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COLDWATER, MI -- Now that spring has finally made its way to the tri-state area, we can look at gardening again and planting those precious seeds. Birds and bugs are heading back to our area and the time is now to plan for some ways to support those wildlife. The Branch County Soil District conducted a workshop on why preparing habitats is important, resources offered by various organizations to assist the property owner and how to create a safe haven for those important members of the world.
 The first point brought up was the decline of pollinators and the impact it has on the food supply. Bees are a very important part of the pollinator program and most people think of honeybees as the most essential. While they do play an important role, they are not “local” as such so native bees are the ones that need to be encouraged. In addition, it was shared that 85 percent of all plants exist because of bees, a third of all the food we eat depends upon pollinators and more than 100 crops grown in the United States are pollinated by bees including the clover and alfalfa that feeds various livestock.
There are 4000 species of native bees in the U.S. and they are not usually aggressive as is commonly thought. It was also revealed that native plants need native bees. So what is the cause of the decline of the bees? There were numerous reasons given with some being popular discussion starters while others were new to the attendees.
Pesticide exposure has been a commonly held opinion as to the loss of the bees throughout the Midwest. Unfortunately, those chemicals are not developed to destroy just one insect; they are developed to eliminate the “pests” and in the process, “good” bugs like the bees are affected. Disease is another known problem for the bees.
Those lesser known issues included the loss of habitat and the diminished number of native plants with flowering types and diversity in the plant life. Climate change was also discussed.
Different groups that can assist the landowner in their pursuit of native plantings were presented with benefits from each one. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) offers cost sharing and yearly incentives to “remove or lessen the negative effects of agriculture and encourage positive effects of agriculture.” The FSA is program run under the umbrella of the USDA.
Another program under the USDA is the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) who also offers financial rewards. They have cost sharing “to mitigate resource concerns in agriculture, farmstead and forests.” There are times when the two agencies work together and provide resources for property owners to assist in prescribed burns, herbaceous weed treatments and forest stand improvements along with many other options and practices.
The DNR has grants for landowners who are interested in restoring grassland habitats. There is a hunter access program where private land is leased for public use. They also support the pheasant programs.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a service called “Partners for Fish and Wildlife” and they provide resources, opportunities to network and local assistance for natural projects.
The final presentation was tips on developing a quality habitat for the numerous life forms that live there. With the underground eco-system being considered, it has been found that native plants tend to have deeper roots causing a natural breaking up of the soil to allow for water, microbial bodies, and other members of the world under our feet to easily move around. Various heights of grasses were encouraged as well as flowering plants for pollinating. Many lists of acceptable plants are found on the Internet through all of the organizations named here.
Now that the weather is more conducive, landscaping will be in full swing with opportunities to add those wonderful plants that will bring the pollinators to your backyard, garden and field.

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