Great River Greening’s Work on the Pollinator Issue

Insect pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and wasps, are an important part of food production for humans and wildlife, and for plant reproduction in Minnesota and the world. Unfortunately, pollinator populations in the U.S. have been falling for decades. Both the Minnesota state legislature and the White House have issued official policy that prioritizes this issue for all of us.

Vegetation restoration and pollinator management are intricately related. In an effort to merge the best science from both fields, and also have a broad public impact stemming from today’s unprecedented public interest, Great River Greening has formed two working partnerships that combine elements of pollinator habitat, research, and citizen engagement. Funding partners so far have included State of Minnesota, Union Pacific Foundation, South Washington Watershed District, City of Mendota Heights, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Monarch Butterfly Conservation Partnership

Led by Great River Greening, a large partnership of conservation organizations and government agencies (including U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and County Parks) are working together to address the plight of the Monarch butterfly through coordinated and targeted restoration/enhancement work across the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metropolitan Area and adjacent Anoka Sandplain in east-central Minnesota. Private match dollars will help us to leverage a recent $110,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, one of 20 grants recently awarded for this topic, and the only one in Minnesota.

Habitat Restoration: Many targeted projects include areas formally cropped or otherwise disturbed, which offer limited nectar or larval food resources for the Monarch butterfly. We will restore 1343 acres of prairie, savanna and shoreland habitat through site prep, seeding of a diverse native seed mix (rich in milkweed and Monarch nectar plants), and subsequent management to ensure restoration efforts are successful and persist.

Habitat Enhancement: Many project areas harbor existing natural habitat or have been the focus of restoration efforts in the past, but are currently suboptimal as habitat for the Monarch butterfly. We will address these needs by:

  • Inter-seeding milkweed and nectar plant seed and/or planting native plugs into established restorations and degraded sites to enhance habitats for Monarch butterflies. We will procure (and in some cases collect) native milkweed and nectar seed and plant plugs from local native plant nurseries.
  • Conducting invasive species control efforts (buckthorn control, etc.) to diminish or eliminate populations that threaten the integrity of sites and their use by Monarchs.
  • Conducting prescribed fire in prairie and oak savanna habitats in line with Minnesota state-established pollinator guidelines to enhance floral display for Monarchs and maintain habitat health.
  • Undertaking other habitat management practices (e.g., conservation haying) that are likely to benefit the species on select sites.

Million Milkweed Initiative and Volunteer Events: We will make efficient use of funds by utilizing Great River Greening’s extensive network of volunteers to meet two challenges before us:

  • Building the short-term supply of milkweed seed and plants – A survey of existing native plant/seed nurseries suggested a potential bottleneck in the supply of some preferred milkweed seed and plants. We will engage volunteers in the collection of milkweed seed in 2016 and 2017 that will be cleaned and made available for inter-seeding, or grown into plugs by local native plant nurseries for planting.
  • Planting milkweed and nectar plants at project sites – We will engage 250 people in volunteer planting events at selected sites that will enhance habitat and also build community awareness about Monarch butterfly declines.

Citizen Engagement in Pollinator Monitoring and Prairie Enhancement

A collaboration of Great River Greening, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and Maplewood Nature Center will provide a suite of engagement opportunities for citizens to actively learn about pollinators, restoration, and their relationship, ranging from citizen science monitoring to K-12 school outings with expert interpretation, to restoration volunteers being introduced to pollinator conservation through plugging of pollinator friendly prairie plants and bumble bee identification. Private match dollars will help us to leverage a recent $140,000 grant from the State of Minnesota.

Activities vary by the restoration site.

At Fish Creek Open Space, Maplewood, Xerces Society will lead the pollinator and bumble bee monitoring including a 150-person citizen science program and submit data to web-based Bumble Bee Watch. Maplewood Nature Center will lead and design an interpretation program for 500 K-12 students and others, engaging them in pollinator observation and photography, restoration, and other activities. Great River Greening will conduct prairie enhancement including plugging pollinator-friendly forbs with 50 volunteers.

At South Washington Conservation Corridor, Inver Grove Heights, Great River Greening will implement haying on distinct plots, collect data on plant diversity, spring forbs, bloom coverage, and soil nitrogen levels on hayed and un-hayed plots; statistically analyze the results and prepare a report. Xerces Society will design and conduct research comparing pollinator abundance, diversity, and foraging patterns on hayed and un-hayed plots, analyze the results, and with Great River Greening prepare a report on the effects of haying. These reports will help refine haying as a prairie management tool in Minnesota, and its effects on plants and pollinators.

At Pilot Knob Hill, Mendota Heights, Great River Greening will collect data on the effect of burning and grazing on plant diversity, spring forbs, bloom coverage, and soil nitrogen levels, and enhance the site by plugging bumble bee-friendly plants with 20 volunteers. Xerces Society will implement spring to fall bumble bee monitoring including focused searches for the rusty patch bumble bee and other rare Minnesota species. Together, data will be evaluated, and a case study report prepared.

Pollinators in Agricultural Landscapes

Through our Watersheds Program, Great River Greening works with willing landowners and farmers to implement voluntary best management practices (BMP) that protect and restore habitat for insect pollinators. These efforts are critical for pollinator survival and reproduction and include integrating practices such as planting native plant buffers, adding flowering plants to the landscape, and minimized tillage and precision pesticide and fertilizer applications. Great River Greening works with Soil and Water Conservation District offices in providing restoration and technical expertise, engagement activities by reaching out to farmers and urban residents, organizing field days to demonstrate practices, and grant writing skills to raise funds for implementation.

Seven Mile Creek Watershed Partnership: Seven Mile Creek watershed drains water from prime Nicollet County farmland, and then through a popular county park before emptying into the Minnesota River just north of Mankato. Over the next four years, partnering with the Nicollet Soil and Water Conservation District, GRG will work towards elimination of the bacteria impairment in Seven Mile Creek, reduce total suspended sediment and nitrates entering the stream by 40% and by 25%, respectively.

Sand Creek: Sand Creek drains farmland in Rice, Le Sueur, and Scott counties. Great River Greening provides Sand Creek partners with comprehensive project development services for both targeted outreach to a diverse set of riparian landowners and for full-scale watershed (e.g., terrestrial and riparian habitat) restoration planning and BMP implementation.