The hills are alive – with native pollinators!

By: Christine Souza, California Country Magazine
July/August 2011

Larry Massa, a fifth-generation cattle rancher from Glenn County, is now seeing spots. Dotting the landscape at his Willows ranch are colorful wildflowers teeming with pollinators, including native bees.

When Massa arrived in Glenn County nearly 40 years ago, the hillsides were carpeted in yellow and blue wildflowers. As time went on, the amount of wildflowers—and, therefore, the number of native pollinators—diminished.

“I wanted to see if we could get some of the wildflowers back,” Massa said.

To establish wildflowers and attract native pollinators, Massa agreed to take part in a three-year conservation project that is a partnership of the Xerces Society, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, and Glenn County Resource Conservation District.

“By creating these habitats, Larry is providing a steady supply of food for native pollinators,” said Rob Vlach, NRCS district conservationist. “We hope native wildflowers will provide a beautiful addition to the landscape and support other wildlife, such as songbirds, butterflies and other beneficial insects. We believe the end result will be a greater abundance and diversity of native bees.”

Last year, during the first year of the project, the plot at Massa’s ranch brought a diverse mix of colorful wildflowers and humming bees. This spring, as the plot experienced its second year, wildflowers competed with clovers, encouraging researchers to plant more flowers this fall. Year three may paint an entirely different picture.

Although the Xerces Society has other pollinator projects taking place on agricultural land, Massa’s was the first targeted at rangeland to determine if the project is compatible with livestock.

“The cattle went through and grazed what they wanted. They wanted the grass species I was planting and left the flowers,” Massa said. “I think this could be a compatible practice for ranchers.”

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