How the US Army Corps of Engineers is taking action to help pollinators

By Sara GoodeyonJune 24, 2021

Kaw Lake Park Ranger Kelly Vanzandt uses and ATV to prepare the soil of the pollinator habitat for placement of seeds.
Kaw Lake Park Ranger Kelly Vanzandt uses and ATV to prepare the soil of the pollinator habitat for placement of seeds. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

TULSA, Okla. — There has been a decline in the pollinator population in recent years and their reduced numbers threatens many fruits, vegetables and nuts. Bees, birds and butterflies feed on the nectar within the flowers of the plants, pollen attaches to the insects and they transfer the pollen to the next flower, fertilizing the plant. Without pollinators this fertilization does not occur naturally.

“Most native pollinators are thought to be declining because of habitat loss or the loss of the host plant species they depend on to reproduce,” said Stacy Dunkin, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District biologist. For example, the loss of the thin milkweed plant through herbicide use is thought to have caused observable reductions in the populations of monarch butterflies, a known pollinator species.

“For non-native pollinators like honey bees it is believed the declines is from what is called colony collapse disorder or CCD. It is thought that neonicotinoid pesticides play a role in CCD by weakening [bees] who are exposed to these pesticides,” said Dunkin. Because honey bees are utilized as a pollinator in agriculture, CCD poses potentially significant impacts to food production.

Losses of pollinators were deemed so critical that the federal government took action through the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators Plan that includes the USACE Pollinator Protection Plan. The USACE plan stipulates the incorporation of conservation practices for pollinator habitat on the lands and waters it manages as appropriate.

“Tulsa District is addressing the USACE plan by restricting the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides on district-managed lands,” said Dunkin. “We are also requesting annual funding to restore native wildlife habitat to benefit pollinators through habitat restorations projects and the use for prescribed fire to improve and maintain native pollinator habitat.”

Kaw Lake staff and Phillips 66 Ponca City refinery volunteers at the pollinator habitat site after it was prepped for seeding.
Kaw Lake staff and Phillips 66 Ponca City refinery volunteers at the pollinator habitat site after it was prepped for seeding. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

In the Tulsa District there are habitat restorations already in place or under construction. Projects are at Kaw Lake, Oologah Lake, Keystone Lake, all in the Tulsa District Northern Area of Operation in Oklahoma, and the Marion Reservoir in the Kansas Area of Operation.

At Kaw Lake, work began a few years ago when Lake Manager Peat Robinson and Assistance Lake Manager Dakota Allison developed a partnership with Phillips 66 and accomplished various projects around the lake.

“One project was the pollinator fields that were established by their overlook and Osage Cove area,” said Raef Perryman an Environmental Specialist for the Northern Area. “In total they have developed approximately eight acres of wildflower fields.”

Kaw City was also a collaborator on this project. The partners donated the seed for these fields along with some labor to assist Kaw staff when developing them.

At Keystone, Project Office personnel are developing an area for a pollinator habitat by reducing Johnson grass and eastern red cedar, both invasive species, at Brush Creek.

“They are actively reducing the invasive species footprint through prescribed burns, mechanical means, and herbicides,” said Perryman. “As they gain ground on this issue, they have purchased native flower, native grass, and various native tree species to reestablish the area.”

Perryman said the project is in its infancy and has a delivery date of late this summer or by the early spring of 2022, and he predicts that in about a year there will be an outstanding pollinator field that will complement the fitness trail and the Brush Creek Campground.

The third project is a pollinator field at Oologah Lake. Park Ranger Randi Clifton is spearheading the development of the nearly 1-acre site for the habitat, which is near the Blue Creek Campground. Invasive cedars are being removed that were already dead or dying due to a 2019 flood.

“The staff took advantage of the opportunity to reclaim it into a pollinator field since it was a previously disturbed wildlife food plot. All the living large or mature trees were left onsite,” said Perryman. “As soon as the seed shows up the staff will plant the area.”

The Kaw Lake pollinator habitat this summer.
The Kaw Lake pollinator habitat this summer. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Clifton’s goal is to provide visitors an area where they can walk through a pollinator habitat that will include interpretive signs and other features. However, this aspect of the project is subject to funding availability.

At Marion Reservoir in Kansas, they have just implemented pollinator strips that have a dual purpose of providing for both pollinator species and game bird species such as quail, pheasant, and turkey.

“The strips are cut into an old field (with existing high grasses that have little benefit to pollinators and birds) that has been historically an A&G Lease,” said Scott McCrone Natural Resources Specialist Park Ranger at Marion. “The strips are planted with clover and Korean lespedeza in alternating strips 5 feet wide and 80 to 120 yards long.

The plan is to install more strips with more diverse plant species to increase both pollinator and game bird species richness and diversity, along with working in some more native grasses.

“We used no herbicides, no till, and a hand spreader to put out all the seed,” said McCrone. “It’s had a lot of success and is heavily used by an abundance of wildlife.”

The Tulsa District manages over 1 million acres of land and water with more than 90% of the land being managed for wildlife.

“We go to great lengths to maintain it in its natural state which benefits all wildlife, including all pollinator species,” said Dunkin. “Also, keep in mind that not all pollinators are insects. Many species of bats are also important pollinators for plants.”

The USACE Plan goal is to restore or enhance millions of acres of land through federal actions and public and private partnerships. Here in the Tulsa District Project Staff are working to achieve that goal one habitat at a time.