Sunday, April 18, 2021
Catering to the Pollinators
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Lupine bloom early in the season so overwintering pollinators, including mason, miner and carpenter bees, humming birds and butterflies, are quite fond of it.
   
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

The bees in the Wood River Valley are emerging from hibernation a little early this year.

They’re leaving the cluster in which they huddled around the queen, keeping their heads pointed inwards while they vibrate for warmth. They’ll continue to feed on the honey they stored in their hive, as the only color that could possibly attract them right now are red and yellow ski parkas schussing down Baldy.

But, as soon as the wildflowers begin emerging—and Kristin Fletcher says she’s seen an Anderson Buttercup as early as March 10--they will make a beeline for their sweet pollen.

 
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Ketchum resident Steve Hobbs is among those who have taken a keen interest in bees.
 

Bees and other pollinators are essential to the survival of our native plants and the food we eat, says Keri York. But we’ve lost up to 60 percent of our native pollinators in some places due to loss of habitat, climate change and other issues.

To help reverse that, the Wood River Land Trust has created a pollinator initiative to provide education and restoration practices locally.

Last summer, for instance, Land Trust volunteers planted such native wildflowers as Black-eyed Susan, currant, cinquefoil, globe mallow, penstemon, phlox and showy milkweed in a 10-acre Pollinator Meadow on what used to be a cow pasture at Colorado Gulch southwest of Hailey.

The hope is to bring awareness to the plight of native pollinators like Monarch butterflies, which have declined by 90 percent in the West.

And it apparently is paying off, although it wasn’t readily apparent.

“Last summer I was hand watering plants, discouraged because I hadn’t seen as many bees as I had hoped for,” said York. “As I kneeled, I heard this hum from the meadow. It was incredible not to see the activity but to hear it. It was an amazing auditory experience and made me feel much better about what we were doing. It was so exciting.”

To get people excited about joining in the effort—and, perhaps, even creating pollinator gardens in their own yards, the Land Trust invited Heather Holm, author of “Pollinators of Native Plants,” “Bees” and “Wasps” to address Wood River Valley residents by Zoom.

Holm, a biologist living in Minnetonka, Minn., recounted that less than 5 percent of the original land cover remains in many suburban cities in the United States, making it harder and harder for pollinators to make a living.

Her town addressed this by restoring a neglected lot that once was part of a streetcar line. Its main point of interest was an ugly power line. It was deemed unbuildable by the city.

Ninety percent of the plants on the site were non-native so volunteers removed and replaced them with a variety of diverse native plants. They used a watershed grant to remove invasive Siberia elms, while leaving wood on the ground to provide cavities in rotting wood for bees. And they left standing a dead tree for nesting sites for birds and bees like Mason bees, which dwell in cavities.

“We did some snow seeding of grasses and native forbs like goldenrod, blazing star, aster and hyssop—when you scatter seed on top of the snow you can see how well you’re broadcasting the seed,” she said. “It’s good to snow seed right before a snowstorm, though. Otherwise, the seed can get consumed by birds.

Two years later, then land is healing and pollinators and birds are swarming to the site.

It’s important to reduce fragmentation by creating green corridors and connected habitat, Holm said. It’s also important to reduce pesticide use and to reduce water and sediment runoff and impervious surfaces.

“A friend of mine put a rain garden in her church parking lot to catch water flowing out of the lot. In Minnesota we need to manage water as we’re getting more rain,” she said.

Holm said it’s important to scrutinize the plants we’re thinking of planting to maximize our effort.

A Gingko tree in Minnesota, for instance, supports zero caterpillars. But a willow tree supports 355 species of caterpillars; a cherry or plum tree, 339; a birch, 329; an oak, 318 and a poplar, 300.

In Idaho, a willow supports 289 caterpillars; a poplar or aspen, 217; cherry or plum, 207; a birch, 185, and an alder, 183.

There are 187 species of bees in Idaho and a third of those are specialists, gravitating towards very specific plants, such as goldenrod.

It’s also important to consider what will be most resilient in climate change, as well as other considerations.

“We planted dogwood and elderberry under power lines because they wouldn’t grow too tall,” Holm said.

Last year, Holm said, they documented two dozen butterflies and 43 species of bees, including the confusing bumblebee, the cuckoo bee and the black bodied ant fly. They also noted the first documented incidence of a colbalt hoverfly in Minnesota and the northernmost sighting of a black thorn wasp.

The Land Trust is working on a pollinator web page on which it will list volunteer opportunities for Pollinator Meadow and offer tips for those who want to plant pollinator gardens. It might, for instance, tell how the National Wildlife Federation has a search tool for pollinators by zip code. Or that a helpful book would be “The Bee Friendly Garden” by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn.

Or that the Snake River Seed Collective and Brothers Grimm Seeds carries local native seed.

It will also offer some helpful observations, said York.

“It’s recommended, for instance, to wait to do spring cleaning outside until temperatures reaches 50 degrees to give pollinators some space,” she said.

“I take a digital kitchen thermometer, stick it in the ground and wait for the soil temperature to reach 50 degrees,” added Holm. “That way the hibernators will emerge and be out of their site before you disturb them.”

DID YOU KNOW?

Hummingbirds serve as pollinators right alongside bees. They love red flowering plants because insects tend to avoid them.

 

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