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Helping Pollinators Help Idaho Agriculture

By Nayre Herrera, Pathways Student

Bee on Blue FlaxJune 22 through 28, 2020 is National Pollinator Week! The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Idaho is highlighting some of its ongoing programs and projects that support and protect pollinators.

At our NRCS Caldwell Field Office, our staff has established a pollinator demonstration garden on site three years ago. The garden is home for at least nine different species of pollinator-friendly plants including the native Indian Blanket Flower (Gaillardia pulchella) and the Big Fruit Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa). These species not only bring bright colors to the edge of the property where the garden is located but also provide food and shelter for pollinator friends like bees and hummingbirds. An important detail was the planting of various perennials to maximize the amount of time that the garden could support pollinators throughout the year.

Field Office staff have used the garden to show customers and students how simple providing pollinator habitat can be. It doesn’t require a lot of ground; it doesn’t require fancy imported plants, and often, it doesn’t need a lot of water after it establishes itself.

Are you interested in learning about ways you can help pollinators? Click here to access a variety of resources that will guide you in creating your own pollinator haven at home or on other areas of your operation. Your actions to help pollinators will not only support their survival but also contribute to the overall productivity of your land thanks to tPalmer's penstemon he improved habitat for other beneficial plants and animals.

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) estimates that there are more than 400 different species of pollinators in Idaho alone, including native bees, birds, bats, and other insects. It is because of this extensive diversity of pollinators that we experience a great diversity of plants. It is estimated that about 75 percent of crop plants are pollinated by billions of insects every year.

Derek Tilley, Manager of the Aberdeen Plant Materials Center, knows about the importance of pollinators and a few of the ongoing projects pertaining to pollinators. “There are about 400 native bee species in Idaho, and while the European honey bee receives the most attention because of its grand contribution to pollinating crops across the nation, there is a huge variety of native bees that live here in Idaho’s rangelands and forests,” Tilley said.

When asked about the threats to these native pollinators, he noted, “Our native bees live in the ground and they live alone or in small groups. Unlike honeybees, our little native bees can only travel a few hundred yards to forage for food, so when a wildfire passes through and destroys all the vegetation in the area, these bees suffer from the lack of food. Here at the Aberdeen Plant Materials Center, we are conducting research on which species of plants can establish themselves quickly after a wildfire, how well they compete against invasive grasses and which species have a slower rate at which they burn.”

TheBlue Flax findings of this project will be used to help revegetate areas that have recently experienced a wildfire in a way that supports crucial pollinators.

The Aberdeen Center is also conducting a study to identify the best management and propagation practices for milkweed, a plant that is crucial to the life cycle of Monarch butterflies. Milkweed is the only place a female Monarch will lay her eggs and the only food that the caterpillar form will eat.

“Not a lot is known about how to propagate and manage milkweed habitat, so we have a project going on to better understand how to establish and conserve habitat for Monarchs,” said Tilley.

The 90% decline in the population numbers of Monarch butterflies over the past two decades has received global attention. These iconic butterflies are famous for their seasonal migration from the United States and Canada south to California and Mexico – a distance of more than 3,000 miles.

The Caldwell Field Office and the Aberdeen Plant Materials Center just two of the places where NRCS staff are working to help promote, protect and support Idaho’s native pollinators. Across the state, our field staff team up with both producers and partners to educate about the benefits of local pollinators as well as help them establish pollinator habitats on their farms and ranches.

Happy National Pollinator Week!