On May 11, 1858, the United States of America welcomed its 32nd state to the union – 18 million acres of prairie, 21 million acres of wetlands, 31.5 million acres of forests, and 11,842 lakes, now lovingly known as Minnesota. Over the years, Minnesota has grown and prospered. Settlers drained wetlands to make way for cities and farms, and loggers felled towering pines, which they floated down the rivers to become houses, boats and stables. During the 1970’s, a wave of environmentalism swept through the U.S. and, in the years since then, we’ve mostly towed the line, maintaining roughly 50% of the original wetland and forest acreage in our state to support a vibrant culture and economy of tourism, hunting, and outdoor recreation. What, though, became of the prairie?
Today, a mere 250,000 acres of native prairie remains in the state of Minnesota. It is a little more than 1% of the total that once covered the land. As the prairie has vanished, so too we have seen the decline of native bees, butterflies, grassland birds and, in many places, clean water. But, there is still a spark of hope.
Over the past 15 years, a new wave of environmentalism has swept the state – much of it focused on individual action and locally led change. People have come to realize that their backyards, whether large or small, can be part of the solution. The Pledge to Plant led by West Metro Water Alliance, Metro Blooms, Wild Ones, Blue Thumb, and Monarch Joint Venture, calls on Minnesotan’s to plant 10,000 native gardens for pollinators and clean water by the year 2020. In Washington County, watershed management organizations offer plant grants and cost-share assistance to area residents to transform their yards with raingardens, prairies, and native shoreline plantings. “You’ll never find a bigger advocate for water quality than someone who has built a raingarden,” say Mike Isensee, the new administrator for the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District. “Once you’ve watched the water soak into your raingarden rather than flowing to storm sewers, and see the butterflies and birds attracted to the native plants, you become a believer in the difference that one individual can make.”
Pollinator Friendly Alliance, a citizen-led organization that got its start in Washington County, has also worked with local cities and counties in recent years to pass resolutions to increase habitat and eliminate the use of systemic insecticides. To date there are 39 “Pollinator-Friendly” communities in Minnesota, including the local communities of Lake Elmo, Mahtomedi, Maplewood, Scandia, Stillwater, Stillwater Twp, and White Bear Lake; as well as Chisago County, Washington County, and the Ramsey County Parks Department. Minneapolis and St. Paul have also passed pollinator-friendly resolutions.
In addition, Pollinator Friendly Alliance is working with Washington Conservation District, Washington County Parks, and local communities to restore pocket prairies for pollinator habitat. One example is the Pollinators Landing at Mulberry Creek in Stillwater (corner of Owens St. N. and Laurel St. W.), where the Alliance worked with the city and community partners to create a bee-lawn, seeded with self heal, white dutch clover, creeping fescues and hard fescues, as well as a native flower garden containing wild bergamot, rough blazingstar, yellow headed coneflower, Joe-Pye weed, compass plant, oxe-eye, New England aster, fragrant hyssop, heartleaf Golden Alexander, meadow rue, butterfly weed, and creeping sedum.
Another nearby project to visit is the “Butterfly Sanctuary” at Pine Point Regional Park, which contains 14 acres of prairie planted with 2000 butterfly host and nectar plants. The butterfly-friendly planting was a partnership between Pollinator Friendly Alliance, Washington County Parks, Washington Conservation District, Monarch Joint Venture, and Wild Ones.
Next month, Pollinator Friendly Alliance will hold its annual POLLI*NATION FESTIVAL on Sunday, Aug. 25, from noon-6pm at Kieran’s Kitchen in Minneapolis (1404 Marshall Street), with proceeds dedicated to building a new sanctuary for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee, a federally-listed endangered species. The event will include food and drink, music and dance, stilt walkers, art and science interactives, honey, butterflies, bees, and games. Tickets and more info at pollinationfest.eventbrite.com.
In my own yard, I dream of a home where the bees and butterflies roam. We’ve steadily worked to replace lawn with herbs and native plants and have witnessed firsthand the number of bees and birds that come to visit as a result. There’s a buzzy hum from the wild rose bushes and it’s gotten me to wondering. What would Minnesota look like with a few more acres of prairie?
To sign-up for a free site visit in Washington County or ask about cost-share grants: www.mnwcd.org.
Learn about pollinators and how to protect them: www.pollinatorfriendly.org.
Learn about prairies in Minnesota: www.dnr.state.mn.us/prairierestoration.