“Bee” the Change and Help Rice County Pollinators

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Bees are all the buzz in Rice County, thanks in part to a grant we received from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR).  In May of 2020, the Rice Soil and Water Conservation District $20,000 to help property owners in Northfield with establishing pollinator habitat in their yards. 

The pilot program, called Lawns to Legumes, has a focus on restoring habitat for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, which is an endangered species. Historically, this bumble bee was commonly found throughout the upper Midwest and the eastern United States. Today it is only found in isolated areas and its numbers have dwindled.

Declining habitat is a key concern for pollinators like the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee, Monarch butterfly, and other insects like them. Programs like this not only aim to increase pollinator habitat but also help educate residents about the need for bee-friendly areas. 

In the Northfield project, the Rice SWCD partnered with Barb Bolan and Nancy Schumacher from the SE MN Prairie Partners Chapter of Wild Ones to get the grant started. Dianne Angell from St. Olaf College and Nancy Braker from Carleton College also helped by providing technical assistance to landowners on their potential projects. 

Despite the challenges of starting a project during a pandemic, twenty people were awarded funding to install pollinator habitat.  Most of the projects were completed in 2021, and it didn’t take long for the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to find the new habitat.  We were even able to document the Rusty Patched Bumble Bees on some of the locations!

Landowners had the option of planting native wildflower gardens, native shrubs that were highly attractive to pollinators, or they could convert their existing lawn into a “bee” lawn.

Due to the success of this and other projects around the state, the BWSR has been able to continue the program, and more funding is expected to be available in 2023.  There are two options available through the program.  The first is Demonstration Neighborhood grants, which is what we received in Northfield, and the second is Individual grants, which are available to anyone interested in a project on their property. 

Landowners who live in the cities of Faribault, Morristown, Lonsdale, and the other small towns of Rice County can apply for the Demonstration Neighborhood grants by contacting our office. But first, you need to start a conversation with your neighbors. Find others who like to garden and would like to help our local pollinators. It takes some local organizing, but a patchwork of quality, micro habitats can have a significant impact on species like the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee.

If anyone is interested in creating pollinator habitat in Rice County, they can reach out to staff at Rice Soil and Water Conservation District for more information. Feel free to contact our office at 507-332-5408. You can also learn more about prairie and native plant restoration on our website at www.riceswcd.org/prairie. Until then, I hope everyone sees lots of bees and butterflies this summer, and remember, you can “Bee the Change!”

Steve Pahs is the District Manager with the Rice Soil & Water Conservation District. Contact Steve with your questions about conservation practices and programs at 507-332-5408.

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