Hives of European honeybees, commonly purchased for pollination services, have become more difficult to obtain due to decline from disease and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Native bees can make a significant contribution to crop pollination. Protecting, enhancing, or providing natural habitat on farms is the best way to conserve native pollinators. The USDA, through language included in past Farm Bills, has made pollinators a priority of all of their conservation programs. According to Eric Mader, National Pollinator Outreach Coordinator of the Xerces Society, they had collaborated with NRCS at the state and national level on developing guidelines on how to provide pollinator foraging and nesting habitat in agricultural landscapes. However, the knowledge necessary to implement these habitat enhancements had not been cultivated at the field office level. Mader claimed that this lack of knowledge was a constraint to wider adoption of pollinator conservation. NRCS surveys themselves demonstrated that farmers desired to provide additional habitat for pollinators but needed technical assistance to do so. Education for ag professionals would develop that technical expertise needed by farmers.
Searching for a Solution
To provide information on habitat enhancements to ag professionals, Mader developed the Professional Development (PDP) project “Western Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course.” This project aimed to supply in-depth pollinator conservation training to farm educators and resource conservation professionals in 11 Western States. Mader planned to partner with academic institutions, Extension, and NRCS to present the Short Course in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, and Washington. Based upon extensive reporting, that each participant in past trainings in other states, on average, goes on to influence (as an educator) at least 100 acres of land in a way that benefits pollinator conservation. Using these assumptions, Mader estimated that eleven events with 30 participants could directly benefit pollinators on 33,000 acres of land.
A core curriculum on pollinator conservation planning in agricultural landscapes was created and included modules on the importance of bees, their decline and conservation threats, native bee ecology, pollinator habitat assessment, bee-safe farm management, pollinator habitat restoration, and financial and technical support from USDA conservation programs and personnel. Wherever possible, the Short Course curriculum was supplemented by presentations from conservation experts based in each individual state. An open lab period to observe pinned native bee specimens, native bee materials, and informational displays enhanced the classroom component. Outdoor field components were also incorporated as possible. The conclusion of each Short Course included a discussion of local technical and financial resources to support the independent ongoing efforts of workshop participants.
What was Learned
Mader and the Xerces Society leveraged additional funds to provide 25 Short Courses in 13 states, adding trainings in California and Oregon to the original list. Their specific target originally was 200 participants; they greatly surpassed this target by reaching 1,000 participants (averaging 40 participants per course). The extra funds allowed for multiple trainings in some states. Participants included staff from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), Certified Crop Advisors, the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Extension personnel, as well as farm organizations and individual farmers.
Participants answered survey questions immediately after the Short Course and then again one year after the training. Results from these surveys demonstrated increased awareness of pollinator population trends and specific practices to conserve these vital insects.
In the year since participants attended the Short Course, 95% of respondents reported that they had utilized the information they learned at the training. Participants utilized the information in the following ways: providing additional habitat (71%), in education and outreach programs to their peers (60%), assisted others (farmer-peers) in implementing pollinator conservation practices (50%), incorporated pollinator conservation practices into their land management systems (47%), considered pesticide impacts on pollinators (42%), enrolled (4%), encouraged or assisted with enrollment in NRCS conservation programs (30%), included pollinator conservation information in written publications (28%), and adjusted land management practices to benefit pollinators (25%).
According to Mader, “field staff from NRCS, FSA, Extension, and Soil and Water Conservation Districts who attended the Short Courses went on to directly implement pollinator conservation strategies with their client farmers. Thousands of acres of land are being managed for pollinators as a result of these trainings.”
The surveys also show that over the long term this project will result in increased participation among growers of bee-pollinated crops in USDA conservation programs like Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
“Everything was really great. I work for NRCS and have to implement pollinator habitats and received little training—this was exactly what I needed. Thank you!” – NRCS Field Conservationist, Washington
“Learn more about how to incorporate pollinator considerations to conservation planning; Yes—I feel more informed about pollinators, which will help in talking to producers. Great job!” – Agricultural Support Staff, Bridger, Montana
The Xerces Society is the only organization to have had their project in all four SARE regions in the PDP program. This came about after Mader received his Western SARE funding. Mader claims that one of the most critical outcomes from his project is that the Xerces Society developed at totally new model for delivering their information; the short course model. As Mader states, this very comprehensive training given in a short time frame allowed participants to leave with the understanding of how they could create a pollinator meadow and begin thinking about their plan, how to implement it, and how to manage it for success. This idea was allowed to incubate due to SARE funding and has become quite successful (educationally and financially) as the Xerces Society continues to conduct pollinator short courses around the country, with about one per week. Mader claims that word about the short courses spread throughout the farming community and agencies from SARE participants which has created a constant drumbeat for these courses.
The pollinator program at the Xerces Society has grown from two staff members to almost 25, in large part due to the short courses and their now formalized structure to communicate and go into new communities.
All of this work has translated to real world, on-farm conservation. To the best of Mader’s ability, he estimates that these courses have supported approximately 200,000 acres of habitat plantings on farms.
Mader received future funding from Western SARE for the Conservation Biological Control Short Course (project number EW14-035) which synthesizes research on natural pest control and offers realistic solutions for enhancing beneficial insect populations on farms. This short course is built on the pollinator short course and came about when Mader and his staff heard feedback from participants in the pollinator courses that they would like information on conservation biological control.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant: