This past weekend Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds had a booth at the Master Gardener’s Spring Garden Fair at the Jackson County Expo. This two-day event near Medford, Oregon is the largest garden fair in between San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon. This year saw record attendance at the Fair and our booth was very busy!
The enthusiasm we encountered for native plants was very encouraging. There is a growing interest in planting natives for wildlife habitat, birds, pollinators, native plant conservation, water conservation, wild food, plant medicine, and beauty! Folks that stopped by our booth bought native seeds and plants for backyard gardens, as well as for habitat restoration and biodiversity on their land.
It is always a joy to engage the public about the benefits of planting natives. Direct contact with our customers at events allows for detailed discussions about native seed and plant propagation techniques, as well as choosing appropriate plant species for various geographic locations and site-specific conditions.
Thanks to everyone for a very successful and fun event!
Anise swallowtail butterflies (Papilio zelicaon) are a welcome sight in the Klamath-Siskiyou in the summer. These large and showy butterflies are not only beautiful, but they are also pollinators that perform an ecological service. Although these beauties are common, it is always a treat to observe one as it nectars on flowers and flutters about. Unlike the well-known monarch butterfly that migrates each winter, swallowtail butterflies do not migrate. Instead, they form chrysalids in early fall which overwinter in protected places until emerging in the spring. As I write this post anise swallowtail butterflies have begun to emerge and be seen around the Klamath-Siskiyou.
Anise swallowtail butterflies use larval host plants in the family Apiaceae. In the Klamath-Siskiyou this includes Lomatium species, which go by common names such as desert parsley, buscuitroot, wild parsley, Indian parsnip, or just plain lomatium.
The name of the anise swallowtail butterfly came from the fact that, as its native habitat has diminished, it has adapted to using non-native fennel — sometimes referred to as wild anise — as a larval host plant. It will also use carrots, parsley and parsnips in a vegetable garden, so keep an eye out. I had about fifteen anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on parsley and parsnip plants in my garden last summer.
It’s too bad this butterfly species wasn’t called the lomatium butterfly instead, in order to highlight it’s native larval host plant. Lomatiums also provide habitat for all kinds of other pollinators and insects, including spiders, beetles, flies, bees and more.
This past summer I was lucky to find and observe numerous anise swallowtail butterfly chrysalids that developed from the caterpillars feeding on parsley and parsnips in my garden, including this chrysalis that I found on the eve of my house while cleaning my gutters.
The lifecycle of anise swallowtail butterflies is different in different ecotypes. At the McLaughlin Natural Reserve in Californiathey have observed the following: “Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) is common throughout the western United States, and feeds on plants in the carrot family including the invasive fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). Populations on serpentine, such as those at the reserve, feed on serpentine endemic species of Lomatium. In most of its range the Anise Swallowtail is capable of undergoing more than one generation per year, but populations on serpentine may be genetically limited to a single brood per year. The pupae in serpentine populations may even remain dormant for several years before metamorphosing into adults; this is likely an adaptation to a harsh and fluctuating environment, just like seed dormancy in plants.”
As a defense mechanism anise swallowtail caterpillars have an unusal feature: osmeterium or “stinkhorns.” Home Ground Habitat Nursery(which has a great write-up on swallowtail butterflies by the way!) describes it this way: “The osmeterium is an eversible organ, concealed in a slit behind the head. If the larva is disturbed it everts the bright orange-colored osmeterium, and discharges a foul scent. The scent the larvae discharges upon eversion of its osmeterium comes from a secondary biochemical compound produced by a number of plants in the carrot family (Apiaceae). The biochemical compound is not essential to the life of the plant; but necessary to elicit feeding by the larvae. The osmeterium is just one of the defenses against visual predators; in the case of birds, most of which do not have a highly developed sense of smell, it might be more the startling effect of a sudden change to the form of the larvae that affords some protection.”
In addition to be a larval host plant for anise swallowtails, and habitat for a whole host of other beneficial pollinators and insects, lomatiums are also amazing medicinal plants for people! What’s not to love about lomatiums? In Michael Moore’s classic book, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, he writes the following about lomatium: “Lomatium has been used for centuries as a medicine by Native Americans who live in the Great Basin; it was used by many Mormon settlers in Utah and Nevada, and it was well known by some Oregon pioneers. They all used it for lung problems, bad fevers, and pneumonia, and there are many references to its value for persistent winter fevers…Further, several of the aromatics have been shown to limit replication or shedding in many viruses, and they also seem to shorten the duration of the viral infection and limit the surface area of mucus membranes that become infected.”
Common Lomatiums of the Klamath-Siskiyou:
Lomatium californicum — up to 4′ tall and usually found growing on wooded or brushy slopes, in open grassy areas, or in upland prairie.
Lomatium dissectum — up to 4′ tall and usually found growing on wooded or brushy slopes, in open grassy areas, or in upland prairie.
Lomatium triternatum — up to 3′ tall and usually found on open slopes and in pine woodland.
Lomatium nudicaule — 1′-2’tall and usually found on rocky slopes, flats, brushy areas, and generally pine woodland.
Lomatium macrocarpum — 4″- 1.5’tall and found in rocky openings within forests and has an affinity to serpentine soil.
Lomatium urticulatum — 4″- 1.5′ tall and found in open grassy slopes, meadows and woodland.
Slide Show: Naturally occurring hybridized fawn lilies along the Mule Mountain Trail in the Upper Applegate Valley of southern Oregon. Erythronium citrinum x hendersonii
With the unusually warm April weather in the Klamath-Siskiyou lately the fawn lilies (Erythronium spp.) have already bloomed at lower elevations, and are now starting to bloom higher up as the snow melts.
As many plants do, fawn lily species can hybridize. Along the Mule Mountain Trail, in the Upper Applegate Valley of southern Oregon, the fawn lilies have hybridized to make an outstanding floral display of all different color variations. The two species that have hybridized are Henderson’s fawn lily (Erythronium hendersonii) and lemon colored fawn lily (Erythronium citrinum). As a hybrid they are Erythronium citrinum x hendersonii.
Henderson’s fawn lily (Erythronium hendersonii) in the Williams Valley
The purple Henderson’s fawn lily are found throughout the Applegate Valley, but as you make your way up the watershed, along the main stem of the Applegate River, Henderson’s fawn lily runs into the population of lemon colored fawn lily that occurs in the upper reaches and tributary streams of the river. Where the two populations merge they hybridize, creating an unusual and fantastic display.
Other Fawn Lilies of the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion
Tom Landis of Native Plant Nursery Consulting, and Suzie Savoie of Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds, met through a shared passion for monarch butterfly conservation. Through their affiliation with Southern Oregon Monarch Advocates, they came up with a plan to create a practical and useful guide to growing native pollinator plants in southern Oregon. For both native plant and pollinator enthusiasts alike, this guide will help local gardeners and land managers to create better habitat for pollinators throughout the region. Thanks to everyone who helped make this publication possible. Please share widely!
Click on the link below to read the newly released guide to growing native plants for pollinator conservation in southern Oregon.
It’s March 6th and Pacific hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum grande) has started to bloom in the Klamath-Siskiyou. This early-blooming native perennial plant in the borage family supposedly gets its name from the resemblance of its leaf shape to that of a dog’s tongue. I personally don’t think of a dog’s tongue when I look at this lovely wildflower, but the story behind the name may be a lot more interesting than it appears.
Preferring to grow in light dappled shade, hound’s tongue is commonly found growing beneath Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana). Appearing in late February to March, the striking foliage of hound’s tongue is followed by 1′-2′ flowering stalks with bold, blue flowers and white centers that resemble forget-me-nots.
The uniquely intense blue flower color, with distinct white center, may have evolved to help pollinators zero in on the pollen, helping aid it’s own pollination. Hound’s tongue attracts native bees and hummingbirds and is an occasional larval host plant for moths and butterflies.
Native plants that grow in dry, shady environments are not easy to find for a garden setting, but hound’s tongue is perfect for such a location. Having a large taproot, hound’s tongue does best with little or no supplemental water, but will tolerate some summer water with good drainage. After flowering and setting seed, hound’s tongue goes completely dormant in the summer, an adaptation for survival during the dry summer months.
The vivid blue flowers of hound’s tongue will fade into a lovely lavender color as it gets close to setting seed. The seed has evolved hook-like appendages on the seed coat that grab onto and attach to anything nearby, including animals or human socks. This seed dispersal tactic works great and has helped the distribution of hound’s tongue.
We have found hound’s tongue to be an easy plant to encourage, grow and propagate in oak woodland and mixed conifer forest on our own land. The best method we have found has been planting hound’s tongue seed into the site of a burn pile after burning debris from forest health thinning. Once the small, circular burn pile has cooled — or even if it was burned a year ago — you can seed hound’s tongue into the ash in the winter, and come spring you will have a circle of hound’s tongue sprouts! They do well in this setting that mimics natural fire disturbance, where there is little competition and wonderfully mineral-rich soil to help nourish the small seedlings.
Hound’s tongue can also be seeded into containers and grown out for a season before transplanting into your preferred location, or direct sown into a dry shady spot without too much competing vegetation.
Hound’s tongue ranges from British Columbia south to San Luis Obispo county in California. In Oregon it occurs only on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, except in the Columbia River Gorge.
When hound’s tongue is flowering that is a sign that the morel mushrooms are also emerging from the low-elevation chaparral and oak woodland communities. Spring is on!
This video and photos in this blog post show numerous bumble bee species foraging on non-native heather (Erica spp.) plants in our garden on February 24, 2016.
It’s still winter in the Klamath-Siskiyou, but the warm, spring-like days this February have brought out the bumble bees! Bumble bees are some of the first bees seen in the spring because they are specially adapted to be active in colder weather than most other bees.
Early emerging bumble bees are hard pressed to find flowers in February, but there are some native plants flowering already that they can utilize. I have seen snow queen or spring queen (Synthyris reniformis) and Nuttall’s toothwort or spring beauty (Cardamine nuttallii) blooming in the canyon I live in, along with several different species of willow (Salix spp.). The first Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora), gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) and native violets (Viola spp.) are all blooming in the Klamath-Siskiyou at low elevations, and the grass widows (Olsynium douglasii) will be blooming soon on sunny slopes and rock outcrops. For the bumble bees, spring will soon begin in earnest.
Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora)
Bumble bees provide excellent pollination services for the diverse native plant species in our region, and this relationship and interdependence is crucial for the survival of imperiled native plants and pollinators alike. If you want to manage your land or garden for pollinator conservation the best thing you can do is plant flowering native plants that provide pollen and nectar throughout the growing season: early season, mid season, and late season flowers.
Bumble bees are classified in the genus Bombus. The Pacific Northwest is home to many native species of bumble bees, broken down into the following groups: the red-tailed group, the striped group, the black-tailed group, the whites, the yellow-faced bumble bees, and the cuckoo bees.
The Bees In Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees gives the following information about bumble bees:
The name Bombus comes from the Greek word bombos, which means “a buzzing sound,” referring to the low hum these bees make as they fly gracefully around flowers. The common name “bumble bee” can be traced back to the word bombelen in Middle English (AD 1200-1500), which means “to hum.” In fact, prior to the 1920s, bumble bees were more often called “humble bees,” also a reference to the soft droning inherent in their foraging activities. The term “humble bees” was used by both William Shakespeare in A Midsummer Nights Dream and by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species. A few popular articles in the 1920s about Bombus referred to them as “bumble bees” and the new name took.
Bumble bees are among the few bees native to North America that are truly social, with a queen and workers.
Like European honey bees, bumble bee workers collect copious amounts of nectar, which they bring back to the hive for storage. Unlike honey bees, however, the bumble bee workers do not dehydrate the stored nectar, turning it into honey. Instead this nectar is used by bumble bees, along with pollen, to feed the developing young. Because bumble bee hives begin anew each year, there is no need to store large amounts of nectar as honey to sustain the workers through the winter the way that honey bee colonies must.
Studies have shown that for many crops, pollination by bumble bees produces bigger fruit, faster fruit set and larger yields than other pollination methods, most specifically honey bee pollination. First, bumble bees have a distinct advantage over European honey bees when it comes to retrieving pollen from some plants: they can buzz pollinate. They are therefore much more effective pollinators of some important crops, specifically with flowers requiring buzz pollination. These plants include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, and even some berries like blueberries. Second, bumble bees have been shown to be faster workers than honey bees, often visiting twice as many flowers per minute. Finally, researchers have estimated that bumble bees will do at least eight times more work than a honey bee because bumble bees can remain active in cold temperatures, and they can carry more pollen.
Bumble bees have special adaptations that allow them to be active in colder weather and colder climates than most other bees. In addition to their thick and insulating coat of hair, bumble bees often bask in the sun to warm themselves before they head out to forage. When sun and fuzz aren’t enough, bumble bees can actually generate heat internally by shivering their flight muscles. These bees can uncouple their wings from their flight muscle, allowing them to contract the muscles without flapping their wings. Those muscle contractions can raise the internal temperature of the bee, making them significantly warmer than their surrounding environment. In fact, bumble bees can’t take off and fly until their flight muscles are above 80 degrees; by shivering their flight muscles to warm up, they can actively forage in temperatures much too cold for other bees.
Unlike honey bee queens, a bumble bee queen lives for only a single year. This annual cycle generally keeps bumble bee hives much smaller than the hives of honey bees. Most mature bumble bee colonies consist of fewer than 200 bees, although some can have as many as 1000 individuals. For comparison, European honey bees may have around 60,000 bees in a single colony.
Most bumble bee species make their nests in the ground, often in preexisting cavities like abandoned rodent burrows, in piles of wood, or in leaf litter.
Competition with Honey Bees
The honey bee (Apis mellifera) was introduced to North America by European settlers in the early seventeenth century. The honey bee is extremely important to our agricultural system, yet its populations have declined steadily since the mid twentieth century. Many efforts to support honey bee populations are in line with bumble bee conservation. However, recent research has shown that competition with honey bees reduces bumble bee foraging efficiency, worker size, and reproductive success. As such, bumble bees in close proximity to honey bee hives may be experiencing additional pressures in an already difficult landscape. A single honey bee hive can contain over 50,000 bees, who collectively remove hundreds of pounds of nectar and tens of pounds of pollen from an area in a single year. Whether this is testing the limits of the available flowering resources is unverified. However, there is no doubt that such a significant removal of resources must represent a substantial proportion of the available pollen and nectar, especially during a period of limited flower abundance.
Klemens and Volkmar showed that the presence of honey bees force bumble bees off flowers, and change their foraging times. While reproductive success was not measured in this study, any event that causes decreased efficiency of foraging trips is likely to be detrimental for bumble bees.
In addition, it has been shown that pollen is a vector for disease transmission between honey bees and bumble bees. Thus, where bumble bees are visiting the same flowers as honey bees, they face an increased risk of infection. Diseases from some pathogens can lead to fewer new queens produced by the colony. Since honey bees are present virtually everywhere there are flowers in North America, it is nearly impossible to avoid interactions between honey bees and bumble bees. However, if land managers have the option to limit these interactions by restricting honey bee hives from natural areas managed for biodiversity, it is strongly recommended.
One of the largest herbaceous plants in North America — known by the botanical name, Aralia californica — can be referred to by any of its many common names: Western aralia, Western spikenard, California ginseng, or elk clover. Western aralia’s large, green leaves grow on thick, non-woody stems. This lush plant gracefully arches to a mature height of 3’-9’, but sometimes it can reach up to an impressive 10‘. That is very tall for an herbaceous perennial plant that dies back fully to the ground each fall, only to return the next spring from its thick, fleshy, snakelike roots, which are often embedded in rocks or streamside woody debris.
The broad and compound leaves have a tropical look, but Western aralia naturally ranges from southern California to as far north as Linn County in Oregon’s western Cascades. Aralia has an affinity for moist gulches, seasonal or perennial streambanks, canyons, and other cool, shady locations at elevations generally below 5,000 feet. Considering its relative tenderness, aralia is a very big and robust plant.
In early to midsummer Western aralia produces ball-like clusters of greenish white, sticky flowers that mature into ornamental, dark purple berries in the fall. The juicy berries are about the size of peppercorns and have a pungent, ginseng-like flavor. The berries are reportedly loved by birds, but I only observe occasional use in my neck of the woods.
One of the common names, elk clover, is a bit of a misnomer since aralia is not really a clover at all; in fact, it is a member of the plant genus Araliaceae, or the ginseng family. It is one of only two native plants in Oregon in the ginseng family; the other being devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus). Western aralia is, however, the only member of the ginseng family that grows wild in the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion. It is related to American spikenard (Aralia racemosa) and wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), known, as Western aralia is, for their many medicinal uses.
According to Wendell Wood, Western aralia was “historically used by the Karok Indians as an antirheumatic, were a decoction of roots [was] used as a soak for arthritis. The Mendocino Indians used a decoction of the dried roots for colds and fevers and also to treat stomach and lung diseases. The Pomo saw it as “panacea plant” to treat many ailments including using the roots for sores and itching sores.”
Michael Moore, in his book Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West states that Western Aralia “is an excellent tonic and soothing expectorant for people with chronic moist-lung problems.” The root, aromatic and full of sticky while oleoresin, is particularly potent, but the leaf and berry of the plant also contain many different medicinal uses. Moore also says that “the cough syrup, tincture in hot water (toddylike), or the leaf tea is a good way to recuperate from some bronchitis or the winter lung-grunge.”
According to Arthur R. Kruckeberg in his book Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest, Western Aralia “has been a most effective and decorative plant for similar wettish habitats in Northwest gardens.”
In your garden Western Aralia will thrive in heavy shade as long as there is some moisture and the soil does not dry out completely. Aralia is robust and ornamental and can be grown in regular garden conditions. It is hardy to USDA zones 3-8.
I am lucky enough to live near a seasonal gulch where Western aralia grows naturally, but nonetheless I have still planted it in my garden to enjoy its beauty and to more easily harvest plant material for herbal medicine.
Before going dormant for the winter, Western Aralia produces a rich and creamy yellow autumn foliage that allows for a beautiful contrast to other fall colors in the garden or wild setting.
Enjoy Western aralia in your garden!
By Mark Freeman
Medford Mail Tribune
February 11. 2016
Monarch butterflies tagged last year in Southern Oregon found in California
A monarch butterfly tagged last year in Medford, known as monarch A2045, is shown Feb. 3 in Bolinas, California. Courtesy photo
Robert Coffan stood next to a patch of milkweed at Coyote Trails Nature Center in Medford last September feeling a little choked up about all that had transpired to bring him and monarch butterfly No. A2045 to this point.
The milkweed where Coffan found two caterpillars three weeks earlier had just been planted earlier that year, and it lured a female monarch that produced those caterpillars, which Coffan and his wife, Simone, raised at home until they became butterflies.
Now, this royal monarch sporting a little white tag with its official number on it — A2045 — was about to go to work, flying away toward a winter colony in who-knows-where.
“It was kind of touchy-feely,” Coffan says. “All of these things came together, and it was me that had it for release.”
For monarch A2045, who-knows-where turned out to be Bolinas, Calif., in Marin County just north of San Francisco.
That’s where he and his distinctive tag were spotted not once but twice this winter, providing an important cog in a new citizen-science experiment that is trying to shed light on when and where Pacific Northwest monarchs migrate during their fascinating life cycle.
“When I heard it was discovered, instead of feeling all emotional, I was proud,” says Coffan, a member of Southern Oregon Monarch Advocates. “When you think he made it 312 miles, and that sticker I put on him was still on.”
Coffan’s monarch was one of eight released last fall in Southern Oregon that turned up this winter in California roost trees, providing the lion’s share of raw data collected this year on monarch migration by Washington State University professor David James.
The Southern Oregon monarchs were among 20 tagged butterflies that were identified in winter roosts this year, and were among 40 tagged monarchs identified after release since James began the study in 2012.
“Having eight recaptures is extremely high,” James says. “It’s remarkable. This year’s been an extremely productive year for citizen-scientists in Southern Oregon.”
While eastern monarchs are famous for their long migrations, much less is known about Pacific Northwest monarchs, whose populations, locations and life cycles are tied to milkweed.
Adult females lay their eggs in milkweed, and the ensuing caterpillars dine solely on milkweed before forming a chrysalis, from which they emerge as the royal-looking orange- and black-winged butterfly.
Monarchs produce four generations annually, each one making a portion of the migration between Washington and Idaho through Oregon and down to California and even Mexico.
At least, that’s the conventional wisdom, James says.
“Up until now, it’s all been theory and assumptions,” James says. “It’s all anecdotal.”
James launched his unfunded study in 2012, relying on monarch fans and Washington State Penitentiary inmates in Walla Walla, Wash., to tend milkweed plots and rear the monarchs to adulthood.
James supplies the small, white, adhesive stickers that sport a specific number and a website address that volunteers put on a wing before release.
“Butterflies are not as fragile as people think,” he says. “You just hold the butterfly and stick it on.”
Buoyed largely by the inmate butterflies, James’ group tagged and released 2,000 monarchs in 2012, 1,000 in 2013 and 2,000 in 2014.
Wintering monarchs are viewed regularly throughout California. Those who spy them, catch them or look at them through a camera lens can see the bright stickers, record the data and report when and where they are “recaptured.”
Since 2001, Linda Kappen has been growing milkweed for monarchs at the Applegate School, where she is an education assistant. She long wanted to get into monarch tagging and hooked up with James in 2014.
She now leads a cadre of monarch-taggers who sent 966 of almost 3,000 tagged monarchs that flew into the skies of the Pacific Northwest in 2015.
Of the eight recaptures, one included a monarch tagged at Applegate School that ended up at a middle school in Boonville, Calif., 227 miles away, records show.
Coffan’s A2045 was seen in Bolinas on New Year’s Day and again last week.
“Without Linda Kappen and those volunteers down there, all this recovery wouldn’t have happened,” James says.
James is starting to get enough data to draw some patterns, and the research likely will prove most of what scientists have assumed about monarch migration into and out of the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s great to get the definitive evidence,” he says.
Coffan and the rest of the Southern Oregon Monarch Advocates are more than willing to help, one patch of milkweed and one monarch sticker at a time.
“We’re just completely amazed that what we’re doing here is making a stir and making a difference,” Coffan says. “We’re affecting things. It’s amazing.”
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.
Where are they now?Out of 966 monarch butterflies tagged and released last fall in Southern Oregon, eight have been identified on their wintering grounds in California. Following is a list of the butterflies, where they were released, where they were located and the distance they traveled. The data was compiled by David James, a Washington State University entomology professor, who is conducting a monarch migration study.1. Released Sept. 9 in Medford. Found Oct. 28 in Cayucos, Calif. (498 miles)2. Released Aug. 19 in Talent. Found Nov. 28 in Bolinas, Calif. (302 miles)3. Released Sept. 26 in Medford. Found Jan. 1 in Bolinas, Calif. (312 miles)4. Released Oct. 4 in Talent. Jan. 1 in Bolinas, Calif. (302 miles)5. Released Oct. 5 in Applegate. Found Oct. 23 in Boonville, Calif. (227 miles)*6. Released Aug. 19 in Applegate. Found in Santa Cruz, Calif. (375 miles)*7. Released Aug. 19 in Applegate. Found in Santa Cruz, Calif. (375 miles)*8. Released Sept. 17 in Applegate. Found in Pismo Beach, Calif. (535 miles)*Discovery date unavailable
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.
Post-fire wildflower meadow in the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion
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.
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 Landnow 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.