FORT MILL TOWNSHIP -- Although development is gobbling up green space around the township at breakneck pace, more backyards and golf courses are becoming certified nature sanctuaries.
Springfield Golf Course was recently certified as an "Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary." Also, since 1996, 37 schools, communities, individuals and families have made the effort to get their backyards certified as "Backyard Wildlife Habitats" through the S.C. Wildlife Federation.
"The ecological benefits and habitat improvements are great," said Audubon International spokesman Jim Sluiter. "A lot of course superintendents and general managers find they enjoy their jobs more."
Gaining and maintaining the certification also helps golf courses save money, according to Sluiter and Springfield Superintendent Noel Buchannan.
"It helps me and it helps the environment," Buchannan said. "If I can get places (on the course) as natural habitat, I don't have to mow it as often and it gives more habitat (on the course)."
On many certified courses, areas that are "out-of-bounds" are left in a more natural state, getting mowed only once or twice a year, rather than weekly or daily, which saves on gas and equipment maintenance. The natural areas also provide corridors for wildlife such as deer and a variety of small mammals and birds, which can enhance the scenery for golfers. It also cuts down on the amount of fertilizer and pesticides used on the course, Sluiter said.
Attaining the certification involves a six-step process, Sluiter said. The first step is to perform a site assessment and environmental plan. After that, the course is free to tackle the other five requirements in any order it chooses. That includes water quality management, water conservation, chemical use reduction and safety, wildlife and habitat management, and outreach and education.
The certification is a long-term asset for a course that requires continued commitment.
Springfield began working with students in Nation Ford High School's turf management major this past school year and intends to continue the partnership, Buchannan said. Turf management is part of the school district's agriscience career cluster. During the spring semester, the course teamed up with students to create a butterfly and hummingbird garden on 500-square-feet near the tee box on the fifth hole.
With the persisting drought conditions, the water conservation portion of the process is also helping the course save money along the way. Improved chemical management reduces the chance of accidental spills, and the water quality aspect helps the course identify trouble spots on the course and at points where water enters and leaves the course.
"The areas you're doing are areas that don't come into play in an ordinary game of golf," Buchannan said. "You may have to hit over a natural area off a tee box, but a lot of times you're hitting over something anyway."
Leroy Springs and Co., which owns and operates the Springfield course, is seeking Audubon certification for the other three courses it manages in Fort Mill, Lancaster and Chester, Buchannan said. Springfield was the first to receive the certification, in part because it was designed and built with the program in mind. The other courses are in various stages of completing the steps necessary for certification. The process typically takes one to three years, Sluiter said.
Since the program began more than 15 years ago, 679 golf courses have received the certification. Of those, counting Springfield, 22 are in South Carolina, including the Tega Cay Golf Course.
Not everyone has a golf course they can make more environmentally friendly, but homeowners and even apartment dwellers with a porch or patio can do something to help Mother Nature.
The S.C. Wildlife Federation created a program called "Backyard Wildlife Habitats" about 12 years ago that guides individuals, schools and groups like home owners organizations to building natural habitat on and around their property, according to SCWF Director of Education Sara Green.
"People have to provide food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise young," Green said.
Providing water can be as simple as setting up a birdbath, Green said. Plants that produce seeds, nuts, berries or other fruit can provide the food. Wood piles, evergreen trees and bird houses provide cover and places for animals to raise young.
"It's the same criteria no matter the size," Green said. "Any place, no matter how small, can make a difference. Flowers with nectar for humming birds and butterflies in potted plants on a balcony will work."
SCWF volunteers and staff are available for guidance on building a backyard habitat, and more information on the program is available at www.scwf.org.
Additionally, Tony Esposito, a SCWF volunteer, will be leading a "Habitat Stewards" workshop at the Museum of York County in September. Individuals who complete the workshop will become certified "Habitat Stewards," ready to create their own backyard habitats. The cost for the workshop will be $30 for MYCO members and $40 for nonmembers.