TRAVERSE CITY — A group of researchers wants to determine how much high-quality habitat exists across Michigan for pollinator insects — honeybees, wild bees and monarch butterflies.
"The overall goal is to improve pollinator health in Michigan," said Kelsey Graham, a post-doctoral researcher at Michigan State University.
Michigan Pollinator Initiative team members came to Traverse City last week when the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center in Leelanau County hosted a public input session about environmental issues connected to pollinator insects. More than 30 people attended to learn, share insights and voice concerns that ranged from pesticides and disease to habitat health and education efforts.
Researchers said they want more input in coming weeks and months.
"The goal is to get a sense of the key issues in this region in regards to pollinators," said Rufus Isaacs, MSU professor of entomology.
The USDA-funded statewide project is meant to assess and assist pollinator health in order to meet federal goals established several years ago, Graham said.
Rick Cross, a saskatoon berry grower from Northport, said his greatest concern for pollinators is the impact of agricultural pesticides aimed at killing spotted-wing drosophila. He said the best pesticide to target that pest insect happens to be the worst poison for bees.
"I'm concerned about the wild bees in the orchards," he said. "The wild bees don't have the luxury of being escorted down to Florida."
Cross asked the researchers whether concerns about pesticide spray drift should deter him from cultivating high-quality pollinator habitat in nearby areas. Isaacs said the need for good pollen nutrition and nesting areas for bees and butterflies trumps concerns about pesticide spraying in adjacent areas.
"I don't think it's a reason to not do anything on your property," Isaacs said. He added perhaps more study is needed about where to plant wildflowers and native plants to buffer between agricultural land sprayed with pesticides.
Cheryl Gross of Traverse City attended the meeting and said her concern is gardeners' use of native plant species versus non-native pollen producing flowers.
"Just because the bees are all over it doesn't mean they are getting the best nutrition," said Gross, a master gardener and president of local nonprofit Plant It Wild, which champions the use of native plants in gardening.
Forty-year beekeeper Al Kennedy said his latest interest in pollinators spawns from the lack of monarch butterflies at his farm in Lake City which he named Monarch Farms and Apiaries. He said his 125 acres used to annually be home to thousands of monarchs until about 10 years ago when he began to rarely see them at all.
Kennedy asked the researchers how to maintain prairie habitat for monarchs and learned prescribed burns are the best method to keep invasive grasses from choking out native, flowering plants. He said he is determined to do what he can to help.
"Some of these things we can do something about," Kennedy said.
Isaacs and Graham both said more public input is necessary as part of the initiative as it takes inventory of Michigan's pollinators, their habitat and associated issues. A similar public meeting about the pollinator project will be on May 9 in West Olive.
Visit www.pollinators.msu.edu for more information.
Want to share input?
Visit www.pollinators.msu.edu online to learn about the Michigan Pollinator Initiative and give feedback.