22 Ways to Help Washington Wildlife this Earth Day

Wildlife in Washington face a wide range of threats, from disease and invasive species to declining habitat and climate change. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is dedicated to conserving and protecting the state’s wildlife — including endangered and other at-risk species — from these threats.

This Earth Day, learn what you can do to help Washington wildlife from the comfort and safety of your own home or neighborhood.

  1. Keep bears wild. April is usually when hungry black bears emerge from their dens. It is a time of year when natural foods may be scarce, and bears often look to the easiest source of high-protein food, which may include bird feeders, pet food, and garbage. Please help keep bears wild by removing these temptations from your property. Learn more by reading our blog: Tips to coexist with bears this spring.
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Bears are attracted to easy sources of food like garbage, pet food, and bird feeders.

2. Know what to do if you find baby wildlife. If you discover a baby bird on the ground or a deer fawn alone in the grass, the desire to help is natural. Learn what to do if you encounter a wild animal that appears to be orphaned or injured, and whether it’s best to leave it alone or contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator on our blog: Spring babies — do they need your help?

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For the first few weeks of a fawn’s life, the doe keeps her fawn hidden for safety.

3. Join the eBird community science project. The shift in human behavior due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak could have an interesting impact on birds in urban and suburban neighborhoods. We could observe a decline in noise and air pollutants with fewer cars on the road and planes in the sky. With park shelters, playgrounds, and sports fields closed, some places may also become a new refuge for birds to forage or build nests this spring.

Researchers at the University of Washington Quantitative Ecology Lab are launching a community science program through eBird to monitor birds in urban and suburban neighborhoods across the Pacific Northwest while social distancing measures are in place.

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Take some time to familiarize yourself with birds in your own neighborhood with the eBird mobile app.

4. Add a water source to your property. A safe place to bathe and drink will act as a magnet to many animals. You can make a simple bird bath with things you probably already have. Visit the National Audubon Society’s website for an easy do-it-yourself bird bath using an old cake pan or flower-pot tray.

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Water sources attract wildlife like this Townsend’s warbler. Photo by Corey Van Bronckhorst.

5. Buy a specialized license plate. There are two types of specialized license plates that support wildlife conservation and management activities in Washington — personalized license plates and wildlife design license plates. Plates can be purchased through the Washington Department of Licensing and carry an initial fee and renewal fee that varies by location and type of vehicle.

  • Personalized plates: For more than 40 years, the sale of personalized license plates has been the primary source of funding for the management of non-game wildlife, including peregrine falcons, pygmy rabbits, and killer whales. $2 from each personalized license plate goes to support the care and rehabilitation of sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife.
  • Wildlife plates: $28 from each wildlife license plate goes to support specific wildlife activities depending on the background, including wildlife watching, conserving native populations of steelhead, recovering Washington’s threatened and endangered species, or game management. Wildlife design options include a steelhead, bald eagle, killer whale, deer, elk, or black bear.
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Show everyone how much you love wildlife with a themed license plate for your car.

6. Keep domestic cats inside. Domestic cats can make great pets, but when they are allowed to roam outdoors, there can be serious consequences to local wildlife. Cats kill about 2.4 billion birds every year in the U.S. alone. Visit the American Bird Conservancy website for information on their Cats Indoors Program and learn how to keep pet cats and wild birds safe. You may even consider an outdoor enclosure for your cat, also known as a “catio”.

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Keep wild birds safe and keep your kitty inside.

7. Let your dead tree stay (if it’s safe). Dead trees (snags) are valuable to wildlife, so try to keep them on your property if they pose no safety hazard. As the wood ages and decays, it becomes soft. This allows woodpeckers to excavate cavities, which provide critical nest and shelter sites for hundreds of animals, including bees, songbirds, ducks, raptors, forest carnivores, and many more!

Several species require dead wood such as swallows, bats, and woodpeckers. Swallows and bats eat up to 10,000 insects per day, and woodpeckers help control harmful forest pests. Leaving dead wood will attract these species and make your property the first place they forage for insects.

This 7-minute video from wildlife biologist Jeff Kozma with the Yakama Nation demonstrates how to identify cavities and snags and discusses the species that depend on them.

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Woodpeckers are one of many species that depend on dead wood.

8. Avoid using pesticides on your property. It’s time to get outside and work in your yard. It’s also time to consider how to remove pests (problem insects, weeds, slugs and snails, plant diseases) with the least impact to fish and wildlife.

You can use a variety of natural pest management tools to get the job done while protecting native pollinators. These include using ladybugs in your garden to eat pests like aphids, pulling weeds by hand, and leaving grass clippings on your lawn. Many resources are available to help you, including your local Master Gardner Program, the Xerces Society, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Happy gardening!

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Pulling weeds by hand is one way to avoid using harmful chemicals on your property.

9. Plant for pollinators. About 90% of all flowering plants and one third of human food crops depend on pollinators like bees, butterflies, and birds. Unfortunately, the numbers of pollinators are declining due to habitat loss, disease, and excessive use of pesticides. By adding native plants to your property that provide food and shelter for pollinators, you can make a difference to both the pollinators and the people who rely on them. Download your free planting guide based on your zip code from our friends at the Pollinator Partnership.

One third of all human crops depend on pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and birds. Photo by Karin Kersteter.

10. Say goodbye to single-use plastics. A lot of energy and non-renewable resources go in to creating plastic, which is often discarded immediately after use. Single-use plastics, whether from lunch wrap or bags, take anywhere from 20 to 1,000 years to break down. In addition, thousands of birds and marine animals are killed each year when floating plastic makes its way to the ocean and is mistaken for food.

You can start having a positive impact today by simply cutting down your use of single-use plastics. One way you can do this is by using eco-friendly products such as reusable bags or sandwich bags.

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Reusable utensils, grocery bags, and sandwich bags are great alternatives to single-use plastics.

11. Flush responsibly (The 4 P’s). What should get flushed down the toilet? Only four things that start with the letter P: Pee, Poop, Puke, or Paper (toilet paper). All other items should go in the trash including tissues, wipes, paper towels, hygiene products, ear swabs, and dental floss. Flushing the wrong things down the toilet can be expensive to fix, as well as cause raw sewage overflows into homes, businesses, and local waterways.

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Avoid costly repairs or sewage overflows by only flushing the four P’s: Pee, Poop, Puke, and Paper (toilet paper)

12. Keep an eye out for invasive Asian Giant Hornets. Since the first report of Asian giant hornets in Washington last December, the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) Pest Program has been doing extensive research and planning to try and eradicate the invasive species from the state to prevent the negative impacts this invasive species could have on our environment, economy, and public health.

Asian giant hornets attack and destroy honeybee hives. While Asian giant hornets do not generally attack people or pets, they can attack when threatened. Their stinger is longer than that of a honeybee and their venom is more toxic. They can also sting repeatedly. Learn how to identify an Asian giant hornet on WSDA’s website.

WSDA is enlisting the help of beekeepers and the public to trap and report Asian giant hornets in Washington. WSDA is especially looking for people in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, San Juan, and Clallam counties to trap Asian giant hornets. Read their recent blog post for more details.

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The invasive Asian giant hornet was first confirmed in Washington in December 2019.

13. Put your stamp on conservation — buy a duck stamp. One of the easiest ways that anyone can support bird habitat conservation is by buying Federal Duck Stamps. About 98% of the Federal Duck Stamp’s purchase price goes directly to help acquire and protect wetland habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Wetlands acquired with Duck Stamp dollars help purify water, aid in flood control, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities.

Federal Duck Stamps can be purchased at U.S. Post Offices and online.

The Federal Duck Stamp helps acquire and protect wetland habitat that benefits waterfowl and other wildlife.

14. Burn responsibly. Before conducting any outdoor burning, check with your local fire district for rules or restrictions, and be sure to follow all safety guidelines. Rules could include things such as burn pile size, burning only in certain weather conditions, and burn bans over certain time periods. You could also choose sustainable alternatives to burning, such as composting, chipping, or mulching. These methods can help improve the surrounding air quality for you and those around you.

Check the Department of Natural Resources website for information on burn restrictions.

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Make sure to check local restrictions before doing any outdoor burning this spring.

15. Create a backyard wildlife sanctuary. Over 35,000 acres of wildlife habitat is converted to housing and other development each year in Washington. If we continue at this rate, many of our native wildlife species will have few places to live and visit.

WDFW developed the Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Program to help offset some of this habitat loss. While many of us may not realize it, a property owner is also a habitat manager. The things we do, or don’t do, in the vicinity of our home have an effect on the quality of habitat for dozens of wildlife species. Learn how to make your property better for wildlife on WDFW’s website.

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Adding just one native plant can help provide important habitat for wildlife in your backyard.

16. Support your local conservation organization. Many conservation organizations depend on community donations to do their work and have met unexpected financial challenges as a result of COVID-19 public safety measures.

For example, our partners at the Woodland Park Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Seattle Aquarium, and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park have been closed during Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. Consider a donation, purchasing a gift card, or becoming an annual member to support the work of our many partners in conservation. Your support is more important than ever to keep such organizations’ vital work going.

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The Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle is an important partner in protecting Pacific Northwest wildlife and educating the public on conservation.

17. Buy smart — avoid wildlife-trafficked items. Wildlife trafficking — the illegal trade of animal products — is pushing numerous species to extinction around the world. This multi billion-dollar international black market involves indigenous species from many nations, including the U.S.

Never purchase wildlife products. Be informed about what you buy, especially when traveling abroad — even small trinkets fuel demand, and animals suffer.

The Washington Animal Trafficking Act (WATA) went into effect in 2015 and made it a crime to buy, sell, trade, or otherwise distribute products from certain animals. WDFW Police has detectives that specialize in investigating illegal trade in local natural resources, and officers patrol border crossings at marine and air ports.

Examples of items made from endangered animal parts.

18. Sign up to volunteer with WDFW or another conservation organization. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) welcomes volunteers who want to assist in activities that benefit fish, wildlife, and habitat. WDFW uses an online system to make it easier for volunteers to learn about volunteer opportunities and participate. This Community Event Registration and Volunteer Information System (CERVIS) tracks projects and volunteer hours.

First, potential volunteers should register using a simple online form and then review the volunteer opportunities that are available.

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Join our team of volunteers to help with activities that benefit fish, wildlife, and habitat.

19. Don’t let your pet go in the wild. Abandoned pets and plants that are released into the wild may become a serious problem. Never release unwanted home or classroom pets, animals, or plants into the wild, such as rivers, streams, lakes, or stormwater ponds.

Most unwanted pets will not survive in the wild and may suffer before death. If it does manage to survive, it may harm the environment and businesses. Invasive species cost the United States billions of dollars each year. Some of the most devastating invasive species originally were sold as pets or plants for gardens, ponds, and aquariums. Visit the Washington Invasive Species Council website to learn what actions you can take or where to rehome your pet.

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20. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Most people have heard the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” but did you know that reducing waste also helps fish and wildlife? It keeps plastics out of the ocean and out of the mouths of birds. It also reduces demand for new products that require the use of natural resources and increase greenhouse gases.

Reduce waste by cutting back on plastics. Choose bulk items and fresh fruits and vegetables without packaging at the grocery store, use reusable items like water bottles, and buy pre-used goods.

Reuse, repair, and repurpose items to lower the demand for new products and reduce waste. Reuse food scraps by turning them into compost that can be used to fertilize your backyard plants that support wildlife.

Recycle right, which means empty, clean, and dry. Also recycle or properly dispose of items that commonly harm wildlife such as fishing tackle, balloons, cans, elastic bands, and glass.

Learn more about local recycle resources, Ecology’s study of plastic packaging in Washington, and practice recycling right with National Geographic’s Recycle Roundup game.

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Recycle right — That means items should be empty, clean, and dry.

21. Report your bat observations. Bats are highly beneficial to people, and the advantages of having them around far outweigh any problems you might have with them. As predators of night-flying insects (including mosquitoes!), bats play a role in preserving the natural balance of your property or neighborhood.

In addition to white-nose syndrome, bats may be facing yet another threat as the potential transmission from humans with the COVID-19 virus to North American bats remains unknown. Researchers are investigating the susceptibility of North American bats to the COVID-19 virus. Until more is known about the risk of human-associated transmission, it is critical we take additional precautionary actions to protect our bats.

What to do if you find a bat this spring:
1. Do not touch the bat. Leave it in place.
2. For the bat’s protection, practice social distancing and keep 6 feet away from the bat.
3. If the bat must be moved, use a shovel or long-handled tool to pick it up and move it.
4. Report sick, injured, or dead bats online. Please also report groups of bats. These reports provide valuable information to track bat populations in Washington.
5. Remember — a small percentage of bats can carry rabies. If you have touched a bat or suspect exposure, contact your local Department of Health immediately.

Silver-haired bat — one of 15 bat species found in Washington.

22. Consider a career with WDFW. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has some of the most talented people in the natural resource field. We celebrate and value diversity, appreciating that a workforce composed of those from different backgrounds and experiences creates an inclusive environment, strengthens positive relationships with the local community, and brings new perspectives and approaches to fulfilling the agency’s mission.

We offer a diverse range of job opportunities, whether you’re a biologist, law enforcement officer, administrator, recent graduate, or if you just share our passion for Washington’s wildlife. We operate six regional offices and numerous other facilities around the state, which means there’s a place for you no matter where you live in Washington.

Visit the WDFW website to see job openings.

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WDFW’s mission is to preserve and protect fish, wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable hunting and fishing opportunities for commercial interests and millions of residents.

Written by

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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