NWS-210115 | Before (summer 2017) and after (summer 2020), west-facing fields planted with pollinator-friendly mix of native grasses and wildflowers. Photos, Mitch Lettow.

Before? Sad weeds that provide little food for wildlife, all the way from here to there.

After? A colorful mix of native wildflowers and grasses that are eye candy for humans and a feast for pollinating insects!

The weeds, called horseweed or mare’s tail, had taken over a former farm field in the upland portion of Tamarack Swamp Preserve, a large SWMLC preserve in Cass County that isn’t open to the public due to the sensitivity of its habitats. The lush growth of mare’s tail was nearly 8 feet high in places, but it was a food desert for wildlife because its flowers make little nectar for pollinating insects and its fluffy seeds don’t appeal to birds.

NWS-210115 | Before (summer 2017) and after (summer 2020), south-facing fields planted with pollinator-friendly mix of native grasses and wildflowers. Photos, Mitch Lettow.

Wanting to improve the habitat, SWMLC applied to several federal programs that help private landowners create pollinator habitat on former farmland. With funding from both the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program and the USFWS’s Partners program, SWMLC seeded about 50 acres at Tamarack Swamp back in spring 2019. The Black-eyed Susans, lance-leaved coreopsis, and wild rye seen in the photos were just some of the many kinds of plants included in the native seed mix. But before any of that could happen, generous volunteers donated time, sweat, and their machinery to mow the mare’s tail so the seeds could have a chance to grow.

NWS-210115 | Before (summer 2017) and after (summer 2020), north-facing fields planted with pollinator-friendly mix of native grasses and wildflowers. Photos, Mitch Lettow.

Fast forward to late summer 2020 and – wow! Those former farm fields are not just pretty; they’re also chock full of wildflowers that provide a bounty of nectar to butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects. And songbirds that love open spaces, like meadowlarks and native sparrows, built nests among the sheltering plant stems and found plenty of insects to feed their babies.

These federal programs are not just for land conservancies like SWMLC – they’re for any land owner who is interested in turning acreage into real bird- and pollinator-friendly grassland habitat. Learn more about them:

US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners Program

US Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program
The 2021 deadlines are coming up fast so if you’re interested, check it out soon!

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Ducks Unlimited, Michigan Association of Conservation Districts, Michigan Audubon Society, Michigan State University Extension, and others have teamed up together to produce a brand new, fact-filled PDF called “Agricultural Practices That Conserve Grassland Birds”.
Find a free copy here.

 

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