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Bees, butterflies and birds to benefit from new fund

A bumble bee flies near a large-flowered beardstongue before landing in the flower at the pollinator garden near the north Lake Latoka public boat access in 2015. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)1 / 2
A pollinator garden near the north public access on Lake Latoka in Alexandria had a variety of plants for pollinators to enjoy during the summer of 2015. Pictured here are some sneezeweed that was blooming in the garden. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)2 / 2

Pollinators have a friend in pheasants when it comes to getting habitat on the ground, with Pheasants Forever helping to make sure of that.

The national organization announced in mid-February that it was bringing in eight of the nation's top pollinator experts as part of a symposium at the 2017 Pheasant Fest at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It was there that PF introduced the launch of a Bee and Butterfly Fund that will offer landowners in Minnesota and other states free seed, along with rental payments and other incentives to put in pollinator-friendly acres on land that underperforms.

"Great pollinator habitat is also great habitat for pheasants, quail, grassland songbirds and a whole host of wildlife," director of habitat partnerships for PF Pete Berthelsen said in a statement leading up to the pollinator symposium on Feb. 17. "That's why Pheasants Forever is focused on building and supporting partnerships aimed at providing high quality, high diversity pollinator habitat. If we try to solve the critical problems for pollinators using the same tools and methods we've been using for the last decade, we won't be successful."

The declining population of pollinators such as honey bees and monarch butterflies due to habitat loss, disease and other threats has some concerned about the long term effects of the world's food supply.

That coincides with concern over the state's pheasant numbers, as well. The Minnesota DNR 2016 roadside survey showed a pheasant population that was up 29 percent from 2015 due to a mild winter and dry spring. That was still 14 percent below the 10-year average and 48 percent below the long-term average. Habitat loss, particularly acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, have been a big part of that decline.

The Bee and Butterfly Fund started in North Dakota and South Dakota in 2016 and will expand into Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri in 2017.

"Funds have been raised through a mix of private, state and federal partnerships with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Pheasants Forever, Browning Honey, Project Apis m., and the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund," Steven Burdick, Minnesota project manager for Pheasants Forever, wrote in an email interview with the Echo Press. "In our pilot phase in 2015-2016, the partnership delivered 112 NextGen habitat projects for 1,711 acres in North and South Dakota, expending over $300,000."

Burdick wrote that Pheasants Forever saw an opportunity with the organization being a key driver of delivering high quality habitat that is critical to monarchs, honey bees and native pollinators.

"That same diverse quality habitat required by butterflies and bees is exactly what we need to rear pheasant chicks," Burdick added. "Pheasant chicks almost exclusively feed on insects for their first several weeks of life, which means quality pollinator habitat equals quality pheasant habitat. Further, we hope to improve both seeding mixes and high-quality habitat establishment techniques to improve the quality of our ongoing efforts across Minnesota and the range."

Douglas County is one of eight counties in the state that is a priority for the habitat projects funded through the Bee and Butterfly Fund because of its higher density of honey bee hives. Others are Kandiyohi, Meeker, Otter Tail, Pope, Stearns, Todd and Wright counties.

"Douglas County is a priority due to the relatively high density of honey bee hives found here and the fact that it lies within the priority area for monarch butterfly breeding," Burdick wrote. "We plan to expand our efforts in future years with more funding and support. Support from beekeepers, private landowners and other partners to be part of the solution to this national issue will be vital in making a difference for monarchs, honey bees and native pollinators."

Burdick wrote that Minnesota's state-level focus in the inaugural year is to enroll 100-250 acres of habitat projects through the Bee and Butterfly Fund.

"We understand that by building high-quality habitat for birds and bees, we are proactively being part of the solution to help this country sustain the iconic butterfly, to grow upland game and grassland wildlife and assist our honey producers in providing pollination services important to our food supply," Burdick wrote.

Burdick encouraged any Minnesota landowners interested in learning more about the Bee and Butterfly Fund to contact him at sburdick@pheasantsforever.org or by phone at (701) 200-3588. More information about the fund can be found at www.beeandbutterflyfund.org.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

(320) 763-1229
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