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Environmental groups partner to highlight pollinators’ crucial role

Workshop will teach property owners how create habitat for bees, butterflies and other insects
La Plata Open Space Conservancy and Mountain Studies Institute and other organizations will host a pollinator workshop Saturday in Bayfield. The goal of the workshop is to give participants a skill set and knowledge that they can apply to build better and more connected pollinator habitat. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

La Plata Open Space Conservancy and Mountain Studies Institute have partnered to hold a new pollinator workshop Saturday in Bayfield to teach La Plata County residents how to preserve and create pollinator habitat at their homes.

The event will bring together local groups and the Xerces Society, an international conservation nonprofit dedicated to pollinators and other invertebrates, to share insect science, gardening tips and the importance of creating pollinator-friendly landscapes in Southwest Colorado.

If you go

The pollinator workshop will take place from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday south of Bayfield. Exact address provided upon RSVP. Register for the free event at lposc.org/event/pollinator-workshop/.

“We are at a point of a global crisis on (the) loss of pollinators, and our food systems really depend on pollinators,” said Amanda Kuenzi, community science director for Mountain Studies Institute. “If we want to stay alive, we have to keep pollinators alive, so it’s a big deal.”

Saturday’s workshop is a collaboration between Mountain Studies Institute, La Plata Open Space Conservancy, Pine River Plants, the Colorado Native Plant Society and the Xerces Society. It will follow World Bee Day this Friday.

The workshop will take place on the conservation easement of Marikay Shellman south of Bayfield. Shellman has spent considerable effort transforming her property into a “pollinator paradise,” said Christy Curd, stewardship director for the La Plata Open Space Conservancy.

“She’s just super passionate and very knowledgeable about pollinator preservation and enhancing pollinator habitat,” Curd said.

Shellman will be one of the speakers at the event and will give participants a tour of her garden so they can see ways to incorporate pollinator-friendly plants into their own gardens.

Joining Shellman will be Curd and Kaitlin Haase, Southwest pollinator conservation specialist for the Xerces Society, who will discuss pollinator diversity, the life histories of pollinators and how they interact with their habitat.

John Wickman, who runs Pine River Plants in Bayfield, will give local gardening recommendations that support pollinators in Southwest Colorado. Kuenzi, who is also chair of the Southwest chapter of the Colorado Native Plant Society, will talk about some of Mountain Studies’ and the Colorado Native Plant Society’s educational and citizen science opportunities, including an invasive plant monitoring project.

Honeybees are just one of Southwest Colorado’s pollinators. One study by researchers from the University of Vermont and University of California found that wild bee populations declined 23% across the U.S. in just five years from 2008 to 2013, largely driven by habitat loss because of agriculture. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

“We really are going let people know that these organizations are out here for them to use as resources,” Kuenzi said.

La Plata Open Space Conservancy hosted a much smaller pollinator event last year, but this year’s workshop marks the first time the nonprofit has partnered with Mountain Studies and outside groups to tackle the pressing issue of declining pollinators.

The pollinator workshop is the second of three in La Plata Open Space Conservancy’s Southwest Stewardship Series, which is supported by a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado.

Pollinators in Southwest Colorado and across the country have increasingly come under threat from a number of sources, including habitat loss, pesticide use, disease and climate change.

Beekeepers in La Plata County have had to combat the Varroa mite, which infects hives and can devastate honeybee colonies, killing hives within 90 days.

But honeybees are in a better position than wild bees, which have seen a dramatic decline in the U.S.

One study by researchers from the University of Vermont and University of California found that wild bee populations declined 23% across the U.S. in just five years, from 2008 to 2013, largely driven by habitat loss because of agriculture.

Pollinator declines are not limited to bees. A March 2021 paper published in Science found that more than 450 butterfly species in the West have declined at a rate of nearly 2% each year over the last four decades as climate change has warmed fall months.

Kuenzi said pollinators are crucial because they underpin agriculture and the global food system.

“If you had a field of some type of produce like peppers or tomatoes, to hand pollinate that would be completely impossible,” she said. “And then pollinators because they visit many, many plants they provide that outcrossing so (plants) avoid genetic bottlenecking.”

Genetic bottlenecking occurs when a population declines because there is not enough genetic diversity.

A 2018 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that pollinators underpin 35% of the global food production, accounting directly for an estimated $235 billion to $577 billion each year.

Though the decline in pollinators is a global issue, area landowners can support pollinators by investing in native plants, Kuenzi said. Introducing participants to native plants and to other species that landowners can plant and pollinators can use is one of the goals of the workshop.

La Plata Open Space Conservancy and Mountain Studies Institute’s pollinator workshop will feature discussions of pollinator diversity and local gardening recommendations, as well as a tour of host Marikay Shellman’s pollinator garden. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

“There are really specific interactions between the native plants that have co-evolved with the pollinators that live here,” she said. “That’s why it’s really important for us to have that palette of (plant) species available because that’s what they’re best suited for.”

Curd said the goal of the workshop is to give participants a skill set and knowledge that they can then bring to their homes and apply to build better and more connected pollinator habitat. Action not awareness will slow the decline of pollinators, she said.

“Knowing how important pollinators are doesn’t do us any good if nobody’s trying to protect them,” she said.

ahannon@durangoherald.com

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