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Daily Archives: June 6, 2015

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of the Interior Issue a Draft Document to Help Pollinators on Federal Land.

Pollinator Guidelines for Federal Land could be a valuable blueprint

for use on state & private land as well.

by Ted Beringer

Monarch feeding on thistle.

It is difficult to overestimate the economic value of pollinators to agriculture. Honeybees and native pollinators add over $18 billion to the value of agricultural crops including oranges, grapefruit, apples, plums, peaches, nectarines, blueberries, avocados, onions, pumpkins and almonds annually not to mention the honey they produce. They also pollinate more than 80% of wildflowers and thereby critically enhancing biodiversity. Not only have honeybees been decimated by “Colony Collapse Disorder”, they are being poisoned by pesticides applied to crops during their blooming period. In addition, although Monarch butterflies are not as important agriculturally, they have also been decimated by destruction of habitat, including the decline of many varieties of milkweed that are obligate host plants for survival of their larvae. Many wildflowers can produce nectar for adult Monarchs but their larvae (caterpillars) develop from eggs the Monarch deposits exclusively on milkweed plants.

Recognizing the importance of pollinators to agriculture and to biodiversity in the environment, President Obama issued a memorandum (June 20, 2014) directing Federal departments and agencies to expand knowledge of pollinators and to increase both the quality and quantity of their habitat on federal lands. In compliance (May 11th, 2015), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of the Interior created a draft document entitled Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices For Federal Lands.

The following is a brief summary of that draft. This initiative promotes common sense actions intended to compensate for widespread destructive practices harmful to pollinators and their habitat.

1) Determining the Quality of Wildflower-rich Foraging Habitat: Effective habitats provide a variety of native flowering plants that exhibit overlapping bloom times to supply nectar and pollen during spring, summer & fall. It is imperative to modify mowing regimes to maintain wildflowers and avoid destroying pollinators while they are visiting those plants. Frequent mowing ultimately eliminates all wildflowers from the landscape.

2) Determining Important Nesting and Overwintering Sites: Since most native bees are ground nesters, they require untilled, unmulched ground that is also well drained and not compacted (especially by heavy mowing machinery). Since many native bees do not fly long distances, nest site habitat should be close to foraging habitat. For cavity-nesting bumble bees, however, queens need soft humus and loose soil, or unobstructed underground holes and tunnels to overwinter.

3) Providing host plants for butterflies and moths often requires specific plant species as larval host plants. [For example, butterflies like the Red Admiral and Comma butterfly depend upon a small number of host plants called nettles e.g. wood nettle, false nettle & Stinging Nettle. If important host plants are not available or have been destroyed, develop a planting program to reestablish the host plants. For Monarch butterflies in Kansas plant swamp milkweed, butterfly milkweed and common milkweed. The Xerxes Society also suggests Antelope horn milkweeds, tall green milkweed, Showy milkweed, Prairie milkweed and Whorled milkweed for Kansas.]

4) Restoration and Rehabilitation of Monarch Habitat includes Removal of Invasive Species:  For instance, nonnative garlic mustard (containing toxins that can kill the larvae when they hatch and begin feeding on the plant) must be removed. In its place, local native seeds can be collected and utilized to reestablish native species required by pollinators. Riparian areas, including those around springs, seeps and streams, can provide diverse pollinator habitat.

5) Engaging and Educating the Public: Public education is a critical component for achieving success.

So what kind of creature is a Ringtail? A cat? A Raccoon? Or something else entirely?

 

By eNature

 

Ringtail, photographed in Arizona, showing the source of its name © Robert Body

 

Ringtail face, note distinctive eyes and ears © Robert Body

 

Range of Ringtail

 

There’s an intriguing mammal that most folks have never heard of living in parts of the United States— the Ringtail.

The Ringtail is a small ground-dwelling mammal found in the arid regions of the Western US and is known by a number of common names including Ring-tailed Cat, Civet Cat or Miner’s Cat.

The name confusion is easy to understand as the Ringtail looks like a cross between a house cat and a raccoon and displays some of the characteristics that make both species appealing to humans.

 

A Distinctive Look
Averaging a weight of about three pounds, ringtails are nocturnal creatures with large eyes and upright ears that are optimized for activity after dark.

 

An adult’s tail is about a foot long, with seven to nine black rings and generally the same length as the animal’s body. While primarily used for balance, the tail can also serve as a distraction for potential predators which focus on and grab its tail rather than the body, giving the ringtail a greater chance of escaping

 

So Is The Ringtail a Feline?
It turns out, that despite all the cat references in the colloquial names given to it, the Ringtail is actually a member of the raccoon family.  Its cousin’s found in the US are the Common Raccoon and the White-nosed Coati.

 

It’s an active creature and can leap like a squirrel and use its sharp claws to climb walls like a spider. These acrobatic skills help the animal hunt. But since it emerges from its den only at night, few humans ever see the Ringtail at work.

 

And perhaps that’s just as well.

 

A Messy Eater
Here’s why: First, the Ringtail ambushes its prey (anything from a toad to a rabbit is fair game).

 

Then, using its forepaws, it pins the animal down and, like a furry Count Dracula, administers a deadly bite to the neck. The meal proper then commences, usually with the Ringtail devouring its victim’s head.

 

It’s not a pretty sight for the queasy observer.  But as many of our commentators point out, while nature is almost always amazing to observe, it’s not always pretty.

 

Have you ever encountered a ringtail? Or another messy eater?

 

We always enjoy hearing our reader’s stories.

Coyotes— They’re turning up everywhere!

By eNature

 

Coyote © Rebecca Richardson

 

People curse them, trap them, shoot them, but Coyotes continue to thrive.

In fact, their range has expanded greatly in the last fifty years. Whereas people once encountered Coyotes only in Canada and the American West, now these carnivores can be found across the East Coast of the United States as well, from Maine down to South Carolina. They’ve even been spotted in the heart of New York City and Washington DC.

But who are these new arrivals? And is their presence reason for concern?

Experts believe that the spread of Coyotes across the continent has been southward, from Canada, rather than eastward, from the West, with the largest numbers moving into new territories within the last several decades. Three factors have drawn Coyotes to these regions: an absence of natural predators, abundant habitat and prey, and wildlife regulations generally favorable to the animal’s survival.

It also helps that Coyotes are extremely adaptable. They prefer to live in open plains and prairies, but since such land is scarce in the East, they’ve settled into brushy areas instead, as well as fields, marshes, and at the edges of deciduous woodlands. The home territory of a single Coyote can measure up to five miles in diameter, and though Coyotes sometimes travel with their mates or with an extended family group, most often they’re seen alone.

 

Red Fox © USFWS

At first glance, a Coyote looks a lot like a Red Fox. Their size and coloration are about the same. The most obvious difference between these two animals lies in their tails. The tip of a Coyote’s tail is dark, while a Red Fox has a white-tipped tail. Also, a Coyote runs with its tail down, and a fox runs with its tail pointing straight out behind it. Another distinction is in their calls: both yip, but the Coyote quite often emits a series of barks and howls prior to its yipping calls.

As noted, Coyotes eat meat. Rabbits, hares, and White-tailed Deer carrion make up the bulk of an Eastern Coyote’s diet, but there are many other items on its menu, including the occasional family pet and one or a few watermelons from a garden patch. Coyotes are not shy around houses, and their curiosity and predatory instincts occasionally lead to trouble with humans.

For the record, Coyotes very rarely bite people, and when they do it’s usually because they’ve been induced into feeding from the hand. Yes, they raid garbage cans and gardens and have been known to kill cats and small dogs, but overall they’re not a negative addition to the landscape. The best strategy for dealing with them is to fence off sensitive areas and keep pets inside at night, when Coyotes are most active.

Have you encountered a coyote in a place where you didn’t expect to see one?

Share your stories - we’d love to hear them!

Cliff Swallows, like Cowbirds, are known to leave the parenting to others

 

By eNature

 

Cliff Swallow © Don DeBold

 

How many parents have longed to leave raising an obstreperous child to some other person….  For some birds, it actually happens.

Cliff Swallows are colonial—that is, they nest in colonies, sometimes numbering in the thousands of birds. In many ways the members of a colony appear to display remarkable social cohesiveness. They work together to mob predators and will even learn from each other where the good food sources are.

But if you look closely at a Cliff Swallow colony, you’ll see that this seemingly cooperative community also harbors its share of dastardly misbehavior.  Or is it actually a smart way to parent?

In every colony there are a few swallows (you might call them bad eggs) that parasitize their neighbors. They do this not by sucking other swallows’ blood or stealing food, but by putting their eggs in nests other than their own. Sometimes the sneaky swallow will even toss out one of the nest owner’s eggs before laying her egg in its place! This behavior is known as brood parasitism. The extra eggs go undetected, and the surrogate parents end up doing the work of raising the slacker’s young.

These parasitic egg-laying visits are clandestine and quick, but some Cliff Swallows have been spotted launching an even faster, more remarkable sneak attack: carrying eggs in their very small beaks (adapted for catching tiny insects on the wing) and quickly dropping them into a neighbor’s nest.

Incoming!

Learn more about Cliff Swallow in the eNature Field Guide »

NWF Joins National Pollinator Garden Network to Launch Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

 

“We can save North America’s honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, but only if we act quickly.”

Miles Grant

 

The National Wildlife Federation is joining with dozens of conservation and gardening organizations as well as seed groups to form the National Pollinator Garden Network and launch a new nationwide campaign – the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Designed to accelerate growing efforts across America, the Network is launching the Challenge in support of President Barack Obama’s call to action to reverse the decline of pollinators, such as honey bees, native bees and hummingbirds, as well as monarch butterflies.

 

Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation, was among the representatives of the Network joining First Lady Michelle Obama today at the White House garden, which includes a section dedicated to support pollinators, to formally launch the Challenge. O’Mara pledged the Federation’s support through the Garden for Wildlife program (NWF.org/Garden), which offers Americans the opportunity to make their yard, garden or community space into an NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat that supports pollinators.

 

“Pollinators are keystone species that provide the foundation of entire ecosystems, keeping our food growing and flowers blooming. But it’s clear many pollinator populations are passing a tipping point due to a combination of threats, and it’s going to take every American doing their part to reverse their decline,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We can save North America’s honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, but only if we act quickly and together to build and restore wildlife habitat at our homes, businesses and community spaces.”

 

The National Pollinator Garden Network collectively represents nearly one million active gardeners and 15,000 schoolyard gardens. The Network is challenging the nation to reach the goal of one million additional pollinator gardens by the end of 2016. The Network will work to provide resources for individuals, community groups, government agencies and the garden industry to create more pollinator habitat through sustainable gardening practices and conservation efforts.

Pollinators fertilize plants, allowing them to reproduce and produce seeds and fruits. They’re critically important for the health of natural ecosystems as well as for agriculture. Honey bees, native bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and other insects, as well as hummingbirds and certain bats are important North American pollinators. One third of all the food we eat is the direct result of animal pollinators, contributing $29 billion to America’s food production, according to a Cornell University study.

 

Pollinator declines in recent decades have been steep and severe. Native bees are in decline due to a combination of factors, including habitat loss, parasites and pesticides. Monarch butterfly populations were at one billion as recently as 1996, but their numbers have declined by approximately 90 percent in recent years, a result of numerous threats, particularly loss of habitat due to agricultural practices, development and cropland conversion. Degradation of wintering habitat in Mexico and California has also had a negative impact on the species.

 

As noted in President Obama’s 2014 Presidential Memorandum on Pollinator Health and recently released National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, federal action combined with private sector partnerships and strong citizen engagement can restore pollinator populations to healthy levels. Pollinator gardens provide one way to reverse that decline by offering food, water, cover and places to raise young for honey bees, native bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators.

“If we all work together — individuals, communities, farmers, land managers, and local, state, and federal agencies — we can ensure that every American child has a chance to enjoy the beauty of creatures like bees, monarch butterflies, and hummingbirds,” said O’Mara. “By joining forces with the National Pollinator Garden Network on the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, the National Wildlife Federation and our affiliates are amplifying these collective efforts to address the growing threats affecting so much of America’s treasured wildlife.”

 

To tackle these challenges, the National Wildlife Federation will work with the Network to rally hundreds of thousands of gardeners, horticultural professionals, schools, and volunteers to help reach a million pollinator gardens by the end of 2016. Any individual can contribute by planting for pollinators and certifying their habitat. Every habitat of every size counts, from window boxes and garden plots to farm borders, golf courses, school gardens, corporate and university campuses. Everywhere we live, work, play and worship can, with small improvements, offer essential food and shelter for pollinators.

 

The National Wildlife Federation’s 42-year-old Garden for Wildlife program is the largest network of wildlife gardeners in the nation, with almost 200,000 Certified Wildlife Habitat gardens that help pollinators. The Federation and our state affiliates will challenge and educate its millions of members and supporters in the act of creating and certifying pollinator gardens to contribute to the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.