As the Xerces Society implements their Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Courses in the Western Region, they are already showing signs of impact and interest among their targeted audience. The Western SARE PDP grant program provided the organization $90,906 for their project (EW10-018) in 2010 to make in-depth pollinator conservation training available to farm educators and resource conservation professionals in Western states. Specifically, the Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course will be conducted in 11 states with the support of multiple partner organizations. This project is one of the few that has been funded in each of the four SARE regions.
Pollinators are necessary for the reproduction of more than two-thirds of the world's crop species, including alfalfa seed and numerous fruits and vegetables grown in the West. Today, these native pollinators are more important than ever as honey bees become more expensive and difficult to acquire because of disease, pests and Colony Collapse Disorder. Protecting, enhancing or providing natural habitat on farms is the best way to conserve native pollinators and, at the same time, support local honey bees.
In addition to the large number of crops impacted by native pollinators in the West, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)sign-ups are also driving demand, according to Eric Mader, Assistant Pollinator Program Director for the Xerces Society. For the first time, the CRP rules have made native pollinator habitat conservation a priority. Currently there are almost 60,000 acres enrolled to enhance native pollinator habitat. The project's targeted audience of NRCS, Extension, Farm Service Agency and other technical service providers is assisting growers to get their conservation practices established on this acreage.
After completing Short Courses in other areas of the country, the project is in the beginning stages here in the West; however according to Mader, "without exception the Short Courses in the West have been fantastic for us and for the participants." Originally budgeted for thirty participants, the Short Courses are often at or above capacity, frequently with 100 registrations. Western SARE provides funding for the first 30 participants, and the Xerces Society has leveraged funds in order to charge additional participants for training materials only. Due to the demand, they hope to increase the number of Short Courses per state by raising funds from the private sector.
The Xerces Society is using both pre- and post-Short Course evaluations with attendees to gauge their knowledge about course topics and expectations for the course. They then conduct a one-year follow up with participants. This follow-up measures what they took from the course and what they have implemented. Early data from the North-Central and Northeast Regions, along with some from the West, show that if, on average, a Short Course has 30 participants, five of those will enroll land in a farm bill program such as CRP, EQIP or WHIP. Additionally, each course participant, on average, goes out and influences 100 acres in a way that supports pollinator conservation, such as crop consulting, extension work, or work with landowners in reducing pesticide use or tillage practices. Aggregating these numbers across 50 states demonstrates an average of 3,000 acres influenced per state.
In addition to Xerces Society staff, the Short Courses bring in local speakers such as an NRCS state biologist or local university researcher to give presentations. The training is very much nuts and bolts; with information on how to use federal programs and on-the-ground methods for implementing habitat conservation practices on working farms. Each participant receives a training toolkit with NRCS documents relevant to the region outlining conservation programs and practices, information on selecting wildflowers for pollinator conservation and farm management guidelines for conserving native pollinators. They also receive a 400 page full-color Xerces Society textbook. Lastly, participants have an opportunity to purchase or win in a raffle the SARE book Managing Alternative Pollinators written by Mader.
As Mader points out, there is an amazing diversity of native bee species in the U.S. (over 4,000), and these incredibly efficient crop pollinators have been overlooked by the conservation and agriculture communities. He and his team have found SARE support very important in increasing recognition of the importance of native pollinators to American agriculture and crop productivity. There are still upcoming Short Courses in the West; to learn about locations, dates and more details, visit www.xerces.org/events.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) EW10-018, Western Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course .
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