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Pollinator Conservation Program Digest – December 2019

By Kelly Gill and Stephanie Frischie on 19. December 2019
Kelly Gill and Stephanie Frischie

Select monthly updates from our team of restoration ecologists, entomologists, plant ecologists, and researchers.

The Xerces Society manages the largest pollinator conservation program in the world. We work with farmers, gardeners, land managers, agency staff, and others to create habitat for bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects—and hundreds of thousands of acres of flower-rich habitat have been planted. We also offer certifications: Bee Better Certification for farmers and food companies who are committed to supporting pollinator conservation in agricultural lands, and Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA certifications for cities and colleges dedicated to making the world safer for pollinators.

With staff based in more than a dozen states, and offering a diverse array of expertise, it can be challenging to summarize the impactful work being done by our team of restoration ecologists, entomologists, plant ecologists, and researchers. Therefore, we have compiled select pollinator conservation program updates into monthly digests. December's featured staff offer a long-range view of habitat projects, from the planning and seeding stages, to current successes. In each of these stories, the ongoing work and great partnerships required to achieve positive conservation outcomes is apparent. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of these efforts!



Conservation Planning: The “Before” Picture

Kelly Gill, Senior Pollinator Conservation Specialist, Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Region

Habitat restoration does not happen overnight. It's often a long process, as successful conservation requires in-depth planning to ensure the results of our habitat work are meaningful, functional, and long-lasting. The Xerces Society’s staff work on conservation planning year-round, even on those cold and dreary winter days when bees, butterflies, and blooms are out of sight (but not out of mind). Our habitat projects are often featured in our blogs, media posts, and publications and—as our readers and followers know—the stories are often accompanied by beautiful pictures of flowering meadows and hedgerows, healthy aquatic habitats, and close-up shots of insects and other arthropods. While these images showcase the important and extensive work Xerces does to get habitat on the ground, many of you may wonder, “What did it look like before?” Usually the answer is not pretty!

Whether it’s a farm, park, preserve, or roadside, when we start work at a new site we begin by assessing current conditions. This allows us to evaluate existing habitat features, determine the largest deficiencies, and decide how to prioritize conservation actions. Evaluation and inventory of a site and its characteristics is an important step that leads to the end product you often see in our photos, but it is a part of the process that is often behind the scenes.


Three people stand outdoors in the rain. They are wearing heavy coats, and are in conversation.
Conservation planning doesn't end with the growing season. As the planting window for 2019 comes to an end, Xerces and NRCS staff (including the author, pictured, right) work on improving habitat assessment tools to guide the development of conservation plans and next year’s habitat projects. Conservation partnerships between Xerces and the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provide opportunities to continue to expand habitat for pollinators and other native species. (Photo: Xerces Society / Mace Vaughan)


In 2019, I worked on habitat projects in seven states to develop pollinator conservation plans for 38 new sites and provide continued support for 12 ongoing projects. These site-specific plans include a variety of different practices that can be used to improve habitat. Some highlights from my 2019 projects include large-scale invasive species removal projects, 140 acres of diverse wildflowers meadows, and 3,500 feet of native, flowering hedgerows or borders slated to be installed over the next few years. The pictures below feature the transformation of recently planted sites (“after”) and snapshots of what some new sites look like now—because every extreme makeover needs a “before” shot.

Stay tuned for updates on these sites and other habitat restoration projects in 2020!


On the left is a flower-laden meadow of many colors, labeled "Connecticut, second year of establishment." On the right is a bare field, labeled "New Jersey, planted fall 2019."
The New Jersey site on the right may not look like much now, but these fields have been worked on all season to prepare seed beds for a dormant seeding this fall, and will be revisited in spring 2020 to evaluate germination and provide continued assistance with management recommendations during the establishment phase. Soon enough, it will look similar to the Connecticut meadow pictured on the left. This land is in its second year of establishment, and is beginning to showcase a diversity of blooming plants that support pollinators and other wild species. (Photos: left, John Wolchesky; right, Xerces Society / Kelly Gill)



Expanding Pollinator Habitat on the Farms that Grow Oats for Cheerios

Stephanie Frischie, Agronomist and Native Plant Materials Specialist

As 2019 comes to a close, we mark the end of the third year of the Cheerios-Xerces Pollinator Habitat Program. This is one of our partnerships with General Mills and the farmers who grow their ingredients. Our goals for this project are to expand pollinator habitat across the farms that grow oats for Cheerios, develop effective seed mixes and practices to establish and maintain pollinator habitat, and measure the persistence of the plants and the presence of pollinators and other beneficial insects in the habitats.

This program includes farms in Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Manitoba, and we will be expanding into Saskatchewan in 2020. I coordinate the program through one-on-one calls with farmers and other partners and quarterly field visits. I visited Manitoba in June and September this year, visiting about a dozen farmers and their habitats. At each farm, I either planned a new project or evaluated an established project. For instance, in September, I met up with Scott Beaton at his farm near Stonewall, MB. We walked along the half-mile long pollinator habitat strip that he had planted in June. It was a chilly, overcast day and we didn’t see any bees out foraging, but at least four species were in bloom in the habitat.

The success of these habitats depends on many partners. Our seed partners provide both native and tame (domesticated) species so we can custom design the habitat for the needs of each farm. We have sown over 78 native species and 10 tame species, working with nine companies. In June, I toured the production sites at Skinner Native Seeds, owned by a family whose involvement in Manitoba prairie horticulture stretches back almost a century. We have worked with them to create some of the pollinator mixes for these habitat projects.

In addition to Skinner Native Seeds, we have many great local partners in Manitoba. With Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiative (MBFI), we are trialing methods for establishing pollinator plants in old pasture. Researchers from the University of Manitoba are studying the insects and the plants in over 20 of our habitat plantings and I am very eager to see what their results tell us about the impact of the habitats to support pollinators. In the coming winter months, I’ll be visiting watershed offices and regenerative farms in Saskatchewan to promote the program and recruit over 1,000 more acres of on-farm pollinator habitat. By this time next year, there will be 3,000 acres of pollinator habitat in the Northern Great Plains thanks to these partnerships.


A collaged collection of photos depicts farmland, people talking in a lab, bees on flowers, and more.
Seeds, bees, farmers, flowers, researchers, seed companies, and cereal boxes are all part of the success of the Xerces-Cheerios Pollinator Habitat Program. (Photos: Xerces Society / Stephanie Frischie)



Further Reading

Learn more about the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation Program



As a Xerces Society Pollinator Conservation Specialist and a Partner Biologist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kelly provides technical assistance on pollinator conservation in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast region. This work includes planning, designing, installing, and managing habitat for pollinators. Kelly also works with staff and research partners to develop technical guidelines and provide training on pollinator conservation practices.

Based in northwest Indiana, Stephanie provides pollinator habitat expertise to farms in Canada and the U.S. She also works with the native seed industry and researchers to plan and develop seed supply of important plant species for restoration of insect habitat. Before joining Xerces, Stephanie conducted research on the potential of native cover crops in Spanish olive orchards at Semillas Silvestres, S.L. through the Native Seed Science, Technology and Conservation (NASSTEC) grant.

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