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Party for pollinators

August 02, 2019 by Jacob Friede

Summertime is the season of fresh produce. When vegetable gardens glow with tomatoes and cucumbers and wild bushes burst with raspberries and blueberries. It’s also the part of the calendar which gets painted with wildflowers washing over the landscape and leaving it lush with color. And for all the season’s bounty and beauty, it’s the butterflies and bees to thank.

Unfortunately, due to loss of habitat, those wild pollinators are in serous decline, putting 30% of all the world’s agricultural products, which depend on them to reproduce, at risk.  

That’s no reason to throw a party. 

That is unless you party like the Oneida County Land and Water Conservation Department.

Last Thursday they held a transplanting party at the native flower garden outside the courthouse in Rhinelander, and it got wild — as in wildflower.  

“We are transplanting seedlings from native wildflowers,” said Baerbel Ehrig, the pollinator project coordinator for the department.   “We sowed the seeds this past fall and then they need to be outside over winter. They need to be covered by snow in order to germinate the best. So now we have a lot of little plants in one small pot and they will be separated into individual pots in order to grow stronger before we can use them in our efforts to create and improve pollinator habitat and lakeshore restoration.”

When ready, the native seedlings will be transplanted into areas throughout Oneida County where invasive species have been removed. This transplanting will create ideal habitat for wild pollinators, like bees and butterflies, and thereby strengthen their species.

“Native wildflowers are the best for them because they are adapted to feed nectar off these flowers,” Ehrig said. “And also, a lot of these flowers provide habitat for hatching the caterpillars to go through their maturing cycles.”

This pollinator project works hand in hand with the department’s aquatic invasive species (AIS) program.

“What better way to tun a stagnant aquatic invasive species invested shoreline into a living habitat. Get those invasives out and plant natives,” Oneida County AIS coordinator Stephanie Boismenue said.

Throughout the season, on various sites throughout Oneida County, Boismenue works to rid shorelines of invasives, like yellow iris and purple loosestrife, which she said turn the shore into a monoculture with no diversity.  

“Eventually our goal is to transplant all of these natives seedlings into those areas to 

create a living shoreline and

restore the ecosystem,” Boismenue said.

Wherever those native plants go, so too will the wild pollinators, and they will thrive there as opposed to an invasive infested area.

“They need a better habitat that’s suited to their needs,” Ehrig said.

Habitat restoration is the key in pollinator recovery. The decline in native wildflowers directly correlates with the decline in wild pollinators, and that decline is sharp.

“In the U.S. we have roughly a 50% decrease of the wild pollinator. That’s bees and butterflies,” Ehrig said.

The Oneida County Land and Water Department is definitely doing their part to buck that trend. Over the years they have collected and transplanted thousands of native seedlings. Ehrig and Boismenue collect the seeds in the fall, from sites restored with natives, sow them in seed frames, and then let Mother Nature take over until they being the transplanting process.

Species of native wildflowers transplanted include: swamp milkweed, cup plant, New England Aster, Yellow cone flower, Golden Alexanders, Lavender hyssop, Hoary vervain, and bee balm.

The end result of the transplanting, whether into a garden, like the one at the courthouse, or onto a shoreline, is a gorgeous collage of color and a healthy habitat for the wild pollinators.

And that’s a reason to party.

Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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