In 2014 the White House released the Presidential Memorandum-Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Interior — who, in turn, direct the United States Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Managment (BLM) — to issue a much-needed document, Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Lands. According to the Forest Service, “This document will guide federal land managers to effectively and efficiently use available resources and engage public and private partnerships in taking action for the conservation and management of pollinators and pollinator habitat on federal lands.” In other words, pollinator health and conservation are now considered a high priority for federal land managers.
Sneezeweed and corn lily blooming at Hinkle Lake in an ungrazed meadow. Historically grazed, these meadows are now recovering.
Steve Fork Meadows in the Red Buttes Wilderness have recovered from a long grazing history.
Ungrazed balsamroot meadow in the high country of the Klamath-Siskiyou.
Wildflowers in an ungrazed meadow in the Klamath-Siskiyou
The meadows pictured above are examples of healthy meadow ecosystems full of flowering native plants that are excellent habitat for native pollinators.
This is good news for pollinators in the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion, where public land surrounds our valleys, canyons, communities, and homes. Those of us who are intimately tied to this landscape and appreciate the “pollination services” that our native bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, beetles, moths, and other insects provide, could see some critical improvements in land management to improve pollinator health.
With the recent occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, public lands grazing has been more widely discussed, and for good reason. Public lands grazing can have damaging impacts to native plant communities, in turn, negatively impacting pollinator populations as well. When wildflowers are eaten down by grazing livestock, or mountain meadows are trampled by stationary cows, pollinator food and habitat is diminished.
Documentation of a livestock- trampled meadow and wetland during the 2015 grazing allotment surveys on the Siskiyou Crest.
Public lands grazing is highly subsidized, and the current fees for 2016 have only increased slightly. The price is calculated through a formula based on per animal unit month (AUM). The BLM gives the definition of an AUM as “the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month. In 2012 the price was $1.35 per month; in 2015 the price was $1.69, and in 2016 the price will now be $2.11 per month. The grazing fees charged on public land are substantially lower than those charged on private land, but the real price of public lands grazing should also include the associated impacts to native plants and pollinators.
Cows in a wildflower meadow on the Siskiyou Crest. Sometimes the only native plants capable of growing in an over-grazed meadow are plants that are not palatable to livestock.
Cows in Cow Creek Glade on the SIskiyou Crest
Cows in the high country of the Siskiyou Crest.
Many nature lovers, ecologists, scientists, and environmentalists have worked for years to reform the public lands grazing system. The Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion is lucky to have Felice Pace, a longtime public lands advocate, directing the Project to Reform Public Lands Grazing in Northern California. This on-the-ground monitoring of 14 different grazing allotments in the Klamath-Siskiyou has pushed for reform to protect high mountain meadows, the willow flycatcher, clean water, elk habitat, intact streams and springs, and now pollinators! With the Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices (BMPs) public lands grazing should now undergo a more thorough analysis to protect pollinator habitat.
A spring on the Siskiyou Crest in the Beaver Creek drainage, fenced to exclude livestock in a grazing allotment. Note how the vegetation is much taller and healthier inside the cattle exclusion.
Outside the cattle exclusion fence the vegetation is eaten down to stubble, with not flowering species available for pollinator habitat.
Inside the cattle exclusion the native herbaceous community is allowed to flower and provide pollinator habitat. This wildland beauty, marsh grass of parnassus (Parnassia palustris) is great pollinators in moist mountain meadows.
The Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Land now give the following specific recommendations for livestock grazing:
Objective: To reduce the impact to pollinators from livestock grazing.
Livestock grazing alters the structure, diversity, and growth pattern of vegetation, which affects the associated insect community.
Grazing during a time when flowers are already scarce may result in insufficient forage for pollinators.
Grazing when butterfly larvae are active on host plants can result in larval mortality and high intensity grazing can cause local loss of forb abundance and diversity.
Implementation: The following actions should be considered in rangelands when livestock grazing is present:
• Determine which types of pollinators and which pollinator habitat elements are affected by grazing livestock.
• Assess if grazing is compatible with the specific needs of target pollinator species on site, including targeted butterfly species.
• Prevent trampling ground-nesting sites by implementing practices to minimize hoof action of grazing animals, which causes soil compaction or erosion in pollinator nesting and shelter patches.
• Minimize livestock concentrations in one area by rotating livestock grazing timing and location to help maintain open, herbaceous plant communities that are capable of supporting a wide diversity of butterflies and other pollinators.
• Protect the current season’s growth in grazed areas by striving to retain at least 50% of the annual vegetative growth on all plants.
•Enhance the growth of forbs to ensure their ability to reproduce and to provide nectar and pollen throughout the growing season by setting grazing levels to allow forbs to flower and set seed.
•Leave nearby ungrazed areas to provide reserves for pollinator populations.
• Prevent grazing during periods when flowers are already scarce (e.g., midsummer) to maintain forage for pollinators, especially for bumble bee species.
•In important butterfly areas, avoid grazing when butterfly eggs, larvae, and in some cases pupae are on host plants.
•Consider the needs of pollinators when placing range improvements and structures on the
•Ensure that fencing is adequate and well maintained.
•Include protection of pollinator species in grazing management plans.