The Xerces Society provided twenty-five Pollinator Conservation Short Courses in thirteen states over the course of four years for staff from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), Certified Crop Advisors, the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Extension personnel, as well as farm organizations and individual farmers. Leveraged funds were used for thirteen of the twenty-five courses, allowing us to bring the Course to additional states and hold multiple courses in some states. Western SARE was acknowledged for all of the events, and the events were promoted to Western SARE personnel and on the Western SARE event calendar. More than 1000 people participated in the Short Courses, for an average of 40 participants per course. Follow up surveys show that these Short Courses improved the attendee’s skills and capacity to implement pollinator conservation efforts, such as installing conservation buffers, Integrated Pest Management to mitigate harm from pesticides, and tillage reduction to protect ground-nesting bees.
A new article in the prestigious journal Science (Garibaldi et al. 2013) clearly shows native bees make a significant contribution to crop pollination. The study has prompted a renewed call to maintain and manage pollinator diversity for long-term agricultural production. It suggests that new practices for integrated management of both honey bees and wild insects—including conservation or restoration of natural or semi-natural areas within croplands, addition of diverse floral and nesting resources, and more prudent use of insecticides—will enhance global yields of bee-pollinated crops and promote long-term agricultural production.
Our Short Courses have been providing just such information to agricultural professionals. Each Short Course includes an overview of pollinator biology, an overview of the latest research findings, conservation practices that support pollinators, relevant habitat assessment and management guidelines, practical habitat establishment guidelines, and an overview of how to take advantage of financial and technical support from the USDA via conservation programs authorized in the Farm Bill.
Based on surveys conducted immediately after and then again one year after each event, course participants demonstrated increased awareness of pollinator population trends and specific practices to conserve these vital insects. Field staff from the NRCS, FSA, Extension, and Soil and Water Conservation Districts who attended the Short Courses went on to directly implement pollinator conservation strategies with their client farmers. Thousands of acres of land are being managed for pollinators as a result of these trainings. Our surveys show that over the long term this project will result in increased participation among growers of bee-pollinated crops in USDA conservation programs like Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
We conducted full day Pollinator Conservation Short Courses in Alaska, Arizona, California (leveraged funds), Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon (leveraged funds), Utah, Washington, and Wyoming in the Western region. Our specific performance target for the Pollinator Conservation Short Course was to reach at least 200 participants total. We greatly surpassed this goal by reaching 1000 participants, averaging 40 people at each course. Leveraged funds were used for thirteen of the twenty-five courses, allowed us to bring the Course to additional states and hold multiple courses in some states. Western SARE support for this outreach effort was acknowledged at all of the events, and the Short Courses were promoted to Western SARE personnel and on the Western SARE event calendar.
Pollinators are essential to our environment. The ecological service they provide is necessary for the reproduction of more than 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants (Ollerton et al. 2011). This includes more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species, whose fruits and seeds together provide over 30 percent of the foods and beverages that we consume (Klein et al. 2007).
Despite this, the essential service of pollination is at risk. Habitat loss, alteration, and fragmentation, pesticide use, and pathogens have all contributed to recent pollinator declines.
The economic value of insect-pollinated crops in the United States was estimated to be $20 billion in 2000 (Losey & Vaughan 2006). Included in this value are crops of major economic importance in the western U.S. such as apples, pears, peaches, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, alfalfa seed, seed production and diverse vegetable crops.
Research on crop pollination has demonstrated that native bees make a significant contribution to crop pollination—in some cases providing one hundred percent of pollination when enough habitat is available (Kremen et al. 2002, Kremen et al. 2004, Winfree et al 2007b). Today, these native pollinators are more important than ever as hives of European honey bees become more expensive and difficult to acquire because of disease, pests, pesticide exposure, and—in the last few years—Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been covered extensively in the media.
Worldwide, there are an estimated 20,000 species of bees (Michener 2000), with approximately 4,000 species native to the United States (Winfree et al. 2007a). Native bees provide free pollination services, and are often specialized for foraging on particular flowers, such as squash, berries, or orchard crops (e.g., Tepedino 1981, Bosch & Kemp 2001, Javorek et al. 2002). This specialization results in more efficient pollination and the production of larger and more abundant fruit from certain crops (Greenleaf & Kremen 2006, Klein et al. 2007). Native bees contribute an estimated $3 billion worth of crop pollination annually to the U.S. economy (Losey & Vaughan 2006). Protecting, enhancing or providing natural habitat on farms is the best way to conserve native pollinators (Kremen et al. 2007) and, at the same time, provide pollen and nectar resources that support local honey bees.
The 2008 Farm Bill (and now the 2014 Farm Bill) contains specific language that makes pollinators a priority of all USDA conservation programs. At the state and national level, the USDA-NRCS—often in collaboration with the Xerces Society—has developed guidelines on how to provide pollinator foraging and nesting habitat in agricultural landscapes, but the knowledge necessary to implement these habitat enhancements has not been cultivated at the field office level.
That lack of knowledge represents a key constraint to the wider adoption of pollinator conservation. A recent NRCS survey documented that farmers want to provide additional habitat for pollinators but need technical assistance to do so. These Short Courses provided a mechanism for developing that technical support expertise among farm educators, as well as farmers themselves.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
For this project, the Xerces Society developed a core curriculum on pollinator conservation planning in agricultural landscapes. This curriculum included modules on the importance of bees, their decline and conservation threats, native bee ecology, pollinator habitat assessment, bee-safe farm management, pollinator habitat restoration, and financial and technical support from USDA conservation programs and personnel.
Wherever possible, the Short Course curriculum was supplemented by presentations from conservation experts based in each individual state. In this way, we also worked to support local communities of practice interested in promoting pollinator conservation efforts in agricultural landscapes. Depending upon the event, these partners included NRCS State Wildlife Biologists and Plant Materials Center Managers (responsible for implementing Farm Bill pollinator conservation initiatives), native seed producers involved in pollinator conservation efforts, academic researchers, and Extension entomologists. Guest speakers spoke about conservation programs available to farmers, current research about pollinator conservation in the area, specific field trials, and results from pollinator conservation efforts in the region.
The classroom component of the Short Courses was supplemented by an open lab period to observe pinned native bee specimens, native bee nest materials, and informational displays.
Wherever possible, Short Courses included an outdoor field component to observe and identify pollinators, assess pollinator habitat resources using Xerces’ tools, and discuss on-site land management practices that impact pollinator diversity and abundance. To accommodate this field component, workshops were typically conducted at NRCS Plant Materials Centers, university research stations, or rural sustainable agriculture institutions where classroom space was in close proximity to appropriate field sites.
Workshops concluded with a discussion of local technical and financial resources to support the independent ongoing efforts of workshop participants.
Outreach and Publications
The Xerces Society developed the full-day pollinator conservation Short Course curriculum, which includes both classroom and outdoor components. A sample Pollinator Conservation Short Course agenda typically includes the following sessions:
Module 1. Introduction
- Pollination economics and the role of bees in commercial crop production
- Pollination biology
- Colony Collapse Disorder and honey bee industry trends
Module 2. Basic Bee Biology
- Bee identification
- Understanding bee life cycles
Module 3. Bee-Friendly Farming
- The value of natural habitat
- Reducing pesticide harm
- Protecting nesting sites
Module 4. Habitat Restoration
- Habitat design considerations
- Plant selection and seed sources
- Site preparation and planting techniques for wildflowers
- Long-term habitat management
Module 5. Field Laboratory (outdoors)
- Habitat assessment exercise and land-use discussion
- Examination of live bee specimens, artificial nests, and display materials
Module 6. USDA Support for Bee Conservation
- Using Farm Bill programs and practices for bee conservation
- Conservation grants available through the USDA programs
- Conservation case studies
Module 7. Additional Resources
- Accessing additional technical and financial support
To evaluate specific outcomes and impacts, each Short Course participant completed a written evaluation immediately following the course.
Of agricultural support staff respondents, 93% reported that the Short Course changed how they intended to advise farmers about farm management practices to support pollinators. Of those, 91% said they intended to incorporate pollinator habitat enhancement into already-existing trainings on Farm Bill conservation programs. Respondents reported that they would educate farmers on the following subject matters: providing additional habitat for pollinators (91%), adjusting land management practices to benefit pollinators (75%), encouraging enrollment in NRCS administered conservation programs for pollinators (70%), and considering the pesticide impacts on pollinators in pest control decisions (71%) (Figure 1).
Of the farmers and landowners who responded to the post Course evaluation, 93% said they intended to change how they supported pollinators on the land they manage. More specifically, these respondents reported that they would manage their land to support pollinators in the following ways: provide additional habitat for pollinators (91%), adjust land management practices (tillage, mowing, etc.) to increase pollinator abundance (65%), enroll in NRCS administered conservation programs for pollinators (39%), and consider pesticide impacts on pollinators in future pest control decisions (32%) (Figure 2). These farmers and landowners reported to collectively manage approximately 27,824 acres of land.
One year after each Short Course, we sent a follow up to all attendees. The survey was intended to see if and how participants had been using the information gained from the Short Course. We achieved a response rate of 29% from both years of surveys.
In the year since participants attended the Short Course, 95% of respondents reported that they had utilized the information they learned at the training. Participants utilized the information in the following ways: providing additional habitat (71%), in education and outreach programs to their peers (60%), assisted others (farmer-peers) in implementing pollinator conservation practices (50%), incorporated pollinator conservation practices into their land management systems (47%), considered pesticide impacts on pollinators (42%), enrolled (4%), encouraged or assisted with enrollment in NRCS conservation programs (30%), included pollinator conservation information in written publications (28%), and adjusted land management practices to benefit pollinators (25%) (Figure 3).
These results indicate that we were highly successful in our initial project objectives: to provide a train-the-trainer approach to expanding pollinator conservation efforts, facilitating the installation of additional habitat on the ground, changing land management practices on the ground (reducing the use of pesticides, tillage, and mowing), and encouraging enrollment in NRCS and FSA Farm Bill conservation programs.
As part of our follow up survey, we asked participants to report on the number of habitat acres they had created and/or managed for the benefit of pollinators since attending the Short Course.
Based on survey results, we conservatively estimate that these Short Courses led to improved conditions for pollinators on over 16,000 acres. In 2011 and 2012, Short Course participants reported that they had created (through wildflower establishment) 16,997 acres of habitat for the benefit of pollinators. They also reported to have changed pesticide practices on 11,792 acres of land and adjusted management practices on 5,863 acres of land. On average, each survey respondent created 90 acres of pollinator habitat, adjusted pesticide practices on 60 acres, and adjusted land management practices on 31 acres.
As part of our follow up survey, we felt it was also important to gain knowledge of the impediments to pollinator conservation so that we can work with practitioners to surmount these obstacles (Figure 4). Many barriers such as “worried habitat may provide haven for pests or weeds” or “unfamiliar with how to plant the proper habitat” can be easily dealt with through additional education and through follow up workshops on wildflower plot establishment. Other issues included the cost of establishing pollinator habitat and the difficultly involved with applying for government funding. To alleviate these barriers, Xerces has developed and provided documents and training on how to successfully navigate Farm Bill conservation programs. We are also working with seed companies to expand the number of native species available and to lower costs, and we are working to get higher cost-share payments through Farm Bill conservation programs. Overall these survey questions help us to develop clear strategies for reducing or eliminating barriers to adopting pollinator conservation measures.
- Figure 1: Agricultural Support Staff Plan to Advise Farmers to Protect Pollinators through Multiple Practices
- Figure 2: Farmers Plan to Support Pollinators on their Land through Multiple Practices
- Figure 3: Information gained from the Short Course was used by participants in multiple ways
- Figure 4: Barriers Encountered by Participants to Pollinator Conservation
More than 1000 people participated in the Short Courses in thirteen different states, for an average of 40 participants per course (our overall performance target was 200 total participants). The primary audiences at these events were staff from the NRCS, SWCDs, and Cooperative Extension, as well as a number of individual farmers, researchers, master gardeners, naturalists, and beekeepers.
The feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Below is a sample of feedback we’ve received from participants:
“My expectations were more than fulfilled—great presentation. Mace is perfect for what he does. His love of the subject is contagious.”
– Landowner, New Mexico
“Everything was really great. I work for NRCS and have to implement pollinator habitats and received little training—this was exactly what I needed. Thank you!”
– NRCS Field Conservationist, Washington
“I liked the entire presentation. Jennifer was very knowledgeable and presented the info in a very organized manner.”
– NRCS Field Conservationist, Colorado
“I learned many things that I feel will help as I work with agricultural producers and give guidance to them.”
– Conservation District staff, Washington
“I came away with an increased understanding of pollinator behavior and needs, and am better [able to] assist landowners and promote pollinator conservation. Expectations were fulfilled!”
– Conservation District Employee, Colorado
“I was hoping to be better able to advise people when they ask me what to plant to encourage bee populations. I feel this was met and exceeded! Great job! Thanks for coming to Colorado!”
– Extension Educator, Colorado
“Yes (expectations fulfilled)—lots of great materials in only one day. Info-packed and fun.”
– Biologist/Entomologist, Arizona
“New and reinforced information about native bees—renewed passion. Yes, (expectations) fulfilled. Mace did a great job—he is an expert in his field.”
– Educator, Arizona
“More than fulfilled—abundance of material expertly presented. Thank you.”
– Agricultural Support Staff/Farmer, Arizona
“I wanted to have a better feel for incorporating pollinators in planning and it was fulfilled.”
– Agricultural Support Staff, Bridger, Montana
“Learn more about how to incorporate pollinator considerations to conservation planning; Yes—I feel more informed about pollinators, which will help in talking to producers. Great job!”
– Agricultural Support Staff, Bridger, Montana
“I was not sure what to expect but was very happy with everything that I learned. Jennifer is incredibly knowledgeable and just as good at teaching to others.”
– NRCS, Bridger, Montana
“To have a better understanding of pollinators and what can be done to promote then. Absolutely (expectations fulfilled).”
– Agricultural Support Staff, Bridger, Montana
“Good workshop, could have benefited from another day with more field time and real life examples of pollinator habitat/establishment.”
– Agricultural Support Staff/Biologist/Entomologist, Great Falls, Montana
“Needed to know how to advise farmers for the benefit of both positive effects /facts to “sell” pollinator conservation. Yes, I’m better equipped.”
– Agricultural Support Staff, Great Falls, Montana
“This was a really good short course. The presenter (Jennifer) did a really nice job. She covered a lot of material and kept it interesting.”
– USFS Botanist, Great Falls, Montana
“Yes, well organized; excellent colorful powerpoint presentation; appreciate the references and science—based recommendations and approaches.”
– USFS, Wyoming
“Definitely well worth the time.”
– Farmer, Hawaii
“I attended with the intent to learn more about how to preserve & create native pollinator habitat. Excellent workshop—thank you to Eric!”
– Restoration Professional, Washington
“This was extremely informative, well put together, and enjoyable.”
“More than fulfilled—I expected to re-hash Attracting Native Pollinators, but got a lot of even more current information and perspectives.”
– Biologist/Entomologist, California
“I wanted to learn more about this subject & I did—this was a fantastic class & the presenters were wonderful. Thank you. I am joining Xerces.”
– Rancher, California
“It was better than I expected. I appreciate the time Eric took to study up on Alaska pollinators prior to coming here.”
– Agricultural Support Staff, Alaska
“I was dreading that it would be a boring NRCS presentation about program paperwork, reporting requirements, and habitat assessment worksheets. I’m so happily surprised that a plethora of information was presented to improve my technical assistance capabilities. Thank You!”
– Agricultural Support Staff, Alaska
“To learn more, become more informed. Yes! Great presenters and powerpoint was very well done, Thank you for all the extras, handouts, and knowledge.”
– Farmer/Organic Agriculture Educator, Nevada
“7 of 7! More than fulfilled – beyond expectations. I wanted new information—to expand my thinking, etc. Exceptionally done by very passionate experts. I will share info with others.”
– Master Gardener, Nevada
We have met and surpassed all of our project objectives outlined in our initial proposal through our Pollinator Conservation Short Courses. We were able to conduct twenty-five (thirteen courses using leveraged funds) Short Courses in thirteen states and reached over 1000 people, greatly surpassing our goal of 200 people. Based on post course survey results, we conservatively estimate that these Short Courses led to improved conditions for pollinators on over 16,000 acres in the western states.
Through this project, farm educators gained an increased awareness of pollinator population trends, and trends in bee-pollinated crop production. They gained a basic knowledge of native bee biology, identification, habitat requirements, pollinator-friendly farming practices, the design and development of pollinator habitat enhancements, how to support those efforts through Farm Bill conservation programs, and where to find additional resources. This knowledge empowered educators and conservation planners to directly reverse pollinator declines through their own actions and through the education of their constituents.
In the intermediate term, we expected Cooperative Extension, NRCS, FSA, and Soil and Water Conservation District attendees to go on to directly support pollinator conservation projects with their client farmers. We also expected extension educators and farm consultants to provide guidance to farmers on how to modify existing practices to support pollinator resources (e.g., adoption of pesticide mitigation techniques, mowing modifications to protect bumble bees, etc.). Participants from other agencies such as state departments of agriculture, transportation, and natural resources, and non-governmental organizations have advocated for the inclusion of crop-pollinating bees in wildlife and natural area management plans. Our participants have reported to have used the information gained to conduct local outreach efforts (public field days, in-service peer trainings, etc.) to share their knowledge, and to promote demonstration projects. Our survey respondents (60%) reported that they used the information they gained from our training in their own outreach and education efforts and 28% reported that they included pollinator conservation information in their written publications such as technical guides, newsletters, and news stories.
Over the long term, we expect this project to result in increased participation among growers of bee-pollinated crops in USDA conservation programs that support pollinator habitat. The support system of NRCS conservation planners and farm educators has helped farmers achieve greater crop security through the increase of resident native pollinator populations. These trainings also encouraged the enrollment in NRCS and FSA Farm Bill conservation programs; 4% of our survey respondents reported to have enrolled in NRCS conservation programs for pollinators and 30% reported to have encouraged or assisted others in enrolling.
These Short Courses have also supported the honey bee industry through the creation of new pollinator refugia in agricultural landscapes. Native seed growers and private conservation companies have benefited from new market opportunities for their products and services. Rural landscapes have benefited from healthier agro-ecosystems where pesticide mitigation techniques are adopted and wildlife biodiversity is fostered. Our Short Courses have facilitated the installation of additional habitat on the ground for pollinators; 71% of respondents reported to have provided additional wildflower plantings and nest sites, 42% considered pesticide impacts on pollinators when making pest management decisions for their farms, and 25% reported to have adjusted their land management practices with pollinators in mind.
The only challenges we faced during this project period were minor, and we would actually classify them as additional opportunities rather than challenges. After each Short Course, we would inevitably receive a flood of additional workshop requests and follow-up inquiries for farm-specific technical support. We were able to address some of these requests by leveraging funding from the NRCS National Technology Support Centers; however, we continue to receive additional requests on a daily basis. As new research and technical guidance relevant to pollinator conservation continues to evolve, it became a challenge to fit in all the pertinent materials into our seven-hour course agenda. In post Course evaluations and in follow up surveys, respondents continue to request an expansion of our Short Course to include additional information about wildflower plot establishment and management and additional information about conserving other beneficial insects (predators and parasitoids of crop pests). This presents an opportunity to expand our current model to an in-depth, multi-day Course that allows participants to create their own pollinator conservation plan, includes field days on seed bed preparation, wildflower seed establishment, short and long term maintenance techniques, and more in-depth training on pollinator identification. We were recently awarded a grant from Western SARE to deliver twelve Conservation Biological Control Short Courses. These Short Courses will build off of the success of our Pollinator Conservation Short Courses by providing agricultural professionals with the information they need to continue to provide wildlife habitat on working farms and reduce the use of pesticides.
Through our follow up surveys we also asked participants to rank which topics they would like to learn about in future Short Courses. The greatest interest was in a follow up course about wildflower plot establishment and management techniques (Figure 5). The current Short Course model provides an overview of this process. However, a course on preparing a site, planting seed, and maintaining a wildflower meadow should involve hands on use or demonstration of equipment and techniques in the field. It should be at least a half-day training (e.g., as we provided in New Mexico in collaboration with the New Mexico NRCS Plant Materials Center). A possible next step in this project would involve expanding the Short Course model to include more classroom time for participants to create a pollinator conservation plan, field days on seed bed preparation, wildflower seed establishment, and short and long term maintenance techniques.
One other highly ranked option for follow up to these Pollinator Conservation Short Courses was a Beneficial Insect Conservation Short Course: teaching our core audience about beneficial insects that provide pest control and how to manage farms for their benefit. We have recently received a grant from W SARE to provide this Short Course in twelve Western SARE states.