Exploring The Last Green Valley: We can help protect our pollinators

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Exploring The Last Green Valley: We can help protect our pollinators

I am pretty sure my neighbors drive by our house and wonder when we’re going to mow the lawn. The fact is, we care more about the wildflowers and important pollinating insects making our yard and fields home than we care about how it looks to other folks. Pollinators are in decline — that much is known for sure. The extent of the decline, however, is unclear as we have often overlooked these insects. But there is so much we can do in our own yards to help.

I do mow our lawn about once a week; however, I carefully avoid any wildflower coming up and blooming. Our lawn is full of dandelions, buttercups, asters and other wildflowers. These plants provide early spring nectar for bees and other pollinating insects, and I am happy to provide the blooms for them.

In just a few years of careful mowing, what started as a few, beautiful lavender asters is now an area 30-feet in diameter dominating our front lawn. We proudly keep it un-mowed until they have flowered and set seed thus, enhancing the patch to increase in size each year.

We also have a shaded side yard where I let autumn leaves molder into the grass and don’t mow until late summer. The leaves provide good habitat for wintering insects, and the tall wispy grass provides daytime resting areas for adult fireflies. Fireflies spend most of their lives — up to two years — as grubs living underground. Once they reach adulthood, their primary short-lived focus is on reproduction. I don’t use chemical pesticides or herbicides on our lawn that would kill the grubs and other beneficial insects.

In my office is a handy “Guide to Attracting Pollinators to your Garden”, published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It puts the importance of pollinators in perspective and offers helpful tips. These are just a few of the reasons why pollinators are important:

Pollinators are nearly as important as sunlight, soil and water to the reproductive success of over 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants.

They are crucial to the production of most fruits, nuts, and berries on which people and wildlife depend.

More than 150 food crops in the United States depend on pollinators, including blueberries, apples, oranges, squash, tomatoes and almonds. These crops are valued at more than $15 billion.

There are several other sources for information on how you can help our important insects and pollinators in your yard and garden. One of my first stops for facts and material for this weekly column is our own state of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Its website is very deep (sorry, I couldn’t resist) with information and links to external sources. Here is the link to the CT DEEP information on pollinators: https://bit.ly/2RdzfZ2.

For homeowners like you and me, one of the most important things we can do is provide beneficial plants for our pollinators. The CT DEEP site has several helpful external links to other sources, including The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The Xerces Society has a helpful guide to our region’s native plants that are highly attractive to pollinators and are well-suited for small-scale plantings in gardens.

The plants, shrubs and trees listed can usually be purchased as seeds or transplants. The guide lists them by bloom period, so you can select plants that bloom early in the season as well as those that bloom mid- to late-season, thereby providing a steady source of food for pollinators throughout the growing season.

Just the other day I read a report that the Connecticut Department of Transportation has been taking advantage of the large swaths of open space along our state highways to designate “conservation areas” with minimal mowing and planting of shrubs and wildflowers favored by our native pollinators. There are eight designated areas with plans to add 51 new locations along off-ramps and medians. Invasive, non-native plants will be removed, and native grass and plants allowed to grow.

This move by the CT DOT comes as part of the implementation of Connecticut General Assembly Senate Bill 231 – An Act Concerning Pollinator Health “to implement state and private actions that are aimed at protecting pollinator populations through restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids and the increase and preservation of pollinator habitats.” The bill was passed in 2016 and requires DOT to keep pollinator habitat in mind and, when feasible, support the habitat through plantings.

For those not familiar with neonicotinoids they are a type of pesticide that is used to control insects, especially sap feeding insects, such as aphids. The problem with this class of pesticides is some neonicotinoids used on flowering plants also negatively impact bee populations — the very insect we rely on for pollination of many important plants and crops critical to our food supply.

The health of pollinators should be a concern for all of us. We rely on them for beautiful garden blooms to feed our soul and a healthy supply of fruits and vegetables to feed our nation. They in turn depend on us to make thoughtful and informed decisions when we consider management of the plants so vital to us all.

I hope you’ll join me in learning more about our important pollinators and finding ways to protect them and ensure the pollinating they have been doing for millions of years continues unabated. All inhabitants of our world from the smallest insect to the largest mammal (including humans) are part of an interconnected ecosystem. Each living organism on this mother ship called Earth is important to our present and future.

We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. I hope you’ll join me and others as we find new ways to enjoy, care for and pass it on.

Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org.

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