Just in time for Earth Day April 22 the birds and the bees will be flying and buzzing around the Environmental Services Building 163 at White Sands Missile Range thanks to a Pollinator Habitat Garden that was planted by employees and volunteers in September of 2015.
The habitat supports the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which the White House released in 2015.
It was planted with pollinator-friendly flowers and is free of pesticides to provide valuable habitat for bees and other pollinators.
Trish Cutler, a wildlife biologist with the Environmental Stewardship Branch at WSMR, who spearheaded the project, said the habitat was planted with funds from a 2015 Department of Defense National Public Lands Day Project. The habitat at WSMR is one of 30 NPLD DoD funded projects on 30 military installations.
Members of Girl Scout Troop 546 helped plant the habitat as part of their bronze award projects. The girls helped dig holes, planted and watered plants and created nest holes in wooden blocks for solitary bees.
“A pollinator garden is a garden you plant with special plants so that butterflies and bees won’t die out,” said volunteer Susan Dickerson. “They are an important part in pollination. Without them we won’t have the fruits and vegetables that we need.”
Dickerson said working on the pollinator project will earn her a bronze award. “I’m excited to be out here to earn my bronze award. I have my own garden at home. I have pine trees and apricot trees, a tomato plant and hibiscus flours, snap dragons and pumpkins.”
Volunteer Katelyn Houde, said she was working to make sure to give the plants some space. “It is important to do this so it can have space to grow so that when we put water in, it can soak the water. It is important to have it so butterflies and bees won’t become extinct.”
Cutler said DoD is really interested in pollinators. “The White House brought in a team of people from various federal agencies to work on the issue of declining pollinators,” she said.
She said pollinators are important for human and animal food resources. Pollinators include bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and some species of bats.
Cutler said the DoD Legacy Program has a partnership with the National Environmental Education Foundation. DoD comes up with a certain amount of funds every year for this group, which works with military installations to distribute the funds to the installations.
WSMR applied for funding in 2015 and received $6,400 to create the pollinator garden.
“We took an area that was bare dirt around the building, about half an acre, and converted it into a flowering plant garden that can then be used by bees, hummingbirds and butterflies,” Cutler said.
“I think the idea is that if enough agencies and enough individuals do this throughout North America then we can regain some of that pollinator habitat that we lost to various things like construction and agriculture.”
In 2014 President Barack Obama put out a memorandum establishing a pollinator health task force. That effort all resulted in DoD involvement and contributing to this effort to conserve pollinators.
Cutler said that activities that destroy natural habitat, such as construction, have contributed to the decline of the honey bees throughout North America. Also, the Monarch butterfly decline has been associated with the loss of the milkweed plants.
“We have a variety of native plants that we are focusing on, which is always the preference for pollinator gardens because those plant species are associated with native bees,” Cutler said. “Many of the bee species are solitary nesting bees. They are not colonial like honey bees, they are smaller bees that make their nests in single holes in the ground or piece of wood.”
“So we have a variety of things, from agaves to cholla cactuses, apache plume, verbena, yuccas, lantana species, some sage species, several different penstemons, and some asters like zinnias and daisies,” Cutler said. “We are trying to make it as native as possible because we want our water use to be limited.”
Cutler said the staff will be monitoring things like the species using the habitat. “At some point we may be able to identify some of the smaller bees,” she said. Fifteen species of butterflies have already been documented using the garden, and black-chinned hummingbirds are now back from migration and foraging in the garden throughout the day. Cutler encourages employees and residents of WSMR to stop by Building 163 to watch the pollinators and enjoy the garden. A plant list is available for those interested in developing their own pollinator habitat at home.