JOHNSONBURG — Domtar Corp. has announced the creation of two wildlife habitats to be certified by the National Wildlife Federation.

Employees from Domtar’s Johnsonburg mill partnered with St. Marys Area School District and other local companies to create a wildlife habitat at the middle school’s outdoor classroom and another animal habitat located at the Johnsonburg mill. Both spaces will be resources and learning areas for exploration and the study of animals for the entire community.

“The students at St. Marys Area Middle School have a passion for the natural world,” said Patty Dillinger, middle school science teacher. “Partnering with Domtar to create a habitat garden fosters hands-on learning which will positively affect our science curriculum for years to come. Immersing students in a real-time habitat is an invaluable teaching tool for our school. Our hope is that the students will take their knowledge home and create their own habitat garden as a step towards replenishing resources for wildlife such as bees, butterflies, birds and amphibians.”

Greg Linscott, Johnsonburg mill manager, said, “We are delighted to partner with the school and local companies on this project. Helping educate children about animal habitats and nature are key components of sustainability which is very important to our company and this region.”

Students and mill employees held a volunteer day to spread mulch and plant native flowers and bushes. The volunteers also installed butterfly feeders, birdhouses and toad houses to attract animals to feed and live in the habitat. Kane Lawn and Garden donated tools and sent expert landscapers to offer gardening tips for the project.

Other local companies contributing to the project were Woodbed Corp. and The Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Now that the habitat has been created the National Wildlife Federation will endorse it as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

The Johnsonburg mill organized volunteers through the EarthChoice Ambassador program, a group in the mill that coordinates events focusing on sustainability and community involvement.

Wood procurement manager Luke Dillinger approached EarthChoice about partnering with school to create wildlife gardens, and he worked with his wife, Patty Dillinger, who oversees the middle school garden club.

Jackie Lundy, EarthChoice Ambassador Program captain at Domtar, said there was no cost to the school to develop their wildlife garden.

“Domtar donated all of the plants and the materials needed to make wildlife feeders — such as bee and butterfly waterers and toad houses,” Lundy said. “Woodbed Corporation donated mulch for the garden at the Middle School, the PA Game Commission donated bird houses to both locations and Kane Lawn and Garden donated manpower and sent landscapers and tools to assist with the project.”

Lundy noted project planners had to make themselves familiar with the National Wildlife Federation requirements for garden development.

Lundy added, “The garden club researched and chose plants for the gardens that were native to Pennsylvania. All of the plants were sourced through Kane Lawn and Garden Center.”

Lundy noted to meet the requirements, each garden had to include food and water sources for wildlife, and cover such as trees, bushes and other places to raise young. All plants were required to be species native to Pennsylvania.

“The gardens are based with mulch and planted with pollinator and wildlife friendly flowers and bushes,” Lundy explained. “Toad houses, butterfly and bee waterers, and bird houses were (also) installed.”