Honey bees aren't the only species facing serious population declines. Wild bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, and other insects, plus birds, bats, and amphibians are losing natural habitat and being forced out by invasive species, pesticides and herbicides. Pollinator pathways are a series of pollinator friendly areas that are spaced closely enough to create a habitat corridor. And for Catskills landowners, the Woodstock NY Pollinator Pathway offers simple ways to affect positive change for our pollinator pals. Committee Chair Georgia Asher tells us more.
Supported by WIOX and the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway.
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Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via otter.ai
Brett Barry 0:04
Welcome back to Kaatscast, the biweekly podcast featuring interviews, nature, arts and culture in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley. This week, we sat with Georgia Asher of the Woodstock NY Pollinator Pathway Project. What is a pollinator pathway? Why is it so crucial and how can Catskills residents pin our own properties to the path by incorporating simple techniques for attracting beneficial insects and birds? I met Georgia at the top of a hill overlooking her pollinator-friendly meadow in Shady, New York in the town of Woodstock.
Georgia Asher 0:42
We have a big meadow here. Our meadow has a lot of native plants and tracks a lot of pollinators. We've been tending this meadow for many years (mostly figuring out how to mow it) because that has a big effect on what wildlife comes to the field. So recently, we've been mowing only half of it each year, so that the other half can still maintain the overwintering insects and any birds that might be there or whatever, so a lot better for the wildlife here to do it that way.
Brett Barry 1:21
When you say, "pollinators," what exactly does that mean?
Georgia Asher 1:24
Most people think of honey bees and honey bees are one kind of pollinator, but they're not the major pollinators. The major pollinators tend to be native bees and in New York State, there are more than 400 different species of native bee. They can be moths. There are many species of moths. They can be butterflies or beetles or ants or flies or anything that kind of lands on a flower and pollination is about plant six. Plants can't get up and find a partner. Okay, so they have to rely on some way of moving the male reproductive stuff to the female part of the flowers and the male stuff is pollen and that is moved by insects or wind or whatever, but about 87% of plants are pollinated by insects. So they're extremely important.
Brett Barry 2:23
Yeah and it's not just insects, right? It's hummingbirds or...
Georgia Asher 2:26
Yeah. It can be birds (even mice) in some case.
Brett Barry 2:30
Why are refuges for pollinators so important now?
Georgia Asher 2:34
The expansion of human activity into so many corners of the earth (the loss of wild spaces in tech ecosystems), but what's happening is their long distances between one nature preserve and the other; and in between, you have suburbs with big lawns, you have shopping centers, you have roads, and so forth. So everybody has to help with conservation and conservation of insects is extremely important there. An integral part of the ecosystem we can't live without them. With us, it started out with an event that we've been putting on for the last five years through the Woodstock Land Conservancy and the Catskill Center at Thorn Preserve in Woodstock. We bring biologists and naturalists together with people from the community go out in the field to see how many reptiles and amphibians (how many birds, how many trees, how many different species we can find to all these things). I remember I invited a moth expert to our second one and he surprisingly said to me, "Well, I can come and I put up this lightsheet and shine lights on it in the evening and we'll see what we can find," but he said, "I don't think we're going to find many moths and I was very surprised by this because I thought there are gazillions of moths out there. Everybody knows there's a lot of moths. He said, "No, there's been a big decline recently." That really alarmed me, especially when I came and looked at my own porch light and noticed there weren't many moths around the porch light at night in the summer or if you drive down the highway in your car in the summer and notice your windshield in the old days, you used to get bugs all over the windshield; and now, that doesn't happen. We came up with the idea of trying to help pollinators in the way that we could which is by trying to increase their habitat. A lot of it's been lost to intensive agriculture in the monoculture agriculture where (say) a corn farmer will have these huge fields of corn or soybeans or whatever and spray pesticides and herbicides and when people plant these big lawns when they bring in non-native species, you know, when you go to the nursery of many of the plants you buy, they're there because they're beautiful. People love what they look like, but they don't add anything to the local foodweb. They come from Asia very often or Europe, they're not native plants. So it seems the only way to really help bring back the insects is to provide more habitat.
Brett Barry 5:27
Does your knowledge on this topic come from an interest in it or did you work in this field or how did you come to study this?
Georgia Asher 5:34
I was in a field of biology in graduate school, but I also have come to this very recently (the pollinators and pollinator pathways) and one of my big inspirations has been Doug Tallamy. He's an entomologist and he has written this book, "Nature's Best Hope" and "Bringing Nature Home" and made a number of videos and he is inspiring this whole movement across the country (I believe). The first person who really got into this...this pollinator corridor or what have you is a woman in Seattle who was a landscape designer and decided that she wanted to make a (sort of) corridor from one green space to another through the middle of Seattle. So she got permission from the city to take the area between the sidewalk and the street, you know, where there are trees planted (and so forth) and plant that for pollinators and she did that and that was quite amazing.
Brett Barry 6:33
And so that idea translated to an eastern version of a pollinator pathway?
Georgia Asher 6:38
Yeah. Somebody told me about a place in Connecticut where they had started. They called it pollinator pathway, not a pollinator corridor and lo and behold. Wow...they're like 40 towns in Connecticut or more who have created pollinator spaces and...and trying to create connectivity. So we (kind of) joined up with them. We got a page on their website and used a lot of their resources.
Brett Barry 7:06
And so what is the name of this local organization?
Georgia Asher 7:08
Okay, this is the Woodstock Pollinator Pathway. I'm on the board of the Woodstock Land Conservancy...and so the Woodstock Land Conservancy is part of it; so is Woodstock Transition, the Woodstock Environmental Commission, and the Catskill Standard. We're all working together to make this happen.
Brett Barry 7:28
After the break, Georgia lays out some simple ways to make your own property more welcoming for butterflies, birds, and other pollinators. Kaatscast is supported by WIOX Community Radio. Live and local in the Catskills. Reflective, responsive, and supportive at 91.3 FM, MTC cable channel 20, wioxradio.org, and with any smartphone radio app (Alexa, Play WIOX), and by the 52-mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway; following New York State Route 28 through the heart of the Central Catskills. For maps, itineraries, and links to area restaurants, shops, and accommodations, visit sceniccatskills.com.
Georgia Asher 8:19
There are some things we are suggesting that people do and they don't have to do all of them. The first one is...if you have a big lawn, try to reduce the size of your lawn. Here, we did have our lawn going further down and we stopped mowing it and you can see what happened. A lot of plants started coming up (grasses and flowers and stuff like that), so it's like this new little meadow there. It's just...it's great and I'm having a great time going out there and identifying the plants that are coming up. I take...I don't know if you know about an app called iNaturalist.
Brett Barry 8:54
I have a similar one (I think) called PictureThis. That's amazing.
Georgia Asher 8:57
Yeah...and so I go out there with my iNaturalist and I take photographs, and then I put it on iNaturalist to try to figure out what it is and figure out what insects coexist with it or another one I found really good is Google Lens. It's very helpful. In the fall, leaves...the leaves on the ground, you know, maybe in the flowerbeds...you might want to rake around your house. The reason for that is a lot of the overwintering insects will be in the fall leaves. Another one (of course) is avoid pesticides and herbicides if you can and try to put in some native plants. Doug Tallamy says, "If you only plant three native plants, the good ones to plant are asters and golden rods and sunflowers," so low piece of advice here.
Brett Barry 9:51
So if I wanted to be part of a pollinator pathway, what would be the requirements or what would I need to do to make that happen? Can anybody be a part of this?
Georgia Asher 10:01
Oh, all you have to do is go on our website, woodstocknypollinatorpathway.org, and then you fill out this really short form and you're in. You don't have to pay anything. It's free. To join the pathway, you need to put in your address and the reason for that is we're making this map to show where the habitats are because we want to try to get some connectivity like get you and your neighbors, you know, so that the pollinators can fly from one place to another without going so far that they become exhausted (starved), you know.
Can anyone do this in terms of what if I am an apartment dweller or a business? Are there still opportunities to...
Sure. Yeah. Well, you know, if you want to just say do a pot with some natives that are good for pollinators, that's fine, too. If your business and you have some area to plant that's...that's wonderful. Yeah.
Brett Barry 11:03
So this seems like a no brainer. A lot of people here in the Catskills have property and in the most basic terms...this could be nothing more than simply letting some of your lawn grow (see what comes up naturally). Obviously, don't treat it with any kind of pesticide or herbicide.
Georgia Asher 11:20
Yeah. Attract those pollinators. When the pollinators come (also), you probably get more birds. The bird populations also are way down and that's connected to the pollinator problem. Birds need the insects to eat, so it's all connected.
Brett Barry 11:37
And if I am going to buy plants, how do I figure out what would be native here and what's maybe something just coming from halfway around the globe?
Georgia Asher 11:46
Well, you can research it. One thing I do (even if I'm buying from a local nursery) is I go on to this website called Prairie Moon Nursery (which is in the midwest). So I'd rather...I'd rather buy from here, but they have a wonderful resource. You can look at their plant (let's say) only sell native plants...native to, you know, (sort of) is midwest, etc. There are cultivars of native plants, which we tell people to (kind of) avoid, you know, for example, you take an echinacea and make it a double flower instead of just a single flower, which can make it not as useful or not useful at all to the pollinators. Because when you do that, you might change the color or you might change the shape of the flower, so that the mouthparts of the pollinators don't fit in as they should or they don't have the proper landing space or they're not attractive because color is wrong and smell is wrong, so get the straight species.
Brett Barry 11:56
So we have to stop messing with things (basically) what you're saying.
Georgia Asher 12:47
Brett Barry 12:48
Let our backyards do what they're supposed to do.
Georgia Asher 12:50
Brett Barry 12:50
And enjoy what comes up.
Georgia Asher 12:52
Brett Barry 12:53
For more ways to support our local pollinators and to link your property to the path, go to woodstocknypollinatorpathway.org. You can also find events both online and in person. Thanks to Georgia Asher for the interview. Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio. Please be sure to subscribe wherever podcasts are found and give us a rating to help other listeners find us. Until next time, you can find us on Instagram @kaatscast. Artfully updated by our intern (Ashley Biederman). I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening.