Ames Pollinator-Friendly Practices Pilot Project Completed

Ames Pollinator-Friendly Practices Pilot Project Completed

How can homeowners in Ames be encouraged to increase pollinator-friendly practices in their yards? That was the question addressed by former Prairie Rivers of Iowa Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Coordinator Shellie Orngard in a recently completed pilot project using Community Based Social Marketing strategies. Now that the pilot is completed, the project will move forward in 2023 to explore ways to apply what was learned to increase pollinator habitat along Iowa’s Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway.

Community Based Social Marketing was developed by Canadian psychology professor Doug McKenzie-Moher, author of Fostering Sustainable Behavior. It is used in developing and implementing community programs that make use of scientific knowledge of human behavior in effecting change. Community programs such as composting and conserving water and energy have used it to increase participation.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 70 to 80 percent of Iowa was once covered by prairie, producing rich agricultural soil and a lush environment for pollinators. Now, with 90 percent of Iowa’s land in agricultural production, less than one percent of Iowa’s prairie remains, simultaneously reducing pollinator habitat. “Doing this project I learned strategies to encourage pollinator-friendly practices that can be employed along Iowa’s byways,” says Orngard. “We are now exploring applying these strategies to make the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway a pollinator-friendly byway from the Mississippi to the Missouri Rivers. Some of Iowa’s other 13 byways have also expressed interest.”

Visitors to Jennett Heritage Area prairie near Nevada Iowa during Prairie Rivers Bees and Berries Family Adventure Day
Urban Pollinator Garden

While a number of groups (including Prairie Rivers) have focused on encouraging farmers, other large landowners, and local governments to improve pollinator habitat, this project will also include urban areas, businesses, and homeowners.

An initial survey was conducted to determine the perceived barriers and benefits of creating a pollinator garden. The results show that homeowners can face some big barriers such as knowing what types of plants to grow that provide diverse and useful habitat during all seasons. Additionally, by implementing pollinator-friendly practices, homeowners may, in some cases, go against societal norms of having a yard consisting primarily of well-groomed turf.

This project focused on strategies to encourage a paradigm shift in what landowners consider desirable, resulting in such practices as reducing pesticide and herbicide use, letting grass grow longer before mowing, and leaving leaves for overwintering insects.

To encourage year-round pollinator-friendly practices, Orngard worked with Xerces Society Farm Bill Pollinator Conservation Planner/NRCS Partner Biologist Sarah Nizzi to create The Pollinator Friendly Yard: A Seasonal Guide informational flyer. Homeowners were asked to commit to increasing their pollinator-friendly practices according to their comfort level.

As a final strategy, Orngard worked with local artist Naomi Friend to create a charming yard sign homeowners can use to educate passersby about why some leaves are being left to provide habitat for overwintering insects.

Pollinator Garden Sign

Pollinator-friendly yard signs are available by contacting our office.

Orngard summarizes the pilot project as a success that will guide Prairie Rivers Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway and Watersheds and Wildlife programs, local community partners, homeowners, other byways, and communities throughout Iowa as they move forward with education and on-the-ground practices geared towards improving the environment for pollinators in our state.

This project was made possible in part by Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program (REAP-CEP) funding along with coaching support from the E Resources Group’s Dr. Jean Eells, a frequent Prairie Rivers of Iowa collaborator, and Rebecca Christoffel. The REAP-CEP funding also allowed Orngard to attend an online workshop by Doug McKenzie-Moher on Community-Based Social Marketing and Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and the Iowa Conservation Education Coalition Winter Workshop.

Shellie Orngard also contributed to the content of this article.

A Full Plate: Little Things Deserve Our Thanks

A Full Plate: Little Things Deserve Our Thanks

We’re dipping into the season of gratitude. Although it’s definitely cliché, I feel like many of us who sniffed at the idea of owning a gratitude journal have inevitably found ourselves thankful for small, everyday things more often than we did a few years ago. The truth is, the sum of many small things makes a big difference, and this rings true for the natural world as well.

A Full Thanksgiving Meal

The graphic above depicts some typical Thanksgiving Day food that either depends upon or may benefit from animal pollination, as well as pest control from wasps, birds, and bats. It is not an exhaustive list!

Who runs the world? Bugs!

E. O. Wilson said it best: insects are the “little things that run the world”, and that includes pollinators. Pollinators are not only key to the survival of about 87% of Earth’s flowering plant species; they are also a major food source for many animals, and around 35% of our world’s food crops depend upon them. The food we cook for a Thanksgiving meal, and many of our other meals, comes from all over the world. It is consequently imperative to appreciate and protect the biodiversity of the entire planet.

We rely on squash bees in our gardens to pollinate our pumpkins, and tropical flies and beetles to pollinate coffee and spice plants such as nutmeg, anise, and cardamom. If you hunt for a wild turkey this fall, know that about 10% of its diet was comprised of insects (and it required even more when it was a poult). And while not all of our food or cultivars require animal pollination, we clearly need all kinds of insects to run the world, from South American flies we will probably never notice or see, to the monarchs that bless our backyard gardens in summer.

Milkweed Beetle
Squash Bees
Swallowtail Butterfly

A Value of Their Own

Pollinators, and all wildlife for that matter, have intrinsic value, and should not be valued purely based on the goods and services they provide for humans. Pollinators and other wildlife have played key roles in nature and agriculture long before we realized it, and will continue to do so after we forget about them (but let’s try not to forget). The purpose of this article is to bring to light just how dependent we really are on all “the little things”. Whether we choose to value pollinators, insects, and nature in general or not, we are sustained by the air, plants, and diverse food groups they support. So at your next Thanksgiving meal, give a mulled wine toast to the little things!

Sources for percentages:

  • Ollerton J, Winfree R, and Tarrant S (2011) How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals?
  • Klein A.-M., Vaissière B. E., Cane J. H., Steffan-Dewenter I., Cunningham S. A., Kremen C., & Tscharntke, T (2007) Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops.

  • Brigida D, Mizejewski D (2021) NWF Blog: 6 Tips for Feeding Wild Turkeys with Your Garden.

Pollinators/beneficial insects listed in the Thanksgiving food graphic were informed in part by the Pollinator Partnership.

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Participating in Iowa Gives Green – A Day of Giving

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Participating in Iowa Gives Green – A Day of Giving

This article was produced in conjunction with the Iowa Environmental Council

The natural beauty of Iowa is a gift to behold. We have a picturesque landscape like no other. We have incredible soils. We’ve had a stable climate. We’ve had diverse flora and fauna in the tallgrass prairie. The Iowa of today may look different than it did 200 years ago, but our state remains a beauteous marvel that deserves to be celebrated.

Too often in Iowa, we’ve put productivity ahead of beauty. We’ve put efficiency ahead of diversity. On August 3 nearly 30 environmental organizations across the state, including Prairie Rivers of Iowa and the Iowa Environmental Council will participate in Iowa Gives Green, a day of giving that shows Iowans’ commitment to our environmental promise.

PRI board member and founder Erv Klaas teaching Iowa youth water quality testing

Prairie Rivers of Iowa board member and founder Erv Klaas working with youth to teach water quality monitoring as part of our efforts to address water quality issues in the state. 

This environmentally-focused day of giving empowers diverse groups to work together to support conservation, preservation, and recreation, and to engage Iowans on the same day with intentional action to support those efforts.

Gifts to Prairie Rivers Iowa and other organizations participating in Iowa Gives Green clean and protect Iowa’s waterways.  During Iowa Gives Green and throughout the month of August a gift to Prairie Rivers will have twice the impact due to a matching gift by one of its founders and well-known and respected champion for the environment ISU Professor Emeritus of Animal Ecology Erv Klaas.

Ag leadership has been touting the same ‘solutions’ for Iowa water quality, without results to show for it. Our environmental and conservation groups have ideas to bring to the table. Your support will help these groups implement new ideas and practices to deliver real results.

  • protect and invest in habitat and landscapes. Iowa is one of the most changed landscapes on the planet. By supporting the efforts of groups that are preserving and rebuilding ecosystems through land management and conservancy helps, you can help to build rural economies and critical pollinator and wildlife habitat.
  • provide recreation and education opportunities. Iowa offers incredible recreation opportunities, but our state ranks one of the lowest in the nation for public land. Your support can help these organizations to expand and improve our recreational spaces.
  • take action on climate. Extreme weather events in Iowa are no longer the exception, they are the norm — hotter summers, intense but erratic rain events, or the December 2021 tornadoes. We need to address climate change together, now. With your support, organizations across Iowa can implement their plans and help you to get involved.
  • Grow clean sources of energy. Our state is a wind energy leader and solar power is poised to grow exponentially. These groups seek to improve the landscape for clean energy development, so our state can transition to true, 100% clean energy 24/7.
  • Address environmental injustices in Iowa. Right here at home, the majority burden of pollution from fossil fuels damages the health and well-being of lower-income and minority communities. Drinking water across the state is threatened by polluting chemicals, lead pipes, and aging infrastructure. Rural Iowans struggle to gain access to transportation improvements, recycling initiatives, and other environmental efforts. All Iowans stand to benefit when we address historical injustices.

Iowa Gives Green helps to create an environmental movement that makes access to Iowa’s natural beauty available to all Iowans regardless of their economic status or the communities where they live. Join us in celebrating and supporting Iowa’s environment on August 3 for Iowa Gives Green by coming together to show how much Iowans truly care about our environment at www.iowagivesgreen.org.

Iowa Gives Green/Erv Klaas Challenge
The Incredible Diversity of Iowa Moths and Butterflies

The Incredible Diversity of Iowa Moths and Butterflies

Did you know that National Moth Week is celebrated in July? Read up on Iowa’s native moths and butterflies to be ready to celebrate Moth Week right, from July 23rd to 31st!

Iowa is home to about 110 butterfly species, and over 2,000 moth species! Butterflies and moths are related: both are in the insect order Lepidoptera, which roughly translates to “scaled wing”. Most of us think of moths as the ugly stepsisters of butterflies, but this is not true! In fact, I would call moths the sleeping beauties of our natural world (they are beauties that are often active while we sleep). Don’t continue to sleep on the incredible beauty of Iowa moths, and get to know our butterflies better!

Giant Silk Moths
If you’re lucky enough to have seen a luna moth, then you’ve seen a member of the giant silk moth group, called the Saturniidae family (Saturnia is the daughter of Saturn in Greek mythology). This group also includes the cecropia moth, named after Cecrops, a half-man-half-snake king in Greek mythology. If you squint at the top outer corner of the cecropia moth’s front wing by the dark eyespot, you can see what appears to be a profile of a snake’s head. Lastly, the luna and cecropia moths don’t eat as adults – they have no mouths! They only eat as caterpillars, which is common in the mysterious world of moths.

Cecropia Moth

Hawk Moths and Hummingbird Moths
Aptly named, these moths look and fly like humming birds, hovering while drinking nectar with their straw-like mouths (called a proboscis). Some also mimic bumble bees, like the snowberry clearwing pictured on the right! Belonging to the family Sphingidae, these moths can be diurnal (day-active) or nocturnal (night-active). Some species don’t eat as adults. For those that do, they are important pollinators for prairie orchid and primrose species!

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

Owlet and Underwing Moths
Most of these moths are the experts of disguise, using drab colors on their front wings to blend in with bark and dead leaves. They are in the family Noctuidae, the largest family of moths in North America. Underwing moths, however, have a secret weapon: their back wings can have bright colors that hide under the front wings, and can be flashed to startle a predator during escape!

Sweetheart Underwing Moth

Tiger Moths
When wooly bear caterpillars mature, they are called tiger moths, also known as the family Erebidae. These moths can have bright colors decorated with geometric lines, consequently nicknamed “tiger” moths. I saw the tiger moth pictured here the last week of June at Ada Hayden park! This species of tiger moth is called the “reversed haploa moth” due to the fact that it has two color variations: either geometric lines on the front wings with plain white back wings, or the reverse: plain white front wings with geometric back wings.

Reversed Haploa Moth

Brush-footed Butterflies
The family Nymphalidae, commonly called the brush-footed group, is one of the most popular groups of butterflies with monarchs, regal fritillaries, and painted ladies included in its ranks. Why are they called brush-foots? Their front legs are very small, and kept close to their body (similar to t-rex dinosaurs in my opinion). These front legs aren’t used for walking and are basically reduced to little “brushes”.

Common Buckeye

Swallowtails
While one of the most entrancing butterflies, swallowtails are tough; they overwinter here in Iowa! As caterpillars, this group (which is the family Papilionidae) spin their chrysalises and wait out the winter under dead leaves, giving us another reason to leave areas in our yard undisturbed this fall. The caterpillars of this group can just as awe-inspiring, with some having bright green colors, or eyespots that can make them look like snakes to scare predators away!

Swallowtail Caterpillar

Whites and Sulphurs
This group of butterflies has a charming behavior; they like puddles! Belonging to the Pieridae family, these butterflies are the most likely to be found in a “puddling” group, sucking up extra nutrients in the water. Adult butterflies appear white, yellow, orange, and sometimes have black markings. One of the coolest butterflies in this group is the Olympia marble, a species of special concern in Iowa due to declining numbers. Just look at its metallic markings against snow-white wings!

Olympia Marble

Blues, Coppers, and Hairstreaks
These tiny butterflies are also called gossamer wings, due to the beautiful shimmer that reflects off their wings! These butterflies are a part of the family Lycaenidae, and also love visiting puddles, so don’t let their looks fool you; they are hardcore. Continuing that thought: the species Satyrium edwardsii, or Edward’s hairstreak, has some wild behavior as a caterpillar. At night it feeds on oak leaves, and during the day it rests in active ant nests for protection! This species is also a species of special concern in Iowa due to declining numbers.

Hairstreak

Skippers
If you can’t tell if an insect is a butterfly or a moth, you may be looking at a skipper. Skippers are in the family Hesperiidae, and have chunky bodies with hooked, hockey-stick-shaped antennae. They appear carefree as they skip through the air. From the side, their wings give them a triangular, shark-fin shape. Out of the two butterfly species in Iowa considered endangered, one is a skipper, called the Dakota skipper. It requires high-quality prairie remnants, a habitat extremely hard to find in Iowa.

Skipper

While many people love butterflies, these insects don’t always receive the respect they deserve being diverse and important wildlife. They are more than nature’s gems-they are important pollinators that have fun behaviors to appreciate! Moths are often forgotten, despite the fact that they can be bigger and more colorful than many butterfly species, and have the coolest adaptations, such as flashes of color and mouth-less adults! The world of moths and butterflies is not just a pretty one; it’s a wild one!

Take it Easy for Pollinators This Spring!

Take it Easy for Pollinators This Spring!

Signs of spring and warmer weather can be energizing, motivating us to start spring-cleaning our homes inside and out. However, some pollinators are still resting in their winter homes, and cleaning up your lawn too soon can be detrimental to the new generation. For some spring lawn care tips that support pollinators continue reading below!

Pollinators either migrate to warmer climates or go through a phase called “diapause” to survive the harsh winters of Iowa.

Diapause is similar to hibernation in which an insect pauses any development and stays in a kind of suspended animation until conditions are more favorable. There may be many insects in your yard that are still hibernating under leaves or inside flower stems waiting for warmer weather in order to emerge. Rushing to clean up all your leaves and brush now can disturb and damage these pollinators so it is best to leave some “messy” areas in your yard as long as possible. Waiting until the end of May, a time of year when day temperatures consistently reach 50 F (usually), is best. Taking it easy and waiting until later in the spring to tidy up is the easiest way to support pollinators at home!

One specific way to protect pollinators until they emerge is to leave the leaves that have accumulated in your yard. Bumble bee queens especially love to overwinter under layers of leaves as it provides them an insulating layer that protects them from the wind and cold. While you may not want leaves covering your entire yard this spring, leaving the leaves in your garden beds, in particular, can not only protect the pollinators resting there but may also provide you with some composting and weed-suppressing services. Additionally, leaving last year’s flower stems in the garden and not cutting them back until late May will give most stem-nesting bees a chance to emerge as well.

An additional option to support pollinators is to participate in No Mow May, a campaign started by Plantlife in the UK and spearheaded here in the US by Bee City USA, run by the Xerces Society. The goal of No Mow May is to keep your mower in the garage until June and allow floral resources such as dandelions and clover to spring up in your yard providing early pollinators with food resources. Waiting to mow also means the longer grass is able to provide more cover for other insects needing shelter.

While we all want to support pollinators and enjoy them in our yards this year, it can be difficult to allow your lawn to look a bit wilder and to your neighbors, it may look a bit messy. They may not understand that your yard isn’t a mess – it’s a habitat for pollinators! There is much pressure to maintain the traditional, yet outdated, yard of green turf grass containing little to no diversity. To address these concerns we provide the following solutions:

  • Start taking it easy on your backyard
    If your front lawn simply must remain manicured, set aside your back yard to leave the leaves and flower stems and not mow until May. This will still help pollinators and make the pollinator habitat less visible from the street.
  • Create a “Cozy Corner”
    If you can’t put aside your entire back yard, try leaving an unused area in the yard undisturbed. You can create a “cozy corner” for pollinators throughout the coming growing season by leaving the leaf litter there undisturbed and by adding twigs, branches, and other brush to the area as you clean up. This cozy corner can provide shelter for not only insect pollinators, but birds as well! Adding layers of brush to your cozy corner will ensure it serves as an excellent shelter for birds and a fantastic nesting site for pollinators, especially for overwintering. It is also a fun family activity that can be built upon throughout the year!
  • Educate your neighbors
    Let your neighbors know that your yard is providing a specific and important purpose and that it may mean they will be able to enjoy more butterflies and bees in their garden this summer. Here’s a link to free signs created by the Xerces Society you can print out and place in your yard. Spread the word about how you are helping pollinators. Ask others to join you!

There are many ways to support pollinators at home. Many people are starting the fun process of gardening for the foraging needs of pollinators by growing native flowers. However, few people think about the nesting resources that pollinators require. Be mindful with yard clean-up by taking it easy this spring and finding an area to leave undisturbed throughout the year. It will aid in pollinator emergence and provide them with nesting sites. Have a happy and relaxing spring!