From the Field: Partnering for Pollinators

Jan. 7, 2019
Partnering for Pollinators. Photo credit: Gabriel Karns
From the Field:  Partnering for Pollinators

In continuing efforts to help the declining Monarch butterfly population, the Save Our Monarchs Foundation (SOM) is creating Monarch butterfly and other pollinator habitat along TransCanada Corporation rights-of-way in central Ohio’s Three Creeks Metro Park.  The planting results from a strong partnership between TransCanada, Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative, and the School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University. 

Monarch habitat consists of bio-diverse landscapes that contain milkweed and other native nectar and pollen sources, have a nearby water source, and are protected from disturbance factors such as untimely mowing.  Habitat for Monarchs also makes excellent habitat for other vital and diminishing species, including other native butterflies and bees, and migratory and ground-nesting birds.

Photo caption:  Randall Gilbert of Save Our Monarch and 6 members of TransCanada's team pause for a picture in the pipeline rights-of-way with Gabe Karns.

The site at Three Creeks Metro Park had a new underground pipeline installed in spring 2018, and the temporary workspace on either side of the pipe zone represented an opportunity to do something positive for pollinators on public property and in the public eye.  Collaborators formulated an ideal over-seeding mixture that would eventually out-compete the more traditional seeding mixture necessary to stabilize bare ground and loose soil and provide quality pollinator habitat through enhanced native plant diversity in the long-term.  As such, the TransCanada pipeline rights-of-way fits into SOM’s Corridors for Pollinators program, which works with utility companies and other rights-of-way holders to manage assets as pollinator habitat while also taking care of business and regulatory needs.

Careful watch on the weather forecast targeted the week after Thanksgiving as a suitable seeding window, and conditions did not disappoint.  A couple harsh mid-November frosts knocked back the existing vegetation and moist soil conditions made for optimal seed-to-soil contact in the dormant season frost seeding.  Many hands made for light work as over a dozen individuals from Columbus Metro Parks, Ohio State University, Save our Monarchs Foundation, and TransCanada assisted with the planting and discussed future conservation efforts amidst the blustery freezing temperatures.  The custom seed mix consisting of 34 wildflower species and spanning a combined bloom window of April—October was blended by Conservation Blueprint.

Photo caption: Seeds being poured into hand spreader used in the dormant frost seeding.

What makes this particular pollinator initiative especially exciting is the opportunity to monitor the site in the near- and mid-term to see how successfully the seed mixture establishes and what species of pollinators benefit.  Lizzie Wilson, Environmental Science major and undergraduate honor’s student, will be collecting data for the next two growing seasons to determine which native plants in the seed mixture are successful, what quality of pollinator habitat is provided, and which native pollinators show up to utilize the resulting pollen, nectar, and host plant resources necessary for some species to successfully reproduce—the Monarch butterfly being a perfect example of the latter!  Gabriel Karns, faculty member of the Terrestrial Wildlife Ecology Laboratory, will serve as Lizzie’s advisor and is excited for the near-campus opportunity for undergraduate involvement.  A good portion of his research efforts have focused on utility rights-of-way vegetation management and opportunities for collaborative habitat conservation within working landscapes.  This site is a huge win for all involved—even as a relatively small-scale site, the Three Creeks site has tremendous strategic importance as a high-visibility demonstration site as well as a testament to successful partner collaboration.

Photo caption: Lizzie Wilson throwing seed for pollinators.

Photo caption: TransCanada employees and partners ensuring full coverage on the pollinator planting.

Contributing author:  Gabe Karns, Visiting Assistant Professor, School of Environment and Natural Resources