The continued shrinking of pollinator-friendly land and resources has prompted several new initiatives in Washington County to combat a loss of habitat for butterflies, bees, beetles and songbirds.

This summer, the South Washington Watershed District is seeking to improve habitats by expanding areas conducive to pollinator-friendly plants through partnerships with South Washington County Schools, a nonprofit and the city of Woodbury.

One project in Woodbury will convert a mile-long stretch of buried pipeline land along Ojibway Park Road into a pollinator corridor, defined as a large swath of land devoted solely to pollinator plants.

Project partners — which include the watershed district, the environmental nonprofit Great River Greening and Woodbury — hope it provides more much-needed habitat for pollinators in Washington County, said Andy Schilling, watershed restoration specialist with the South Washington Watershed District.

Becca Tucker, Woodbury Pollinator Corridor project manager and an ecologist with Great River Greening, said the corridor also will provide seeds for future corridors.

“We think it’s pretty important because not only will neighborhood residents see the native plants ... but [it] will also provide seeds,” she said.

Great River Greening is looking for 50 volunteers to help plant 5,000 pollinator-friendly plants on the new corridor on May 30.

The other Washington County initiative is a “campus greening project” on the grounds of Lake Middle School and Middleton Elementary School in Woodbury.

The South Washington County Schools, partnering with the watershed district, plans to convert 15 of the schools’ 90 acres into pollinator-friendly prairie area.

Two outdoor classrooms will be built for students to use during nice weather, and students will have the chance to plant over 200 trees across school grounds.

The number of pollinators, which typically use prairie lands as habitats, has declined along the St. Croix River in recent years, researchers say.

“They’re all critical to pollinating not only our flowers, but some of our … crops or fruiting trees that are really an important piece to have out there and have habitat for,” Schilling said.

Dan MacSwain, natural resource coordinator for the county’s Public Works Department, said prairies are home to certain plants that are critical for pollinators — such as milkweed, which monarch butterflies need to survive.

It’s especially important to have pollinator corridors in urban areas, Schilling said. Land in developed areas is fragmented and often can’t naturally support pollinator plants.

And with a decline in pollinator habitats since the early 2000s, he said, the watershed district is trying to do its part to help pollinators thrive.

Schilling said both students and pollinators will benefit from the school project.

“It’s going to dramatically change the look of the site and really increase the educational value of the sites for students and staff … [by] creating an outdoor laboratory for students and also creating real habitat for pollinators on the property itself,” he said.

MacSwain said a variety of changes are needed to increase pollinator habitats in Washington County. In addition to creating new prairie lands, increasing pollinating plants at roadsides or parks and cutting herbicide use can make a difference.

“There’s a lot of different initiatives happening because there is a need to increase the habitat and floral resources” for pollinators, MacSwain said.

“You can’t just think about one space, you’ve got to think about practices and how the land is used, maintained [and] conserved.”

 

Kelly Busche is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.