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#Fridaysonthefarm: Scouts Plant Pollinator Habitat and Learn Life Lessons

#Fridaysonthefarm: Scouts Plant Pollinator Habitat Web HeaderStory by Laura Crowell, NRCS Iowa; photos by NRCS and Laura Crowell, NRCS Iowa

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.

This Friday, we visit the newest outdoor classroom at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in Western Iowa - five acres of pollinator habitat planted by scouts and local partners.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Scouts Plant Pollinator Habitat Web Map


An Outdoor Classroom

The Little Sioux Scout Ranch, nestled in the ecologically unique and scenic Loess Hills in Western Iowa, offers camping, hiking and scouting opportunities to over 1,500 youth each summer.

This season, ranch staff and local partners worked side-by-side with Cub and Boy scouts to plant habitat for migrating flocks of monarch butterflies as well as native bees and other pollinators.

“Scouting is all about teaching and giving life lessons the scouts can actually touch and feel," says Mike Evano, program director at Little Sioux Scout Ranch.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Scouts Plant Pollinator Habitat Web Photo 1


"This is something they can come out here to experience, watch the butterflies and other insects, and understand that seeds turned into all of this." Evano says. "And that’s a real unique education opportunity.”

Pollinator Planning

NRCS and Pheasants Forever staffs worked with scouting officials to find suitable sites for the habitat, identify the appropriate seeding mixes and determine planting dates.

Planning efforts started more than a year before any seed was planted, says Jackie Kragel, NRCS district conservationist in Onawa, Iowa.

“We visited a variety of sites, looking at the soil types, existing vegetation and drainage,” says Kragel. “We recommended a mix of 60 different forbs native to these soil types. And these plants are going to help with all the different critters, whether they are insects or mammals or the birds that feed on the insects. This will help sustain a healthy ecosystem.”

#Fridaysonthefarm: Scouts Plant Pollinator Habitat Web Photo 2


The ranch needed the right conditions for successful habitat development, but also a location that would provide a visual impact. A big section of the habitat is located in a “bowl” between hill ridges, directly across from some main cabins and meeting locations. “We wanted the scouts to be aware that this is something special and something different,” Evano says.

Determining a planting date was also a crucial factor in the planning process.

“We worked closely with NRCS to not only figure out what seed to plant and how to best get that seed in the ground, but also when to plant. We wanted to plant all the areas in one day, which took lots of planning and partnerships,” Evano says.

Thankfully the weather cooperated during a major scouting event, so the scouts could be involved with planting the pollinator project. “We wanted the scouts to see the planting process so we could talk about what we were doing and why," explains Evano. "It was a real win for the scouts and for wildlife."

Better Together

While NRCS provided much of the technical and planning assistance, many groups combined resources to help pay for the seed and planting, including DuPont Pioneer, Bayer Bee Care, Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, Monarch Joint Venture, local soil and water conservation districts, and the Loess Hills Alliance. Pheasants Forever was a key contributor to the project through its Youth Pollinator Habitat Program.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Scouts Plant Pollinator Habitat Web Photo 3


“The program’s objectives are to increase awareness about declining pollinator populations, educate the general public on the importance of pollinator habitat and establish quality pollinator habitat across the country,” says Nicholas Salick, a Pheasants Forever farm bill wildlife biologist located in Logan, Iowa. “The Little Sioux project is a great example of how this program strives to provide training on how to plan, plant, and manage a pollinator project from start to finish.”

Long-term Stewardship

According to Kragel and NRCS, planting a pollinator habitat plot is just the beginning. 

“You can’t just seed pollinator habitat, walk away, and expect it to be beautiful overnight. You need to be in it for the long haul,” says Kragel.

Kragel will work with ranch staff beyond the initial habitat planting, and the ranch staff will involve Boy Scout campers in the pollinator plot maintenance. “This will provide us the chance to continue teaching our scouts about the importance of taking care of the land around them," Evano says, "and showing them how to do that."

Find more information about pollinators and pollinator habitat on the NRCS website.

Join the Conversation

Follow the #Fridaysonthefarm and other voluntary conservation stories on @USDA_NRCS Twitter and @USDA Facebook. View the interactive ESRI storymap of this #Fridaysonthefarm feature.