Grant to fund planting of bee-friendly flora in Missouri
Posted September 8
JOPLIN, Mo. — It is a bleak time to be a bee, and that's bad news for humans. The insects' population is declining in North America, the result of shrinking habitats and pesticide use, raising alarm about the future of species that play a key role in the production of fruits and vegetables.
The threat to bees has prompted an outcry from scientific organizations, environmental activists and grocery stores. Whole Foods Market, a health food store, drew attention in 2013 with a photograph of a produce section stripped of vegetables and fruits that require pollination. Without apples, onions, avocados, carrots and over half of all produce items carried by the grocery chain, the shelves seemed bare.
Advocates say one way to safeguard North American bees is to plant native flora that functions as a feeding station for wild bees. One effort to expand bees' forage options is coming to Joplin. This fall, members of the Chert Glades chapter of Missouri Master Naturalists will plant the pollinator-friendly vegetation on 3 acres of land adjacent to Shoal Creek at the Redings Mill Bridge.
Volunteers will plant native forbs, grasses and sedges using a $5,000 grant from the North American Bee Care Program, a bee education and research center funded agriculture and pharmaceutical giant Bayer.
For several years, the group, led by member Donna Cole, has worked to clear the area of invasive plants. They say the project will affect the entire ecosystem all the way to the top of the food chain.
"What's good for the insects is good for the birds, and is good for us, too," Erin Miller, president of the Chert Glades chapter, told The Joplin Globe . In fact, the project started out with an eye toward restoring native plants. The volunteers applied for a bee-related grant once they realized that their project would also benefit the bees.
Funded by a $500,000 grant from Bayer, the broader Feed a Bee initiative aims to seed so-called pollinator forage areas in every American state by the end of 2018.
The pollinator zone south of Joplin will be one of 71 projects funded in 34 states and the District of Columbia since the grant's launch two years ago.
The project will restore a glade on the north bank of Shoal Creek to its condition before the arrival of invasive species.
"There's a lot of glade habitat there that has been disturbed," said Val Frankoski, butterfly coordinator for the Chert Glades chapter. "While there are quite a few flowers that show up, it is overgrown with trees and invasive plants."
Removing the harmful vegetation created an alarming spectacle for some park visitors, but volunteers reassured them that felling non-native trees would benefit the ecosystem.
"A lot of people saw we were cutting down trees, and it made them nervous," Frankoski said. "We're just trying to reveal what the place originally was."
Missouri is home to about 450 species of bee, but like the United States it has seen a marked decline of its pollinators.
"Wild pollinators in certain regions, especially bees and butterflies, are being threatened by a variety of factors," said Sir Robert Watson, vice chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a coalition of United Nations members, in a prepared statement. "Their decline is primarily due to changes in land use, intensive agricultural practices and pesticide use, alien invasive species, diseases and pests, and climate change."
Pollinators contribute roughly $3 billion to the U.S. economy every year, according to a 2006 study by Cornell University and the Xerxes Society. Consumers see the benefit nearly every time they bite into a fruit or vegetable. Roughly three-quarters of food-producing plants are pollinated by bees, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Parks aren't the only bulwarks against declining bee populations — homeowners also have a role to play, according to the department. By planting perennial native wildflower gardens with numerous species, preferably plants like grayhead coneflower, golden Alexanders, leadplant and purple prairie clover, anyone can make the world better for bees.
Starting at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 23, volunteers will plant native flora in the Wildcat Glades Nature Area next to the Redings Mill Bridge. They will add seeds to the restored glade area in December.