10 of the Most Wildlife-Friendly Cities in the U.S.

A snow-covered mountain is visible behind a forested, coastal park
The woodlands and beaches of Seattle's Discovery Park support a diverse range of wildlife, from sea lions to black bears.

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Flourishing wildlife isn't always the first thing that comes to mind in urban environments. Every year, however, cities are taking additional steps to support wildlife populations and educate citizens about the importance of the environment.

In 2019, the National Wildlife Federation ranked the 100 largest cities in the U.S. according to their dedication to wildlife conservation principles. The non-profit organization's rankings were based on several criteria, including the amount of land set aside for parks, participation in wildlife programs, and public education on environmental issues. The cities that earned top rankings include mid-sized metropolises as well as some of the largest cities in the United States, and represent every region of the country.

Here are 10 of the most wildlife-friendly cities in the United States.

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Austin, Texas

The Austin city skyline seen at sunrise over a lake ringed by trees

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Austin, the capital of Texas, earns the rank as the top city for wildlife in large part due to its work to help bolster declining monarch butterfly populations. Austin sits within the main migration pattern of the monarch, which means that monarch butterflies pass through twice annually, making the city's effort all the more important. Conservation efforts in Austin include preserving native vegetation, encouraging homeowners to plant pollinator gardens, and educating the public. 

According to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Austin also leads all U.S. cities with 2,616 certified wildlife habitats, 121 of which are schools that have planted habitat gardens as an educational tool. 

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Atlanta, Georgia

A river and tree-lined parks in front of the Atlanta skyline

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Atlanta secured the second-place ranking thanks to its Climate Action Plan, which aims to expand on the 3,000 acres of parks that the city already manages. Already classified by the U.S. Forest Service as one of the most forested urban centers in the country, Atlanta's climate plan also calls for planting more trees and creating more green spaces. 

The NWF has designated six neighborhoods in Atlanta as Community Wildlife Habitats, a nod to collective efforts by residents to grow gardens that attract wildlife. Put together, these areas of vegetation can help reduce the urban heat island effect in the city. 

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Portland, Oregon

Trees with colorful leaves and the Portland skyline, with Mount Hood in the background

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Portland, also known as the City of Roses, secures its rank with 12,591 acres of public parkland and open space to explore. The Trust for Public Land estimates that 90% of Portland residents live within a 10-minute walk of at least one park.  

One of the city's wildlife conservation priorities is the Chinook salmon, a locally endangered species that is a vital part of the aquatic ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest. The Portland Area Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Program tracks the health of local waterways. According to city officials, salmon can be found in 125 of the 300 miles of rivers and streams around Portland.

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Indianapolis, Indiana

A river lined by trees in front of downtown Indianapolis

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Indianapolis secures its place on the list with 1,101 certified wildlife habitats, according to the NWF. Of those, 71 are schoolyard habitats, or outdoor school programs where students learn how their actions can support local wildlife. 

Indianapolis is also home to a robust network of parks. At 4,279 acres, Eagle Creek is the most sizeable in the city, and one of the largest municipal parks in the United States. It supports a diverse range of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, largemouth bass, and bald eagles.

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Chula Vista, California

The coastline stretches in front a city full of trees, with hazy mountains in the background

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Chula Vista, a city in southern California just south of San Diego, ranks fifth on the list, due to its efforts to combat water use issues. The city's NatureScape program encourages citizens to replace lawns with gardens of native plants that attract pollinators and conserve water. 

The city has also formed the CLEAN group, a partnership between government, businesses, and community groups designed to address environmental issues. In recent years, the group has focused on curbing pollution, developing a climate action plan, and educating the public. 

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Cincinnati, Ohio

A suspension bridge clouded in fog with a park in front

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With over 115,000 acres of public green space, the Cincinnati metropolitan area is among the top U.S. cities when it comes to public park access. On the west side of town, the Bender Mountain Nature Preserve is home to 50 acres of woodlands that protect wildlife and native wildflowers. On the city's eastern edge, the Cincinnati Nature Preserve protects another 1,162 acres of private land. The center also organizes volunteer monitoring teams to help protect species like eastern bluebirds, butterflies, and native amphibians. Finally, its Plant Native initiative serves as an educational resource for citizens to increase biodiversity in lawns and gardens across the city.

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Seattle, Washington

The Seattle skyline and the Space Needle, with a grassy landscape in the foreground

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Seattle is home to 489 parks that span 6,441 acres, including 2,500 acres of forested public land. The city's largest park, Discovery Park, encompasses 534 acres and serves as an important protected area for birds and marine animals.

Due to the amount of forested land in Seattle, researchers use the city to study how urban environments can be designed to support wildlife. The Seattle Urban Carnivore Project enlists the community to report wildlife sightings, which helps to demonstrate how and where carnivorous mammals can co-exist with humans. 

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Charlotte, North Carolina

The Charlotte skyline reflected in a pond ringed by trees in a park

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Charlotte earns its spot as a top wildlife city largely due to its educational efforts around native species and wildlife. Like Austin, Charlotte is situated on a monarch butterfly migration flyway, and the city is taking steps to support the species. Charlotte is part of the Butterfly Highway, a statewide educational program that teaches homeowners how to plant native gardens that attract monarch butterflies and other pollinators. The main goals of the program are to replace traditional lawns with native plants, reduce pesticide use, and curb the impacts of urbanization on wildlife.

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Raleigh, North Carolina

The skyline of Raleigh, North Carolina viewed from a city park

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One of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, Raleigh is balancing its growth with programs that support wildlife. Like nearby Charlotte, Raleigh is part of the Butterfly Highway project, which aims to offset a current decline in butterfly populations. It also is balancing its expanding size with more public parks, and 11% of the city's area is public park land. 

Raleigh is also home to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the largest natural history museum in the southeast. In addition to funding research and educating visitors, the museum hosts citizen scientist initiatives that help track populations of native plants and animals. 

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Washington, D.C.

Trees in front of the Washington D.C. skyline, dominated by the Washington Monument

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Washington, D.C. secures the final spot on the NWF list, thanks to its robust park system and initiatives to improve local ecosystems and protect wildlife. The nation's capital contains more than 6,700 acres of public parks under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, which accounts for 20% of the city by area. According to the Trust for Public Land, the city's park system is the best in the nation, and 98% of D.C. residents live within a 10-minute walk of a public park. 

Washington D.C. has implemented a Wildlife Action Plan and a Habitat Restoration Program to identify species and habitats that warrant protection. The programs provide funding to restore wetlands and streams, protect native wildlife, and remove invasive species.