree canopy, provides shade for visitors and animals, and diversifies the age of the trees on campus.
  • The "Braided Path" is designed to offer an immersive, exploratory experience within nature. This larger walkway, planned throughout the zoo, encourages visitors to navigate options within their environment. The Braided Path features storm water techniques and management as overall design elements. During rain events, flow will be directed through planters, which will hold, filter, and slowly release water. Other water paths may lead to storm inlets, which can demonstrate the importance of clean waterways. A variety of landscapes, visitor experiences, and a series of natural processes on campus will connect zoo guests with their immediate environment.
  • A new hands-on exhibit is also in development at the zoo and connects guests to local wildlife and landscapes, including prairies, mountain forests, and streams. This new exhibit area called Peaks to Prairie - one of the four exhibit zones bring Denver Zoo into the wild. This zone showcases the zoo's conservation field work throughout its nearest focal area - the Rocky Mountain Great Plains region.

The Denver Zoo is one of over 50 accredited zoos and aquariums that have certified their properties as part of their greening and sustainability efforts. The Denver Zoo was the first recipient of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Green Award and has been a long-time leader on AZA’s Green Scientific Advisory Group.



Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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