The Tribune Staff Reports
The map of the United States seems to be covered in orange dots, each one representing a pollinator habitat.
More than 1 million have been planted in the last few years.
But zoom in to southeast Indiana, and the dots are fewer and farther between.
“The map of habitats is phenomenal to see,” said Liz Brownlee, executive director of Oak Heritage Conservancy, which creates nature preserves around southeast Indiana that are open to the public.
“We created a 13-acre pollinator habitat at one of our nature preserves, and so we wanted to add it to the map and be part of the fun,” Brownlee said.
But when she registered, she saw the map of southeast Indiana is pretty bare.
“I was really surprised because we know that people have planted a ton of pollinator habitat recently,” Brownlee said.
The Share Some Space group in Jennings County was the first in the area to make progress for pollinators. In three years, they helped homeowners, farmers and schools create more than 800 habitats in Jennings County, she said.
Several groups are following suit around southeast Indiana, including the Jefferson County Pollinator Action Group, which is helped by Oak Heritage Conservancy. This spring, they are helping hundreds of homeowners create habitat.
“And there are others doing the same thing in Bartholomew and Dearborn counties and really all over southeast Indiana,” Brownlee said. “It always feels good to realize that your hard work is part of something bigger and that lots of other people care about pollinators and nature, too.”
Native pollinators’ populations have been suffering because of habitat loss and pesticide use.
Homeowners across the United States have responded to pollinators’ need by creating habitats in side yards and other extra spaces over the last few years. They also have been registering their plantings and adding their orange dots to the map with the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.
The challenge was sponsored by the National Pollinator Garden Network. The goal was to get people excited about creating habitat and increase the food and breeding sites available all across the country.
In less than five years, citizens, church groups, farmers, schools and community groups have created more than 1 million habitats.
Now, the goal is to build on that momentum and fill in gaps in the landscape where there aren’t registered pollinator habitats, Brownlee said.
For pollinators, there genuinely is strength in numbers, she said.
“Helping restore pollinator habitat is a little different than other types of conservation,” Brownlee said.
Besides creating nature preserves, the conservancy is restoring habitats on those preserves.
“If you’re trying to protect many types of wildlife — let’s say Eastern box turtles — you need hundreds of acres of forest to actually be sure that the species has enough room to forage, to breed successfully and raise young,” she said. “That’s where a group like ours can help. We can bring people together to protect large chunks of habitat.
“But if you’re trying to save the pollinators, well, everyone can help,” she said. “Pollinators can thrive with lots of small habitats spread over the landscape. Even a 10-by-10-foot planting can make a real difference for native bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinators.”
Adding your pollinator habitat to the map is quick and painless, Brownlee said.
“Any size pollinator habitat counts, whether you planted in your side yard or whole farm fields,” she said.
And don’t worry about the timing, Brownlee said.
“You can add a CRP planting that you did a few years ago or a little garden you planted last year and even the habitat that you’re establishing this year,” she said.
To register, visit pollinator.org/mpgcmap/register#form and fill in the basic details about the habitat, such as the rough size and type of planting (home garden, farm, rooftop garden, etc.).
“There’s so much energy for pollinators in southeast Indiana,” Brownlee said. “Let’s put your good work on the map.”