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!

The State of Pollinators in Iowa

The State of Pollinators in Iowa

Special Note: This blog post is based on a presentation made by former PRI Watersheds and Wildlife Coordinator David Stein. Editing and Design by PRI PR & Marketing Coordinator Mike Kellner.

Pollinators in Iowa are disappearing at an alarming rate due to climate change, disappearing habitat, pesticide use, and disease.

Prior to European settlement, about 85% of Iowa was covered with prairies, grasslands, wetlands, and forests. Now, less than one-tenth of a percent of Iowa’s original prairies are left while the rest of its land has been plowed for cultivation, cleared for development, or otherwise altered creating a lack of habitat, food, and water for pollinators in our state. In a sense, Iowa’s once-lush landscape has become a virtual desert, where more often than not, there is no food or water for pollinators sometimes as far as the eye can see.

Pre-Settlement Pollinator Habitat in Iowa
Pre-Settlement Pollinator and Wildlife Habitat in Iowa
Former land cover can give us insight into how to best currently manage and restore pollinator and wildlife habitat
Post Settlement Pollinator Habitat in Iowa
Post Settlement Pollinator and Wildlife Habitat in Iowa
Wetlands, forests, and most significantly, prairies and grasslands have all seen reductions resulting in habitat loss.  
Just Some of the Historic Trends in Pollinator Decline in Iowa
ORIGINAL SPECIES LIST

  •  Skippers —47 Species
  • Hairstreaks and Blues — 25 Species
  • White, Yellow, Orange Butterflies — 11 Species
  • Brush-Footed Butterflies — 38 Species
  • Swallowtails — 6 Species
  • Metalmark Butterflies —1 Species
MOST RECENT SURVEY

  • Skippers 27 Species — (43% loss)
  • Hairstreaks and Blues — 14 Species (44% loss)
  • White, Yellow, Orange Butterflies — 6 Species (45% loss)
  • Brush-Footed Butterflies — 25 Species (35% loss)
  • Swallowtails — 4 Species (33% loss)
  • Metalmark Butterflies —  0 Species (100% loss; not seen since 1930)
Some Species You Will Never See Again
Other Threatened and Endangered Butterflies
Acadian Hairstreak
Aphrodite Fritillary
Banded Hairstreak
Black Dash
Broad Winged Skipper
Byssus Skipper
Columbine Duskywing
Common Ringlet
Common Roadside Skipper
Compton Tortoiseshell
Crossline Skipper
Dakota Skipper
Dion Skipper
Dreamy Duskywing

Dusted Skipper
Edward’s Hairstreak
Eyed Brown
Gorgone Checkerspot
Gray Comma
Harvester
Hayhurst’s Scallopwing
Henry’s Elfin
Hickory Hairstreak
Horace’s Duskywing
Juniper Hairstreak
Juvenal’s Duskywing
Leonard’s Skipper
Little Glassywing

Long Dash
Meadow Fritillary
Melissa Blue
Monarch
Mottled Duskywing
Mulberry Wing
Northern Broken Dash
Northern Pearly Eye
Ottoe Skipper
Ozark Baltimore
Pawnee Skipper
Pepper & Salt Skipper
Pipevine Swallowtail
Poweshiek Skipperling

 

Purplish Copper
Reakirt’s Blue
Regal Fritillary
Silver Bordered Fritillary
Silvery Blue
Sleepy Duskywing
Southern Cloudywing
Striped Hairstreak
Swamp Metalmark
Swarthy Skipper
Two Spotted Skipper
White M Hairstreak
Wild Indigo Duskywing
Zabulon Skipper
Zebra Swallowtail
Threatened and Endangered Bumble Bees — They Are Still Here, Let’s Work Together to Protect Them While We Still Can!
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee

American Bumble Bee

American Bumble Bee

Plains Bumble Bee

Plains Bumble Bee

Yellow Bumble Bee

Yellow Bumble Bee

Steps We All Can Take to Reduce Pollinator Decline
• Learn from the past
• Plant a lot of flowers of different species
• Use native plants
• Reintroduce rare plants
• Don’t waste space on turf
• Remove invasive species
• Diversify agriculture
• Treat ecosystems as vital infrastructure
Native Plant Diversity
Diversified Agriculture
Visit with our Watersheds and Wildlife program to learn more about helping pollinators by planting the right native host plants for for food and nectar, using alternative lawn seed mixes, best practices for nesting and much more! 

Thank You, David Stein!

Thank You, David Stein!

Prairie Rivers of Iowa's David Stein talks about native plants, pollinator and wildlife restoration during a Prairie Rivers of Iowa field day in 2019.

Last month marked the departure of our pollinator and native plant expert David Stein as he heads back to work in his home state, our neighbors to the north, Minnesota. We are missing his passion and work ethic, but our Watersheds and Wildlife program continues as always and efforts are well underway to find his replacement.

David contributed to a large part of Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s continued efforts to impact public awareness and implementation of conservation practices to create native plant, pollinator and wildlife habitat to help improve soil and water quality while protecting the endangered rusty patched bumble bee and other species of greatest conservation need in Iowa. He was instrumental in creating a native seed bank and the development of many acres of habitat.

I recently visited with David as he reflected upon his work here at Prairie Rivers and his hopes for the future state of native habitat and pollinators in Iowa.

What do you feel was your biggest accomplishment while working at PRI?
There are a lot! I think both completing the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant and setting the stage for PRI’s next series of habitat/conservation projects was probably the biggest accomplishment during my time here. On top of that, raising awareness of pollinator issues and educating interested landowners on how to install habitat was also a major highlight of my work. Re-discovering the rusty patched bumble bee, and mapping out new sightings was definitely a high point for me too.

How do you feel the health of native habitat and pollinators is currently in Iowa? What progress has been made? Where do we need to go from here?
 We have a long way to go, but I think we’re in a better place than we were a few years ago.  Our outreach and education efforts, especially our work with counties, cities and landowners have definitely gotten the ball rolling, but a more hands-on-deck is always better. A coordinated conservation and restoration effort between non-profits, municipalities, farmers, landowners, homeowners, businesses, and interested individuals is really the best and only way forward to reverse pollinator and habitat decline.

What’s next for you?
Next, I’ll be working up at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in St. Paul. I’ll be able to be involved in habitat projects all throughout the state and be able to meet with a bunch of different stakeholders that are doing some amazing restoration work.

How has working at PRI enriched your professional life?
Working here has definitely enriched my professional life. I’ve been able to improve my own knowledge and passion regarding pollinator and wildlife conservation and directly apply it in real-time. I’ve also been able to connect and network with so many amazing stakeholders and partners from a variety of backgrounds. I know that I’ll be able to use these skills and lessons throughout my professional life moving forward.

Endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Species Found in Story County

Endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Species Found in Story County

7/30/2021 (Ames, Iowa) — An endangered rusty patched bumble bee was recently found in Ames, Iowa by Prairie Rivers of Iowa Watersheds and Wildlife Coordinator David Stein. This is significant as it is the first photographed find in Ames since the last verified sighting occurred back in 2018.

“I am beyond excited we were able to find such a rare species, especially after a few years of not having any verified records,” said Stein. “The Ames and Boone population of rusty patched bumble bees is smaller and more isolated than those in Eastern Iowa. They’re on the edge of its natural range making rescue and conservation efforts for them in Central Iowa vital,” Stein relates.

Rusty patched bumble bee found in Ames, Iowa

On January 10, 2017, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service placed Bombus affinis, commonly known as the rusty patched bumble bee, as the first bee species in the continental United States on the endangered species list. The species has declined by about 87% during the last 20 years and now only inhabits 0.1% of their original range. According to Stein, the main drivers for the decline are habitat loss, pesticide use and pathogens.

As a major part of our programming efforts, Prairie Rivers of Iowa is working with landowners, local government and other organizations to restore bumble bee, other pollinator and wildlife habitat. “Now that we know that the rusty patched bumble bee is still here and where its range might extend, we are stepping up our outreach and educational efforts to insure more habitat is in place,” Stein explains.

Prairie Rivers has pollinator garden planning services available to landowners throughout the year and seasonally operates a free native seed bank. Another related effort to encourage Ames citizens to plant native vegetation and restore habitat is the city’s cost share rebate available through their Smart Watersheds program. “This is exciting news. We enjoy working with Prairie Rivers and their pollinator program to increase native vegetation and habitat throughout Ames, including in our parks and storm water projects,” says City of Ames Municipal Engineer Tracy Peterson.

According to Stein, “Planting their favorite flowers along with several species that can bloom between March and October is necessary to care for the rusty patched bumble bee. They have an affinity for Joe-Pye weed, bee balm and both yellow and anise hyssop and seem to prefer areas near rivers and streams.”

Watersheds and Wildlife Summer 2021 Newsletter

Watersheds and Wildlife Summer 2021 Newsletter

Watersheds & Wildlife Summer 2021 Newsletter

Thank you all for joining us on the newest edition of the Watersheds and Wildlife Newsletter.  As usual, I’m here to give a general update on the work and status of our team’s work over the last few months. We have been hard at work in terms of public outreach, especially since everything is opening back up post-pandemic.  Click here to read the entire newsletter featuring the latest news from our Watersheds and Wildlife Program!