Image: Jill Utrup via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Minnesota lawmakers will allow a new statewide program to go forward which will pay homeowners to transform their lawns into bee gardens to help pollinators struggling to survive habitat loss. As the Star Tribune reported, “the state will set aside $900,000 over one year to assist homeowners by covering much of the cost of converting traditional lawns by planting wildflowers, clover and native grasses in an effort to slow the collapse of the state’s bee population.”

The new program will help all pollinators by replenishing their food sources but will specifically aim at saving the rusty patched bumblebee, a fat and fuzzy species on the brink of extinction that seems to be making its final stand in the cities of the Upper Midwest.

There’s already been a lot of interest in this program. However, according to the Star Tribune, it’s not clear yet exactly how and when residents will be able to apply for the assistance. The state Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) will run the program and decide how grants will be issued. Officials are establishing the criteria and other details currently and will notify the public.

As MPR News explained, the rusty patched bumblebee has been struggling for quite some time:

  • Once widespread and abundant, the bumblebee’s population experienced a precipitous population decline in the early 2000’s — and Minnesota is home to a significant part of the remaining population.
  • Before they nearly disappeared, the rusty patched bumblebee was among the top four or five most commonly seen bumblebees in the Midwest. Now it’s found consistently in only a few spots, mostly around urban areas: Chicago, Milwaukee, Iowa City and Madison.
  • It’s not clear what caused the population crash in the early part of the century, but experts believe it was prompted by a combination of disease, habitat loss and pesticides.

The bee gets its name from the small rust-colored patch, surrounded by yellow, on its back.

Why This Matters: The rusty patched bumblebee is the first bee species in the contiguous United States to be listed as endangered and unless more concerted efforts are taken to protect pollinators everywhere, then they certainly won’t be the last. Bumblebees are key pollinators of crops and wildflowers across the country and essential for a healthy environment. Regardless of the ultimate cause of bumblebee declines, surviving populations need high-quality habitat to persist, which makes the Minnesota program so important.

 

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