For the last few years, we have been hearing about the plight of pollinators in general, and the monarch butterfly in particular. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), pollinators are important to the reproductive success of more than 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants. More than 150 food crops in the U.S. alone depend on pollinators, including blueberries, apples, oranges, squash, tomatoes, and almonds, just to name a few.
The Pollinator Partnership, founded in 1997, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education and research.”
In addition to the monarch butterfly, the Pollinator Partnership is spreading the word about the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis), which USFWS listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This is the first bee in the contiguous 48 states to be declared endangered.
Because of heightened concern over monarch butterflies, the rusty patched bumble bee, and other critical pollinators, Project Wingspan has been launched by a consortium of agencies and organizations from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin. The program involves two components: habitat development guidance and seed collecting.
Private landowners and public land managers with at least one acre of land in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, are invited to participate in the habitat development portion of Project Wingspan. You can fill out a simple online survey by June 15 at https://pollinator.org/wingspan/survey. If your site qualifies, you will get a free onsite review by the Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Coordinator from the Pollinator Partnership. Some sites will be selected to receive plant materials to supplement and enhance the existing habitat.
The second part of Project Wingspan is dedicated to seed collecting. Volunteers will be recruited within the six states to collect seeds for 29 targeted native plants such as butterfly milkweed, common boneset, tall blazing star, eastern purple coneflower, and more. All volunteers will receive training and while no previous seed collecting experience is necessary, basic plant knowledge is preferred. Anyone interested can complete the online form at https://tinyurl.com/Wingspan-volunteer. Plans are to have 167 seed collections per state, which will generate 10,000 seedlings. The plants grown from the collected seeds will then be redistributed across the six state region.
Even if you are not able to formally join Project Wingspan, you can still lend a hand to valuable pollinators. Support can come in all shapes and sizes, from agriculture producers all the way down to apartment dwellers. Here are some tips:
• Include plants for all life stages. The ideal landscape should have host plants on which insects can lay eggs, nectar plants on which adults can feed, and plants to provide shelter.
• Diversity in plants is key. Chose plants that have different colors and shapes. Hummingbirds can access tubular flowers but daisy-like flowers are best for pollinators with short mouth parts such as bees and flies. Trees, shrubs, and herbs, in addition to flowers, can be excellent sources for nectar and pollen.
• Have blooming plants from early spring through late fall. Different pollinators are active at different times of the year. Plant native grasses, shrubs, trees, and flowers because native plants are often hardier and less susceptible to pests and disease.
• Reduce or eliminate pesticide use whenever possible. Check out Ohio State University Extension’s Ohioline for helpful fact sheets such as “Protecting Pollinators While Using Pesticides” and “Choosing a Pesticide Product.”
• Choose a safe location for your pollinator area. Staying away from roads can lessen vehicular collisions. While monarchs and bees are obvious pollinators, birds, bats, moths, flies, beetles, and mammals are valuable pollinators, too.
• Provide a water source. Birds like deeper water so a bird bath is perfect whereas butterflies prefer very shallow water. Make sure your water sources do not become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Whether you have a few pots of herbs and flowers on a condo balcony or a stream buffer along an agricultural field, you can help pollinators perform their vital role in producing our food! To learn more, check out www.pollinator.org and for information specific to Project Wingspan, contact Michael Retterer at [email protected]
Please visit the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District at soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us and find us on Facebook and Instagram, too.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.delawareswcd.org.