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The Pollinator Connection: Bee green, bee good

By Kristina Lefever for the Tidings October 1, 2019 ~

As a pollinator person, I don’t usually get excited about lawns. And city parks, schoolyards, and public green spaces make me a little nervous, because I think about the toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that are probably being used in these places where people congregate, pets romp, and children play.

How many people dream of the day when every park, schoolyard, and green space on publicly owned property in the Rogue Valley is no longer treated with synthetic fertilizers or pesticides? Think how that would improve the health of our community! Instead of trucking in bags and plastic containers of herbicides made from petroleum and toxic chemicals simply to kill weeds and synthetic fertilizers that feed only the grass and harm the beneficial soil life that can nurture the grass, we can be using natural and readily available ingredients to grow a healthy ecosystem both below and above the lawn. This benefits pollinators, too, since weed killers such as glyphosate harm honey bees, as well as many beneficial species, including aquatic invertebrates, birds and beneficial insects. Furthermore, organically managed grassy areas cool the planet while sequestering carbon in the living soils and provide beautiful and non-toxic places for the community to enjoy.

This dream of a non-toxic Southern Oregon can and will be a reality. Because of the work of Lisa Arkin, executive director of Beyond Toxics, with support from Pollinator Project Rogue Valley, the landcare staff of five cities, two schools, one golf course, and one county in Southern Oregon now know how to make this happen! Chip Osborne of Osborne Organics recently led a free, daylong workshop with staff from the cities of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford and Jacksonville; Southern Oregon University; Phoenix-Talent School District and Jackson County Parks at the Talent Community Center. We all learned so much about how to grow and maintain lush and beautiful, weed-free green spaces in such an obvious and easy way, all while reducing irrigation.

Rather than applying something to kill weeds, we should apply easily available, low-cost materials to grow healthy soil that will grow green grass for all to enjoy!

The training here in Jackson County followed a similar day with Chip and landcare staff from cities and schools in the Willamette Valley, all made possible by Beyond Toxics! Much gratitude to Osborne and especially Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, who participated in the training and is providing funding for Osborne’s work with cities and schools across the country.

And, we are thrilled that the City of Talent signed on to a three-year program with Osborne Organics and Beyond Pesticides to transition their parks and greenspaces to a completely organic landcare protocol. Osborne also is working with the cities of Eugene and Springfield, as well as Lane County; four additional Oregon cities will be selected in 2020.

Are you asking — Will this training for municipalities be repeated? You bet! I encourage other cities, schools, and golf courses to reach out to me or Beyond Toxics as we begin to plan for 2020.

On a related topic, did you know that glyphosate and other highly hazardous pesticides are sprayed multiple times each year along Jackson County’s 600 miles of county roads? We are talking with our County Commissioners about this, because, again, there are better ways to manage roadside weeds.

Other municipalities have already made the decision to transition away from these very toxic pesticides that negatively impact water quality, pollinator habitat, farms and private lands, birds, and of course, aquatic life. Lane County, for instance, has been using only 3 herbicides for years, and provides information online about what and where they do apply these chemicals Why not Jackson County? If you would like to share your concerns, please visit Non Toxic Southern Oregon to sign on to tell our Commissioners it is time to find a better way to manage our roadsides.

And, as the seasons change, remember to leave the leaves, the seedheads, and the untidiness in your pollinator garden until spring. Pollinator gardens are mini-ecosystems, and even during the fall and winter continue providing for pollinators, beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife — food in many forms, warmth, and shelter. And of course, the plants decay and make the soil richer for next year’s garden. Read here and here why we need to “let our gardens go” in the fall and winter.

As the Xerces Society says so beautifully: “You tended your garden and avoided pesticides. Don’t carry all of that hard work out to the curb. Simply put, when we treat leaves like trash — we’re tossing out the beautiful moths and butterflies that we’ll surely miss and work so very hard to attract.”

May your pollinator garden bee lovely for many this Fall.

— Kristina Lefever is a member of Pollinator Project Rogue Valley and Bee City USA Ashland, and a board member of Beyond Toxics. She may be reached at The Pollinator Connection appears quarterly.


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