Native Pollinators:  Protection and Enhancement

Western bumblebee. Photo: John Stuart.
Western bumblebee. Photo: John Stuart.

This April I had the great luck to be part of a native pollinators program conducted by the Nez Perce people in Lapwai, Idaho. The goal of the program was to increase the awareness of the value of native pollinators to the success of the native plant communities of the Pacific Northwest. The program was the first annual Bees and Butterfly celebration.

Butterflies have been an important part of the Nez Perce people culture forever. The native word for butterfly is Lapwai. The Nez Perce main community is located on the Lapwai creek. They have many stories around butterflies and bees and their value in sustaining the plants and the products that the native people harvest.

At this celebration I was exposed to the many resources that are available to landowners in the Pacific Northwest to assist them in protecting and enhancing native pollinators.

The most important resource that a forest land owner family can develop is the awareness and knowledge of the native pollinators that use their property now, or could use it if the conditions were right for their survival.

We know of the honey bee and its value. But we often forget that it is not native and many of our native plants have flowers that cannot be pollinated by the honey bee.

Angel wing butterfly. Photo: Carol Mack.
Angel wing butterfly. Photo: Carol Mack.

The list of native pollinators is long and diverse, including groups such as butterflies, bumblebees and bees, moths, flies, wasps, ants, bats, hummingbirds and beetles. This Idaho State University website shows the diversity in our native bees alone.

Now think of all the other insects and animals that your native trees, flowers and shrubs rely on to produce seeds and fruit, and you can see that your woodlands, farm and prairie can be critical habitat for thousands of pollinators.

These areas do not need to be large. Planting native shrubs, vines, ground covers and herbaceous plants in an open area left by root rot or windfall will provide the needed flowers for nectar and pollen for the adults and the vegetative materials for the larval of insects that use your lands. Do not forget the native grasses. Their flowers are not very showy but they are very valuable to many native pollinators.

There are some simple cultural practices that can enhance the native pollinator population. Limit pesticide use and apply only when the plants are not flowering, or at least when the pollinators are not actively feeding. Time all mowing of roadside vegetation to when the plants are finished flowering.

This relationship between native pollinators and native plants is closely linked. The survival of both is vital to the health and sustainability of the total plant community that family forest land owners enjoy and value.

By Jim Freed, forest products specialist, WSU Extension,  freedj@wsu.edu

Web resources to help landowners learn more about native pollinators:

Native Bees. If you click on each of the photos on the left of the screen you will see list and information on each of these native pollinators.

Insect Images. A great site for general insect information.

USDA Plants.  this site has a list of native plants.  It can be used to identify plants you have or to develop a list of plants you want to have on your lands.

Pollinators  This is a list from Idaho State University of the research and writing on native insects.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation — Pacific Northwest Pollinators. This is a great organization that is working to protect and enhance native populations of insects valuable to ecosystems.

Oregon State University. This is a OSU bulletin on native bumble bees.  It has some good links to it.

Native Bees poster. This poster developed by the Pollinator partnership is a great visual showing all of our native bees.

USDA — Native Pollinators.  A very good overview of native pollinators with many references of value at the end of the downloadable document.