By Eric J. Ressel
Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist
Pheasants Forever &
Quail Forever Inc
Recently, local resident Tammy Boldt was recently approved for the largest EQIP-RCPP pollinator project in the entire state of Minnesota. The Environmental Quality Incentive Program, or EQIP, is a USDA – NRCS Farm Bill conservation program that aims to target resource concerns, whether soil erosion, water quality concerns, or in this case, restoring and improving wildlife habitat for the benefit of pollinators. Funding for this particular project has been made available through the RCPP (Regional Conservation Partnership Program) - Working Lands for Wildlife Program, which emphasizes enhanced habitat specifically for monarch butterflies.
Monarch butterflies and their habitat have seen a steady decline in the last decade due to habitat loss, however their populations have seen a healthy increase in recent years because of increased interest and collaborative efforts in restoring their habitat and range, with a significant focus on establishing native milkweed (Asclepias sp.) varieties, the butterfly’s host plant.
Along with seeding a diverse mixture of milkweeds, the Boldt’s prairie pollinator project will also incorporate an impressive number of other native wildflowers that will provide a prolonged blooming period and ample foraging opportunities for native butterflies, insects, bees, as well as European honeybees. Establishment of native prairie plants, along with the high diversity of insects that they support, are the backbone to prairie ecology, and their abundant presence helps support upland birds, songbirds, small mammals, predators, grazers, and big game. Without our native plants and pollinators our food web would collapse.
The Boldt’s pollinator project will consist of 70 acres of retired pastureland, cropland and CRP that will be converted into diverse and productive native prairies throughout their beautiful farm that is nestled in the hills just north of Houston. Steps have been made to mow and cut woody species within those old pastures to rid those acres of undesirable species of honeysuckle, red cedar, and multiflora rose. Subsequently, a prescribed burn will be used in conjunction with an herbicide treatment to reduce the competition of cool-season grasses, such as reed canary and smooth brome, and encourage native germination and seed dispersal.
Early Successional Habitat Management, Edge Feathering, will also be implemented on a significant portion of the project. Edge Feathering involves hinging and cutting trees that are adjacent to an upland area, thus creating a well-protected “soft” edge that will allow upland birds, songbirds, and other wildlife species to maneuver along the edge with a lower instance of predation, especially from raptors. The goal is to create a transitional zone between successional stages, from the more mature woodland and the early successional upland prairie. This is accomplished by cutting over-hanging trees along the edge, thus providing sheltering opportunities, especially as the annual weeds and perennial plants grow up alongside with the downed woody vegetation. Promoting additional protection and thermal cover by leaving brush piles, conifer cover, and native trees and shrubs that have significant benefits to wildlife, such as flowering dogwoods, wild plums, viburnums, serviceberry, elderberry, etc., is also advocated.
Tammy and her husband Greg, as well as their nephew Eric, are very excited for their native prairie establishment. They enjoy the thought of enhancing the habitat for an array of species, from whitetail deer to the honeybees they hope to raise on site, as well as the many monarch butterflies that will soon call their farm home.