Jan 23, 2023
HELPING NATURE — The Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District plans a seed program that will benefit pollinators, such as this bee. — Contributed
STEUBENVILLE — The Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District, with support from the county commissioners, is starting a pilot seed program to benefit threatened pollinators.
At last week’s meeting, commissioners agreed to give JSW $5,000 to launch the program, which will put seeds for the establishment of a native habitat for native bees, Monarch butterflies, bats and hummingbirds into the hands of landowners.
Projects Manager Aaron Dodds told commissioners it’s “both a beautification and natural resources initiative.”
“These sites, when planted, will also directly benefit a variety of animals and birds, and provide beautiful oases throughout the county,” he added.
Dodds said the Pollinator Trail will be “a vital habitat improvement project that will have significant importance environmentally.”
“It is universally understood that the populations of pollinators have seen a continued decline for generations and while pesticides play a large role, the biggest contributor to this plight is the lack of habitat,” he said. “Since this area was settled the plant diversity has been greatly impacted by several factors, from invasive plants to lawns to parking lots and general development. For years war has been waged on such native plants as milkweed, while commercial greenhouses have sold copious amounts of plants not native to the area that cannot be used by the native pollinators.”
Dodds said having areas with a variety of native plants that can be used by the pollinators as a food source, shelter and place to raise successive generations is imperative.
“Many pollinators are migratory, such as Monarch butterflies, and need ‘pit stops’ along their travel route to eat, rest and rejuvenate, just as humans do,” he said. “Moreover, pollinators not only serve an important role for plants, but also for animals. Many song birds rely on the caterpillars of pollinators as a significant food source. Thus, if the link in the chain is broken, the entire ecosystem is negatively impacted.”
He said JSW’s Pollinator Trail will help reintroduce these native plant species back into region.
“Beautiful flowering plants such a purple coneflower, wild bergamot, rattlesnake master, gray headed coneflower, blazing star and a host of milkweeds will be available as part of the seed mixes which will help restore the habitat and benefit the pollinators,” Dodds said.
“As the trail is established and expanded, public places will be added and mapped to allow nature lovers, birders, photographers and everyone else to visit these public places throughout Jefferson County,” he said. “Transforming some of these areas into majestic oases will allow from people of the county and region to explore and see the beauty of Jefferson County.”
The village of Wintersville and Wayne Township trustees already have taken steps or expressed interest in creating pollinator areas, he said, pointing out that in the recently submitted Appalachian Community Grant application there had been requested funds to expand the pollinator trail concept to other activities in the overall grant.
“For example, collaboration with Urban Mission Ministries based in Steubenville, Ohio would see a health care and workforce component added to the project. A greenhouse would be constructed on Urban Mission’s Green Space property in downtown Steubenville, where a recovery to workforce training program will be implemented to grow native plants to be distributed as part of the pollinator trail program. Urban Mission’s green space will further be developed to include a pollinator garden for public enjoyment.
“Additionally, JSW, through the Appalachian Community Grant, is looking to expand this concept into all of the 32 counties that comprise Appalachian Ohio,” he said. “This would be part of a larger Ohio Pollinator Trail that will see opportunities for public places and private residences to benefit. Public garden and pollinator areas will be developed which will not only add beauty, but tourism dollars. Mapped and delineated trails will allow people to get off the highway and spend time on the meandering roads of Appalachian Ohio while they visit these public spaces, and while on their journey they will stop in the small towns and villages to shop and eat. The trail will also allow locals to view the region from another perspective and help restore or strengthen the sense of pride they have in the place they call home.”
Private landowners can apply for the program, he said. A set acreage of free seeds based on acreage would be distributed to landowners in Jefferson County, and a sign acknowledging the landowner’s participation in the program will be issued. Dodds said they’d have additional seeds landowners could purchase, if desired, and once the initial program area is established, JSW expects to sustain the program through the sale of seed and grants.
Public entities, businesses and organizations interested in participating will be able to purchase a seed and sign package. If there’s funds left over after the initial application period, he said they could look at distributing seeds to public entities “providing the seeds (are) used to enhance or develop spaces open to the public for the enjoyment of all people, free of cost.”
He also said they’ll eventually map all public spaces and add them to the pollinator trail, “which will encourage tourism throughout the county.”
Private lands would not be added to the mapped trail unless the owners request it.
Participating landowners will be asked to voluntarily manage the pollinator area for at least five years.
Dodds said while the project is actually a scaled-down version of the proposal incorporated into the county’s Appalachian Community Grant application, “investing now … helps realize a long-term vision to directly benefit the people, as well as create a proof of concept that will strengthen (our) application.”
Commissioner Tony Morelli said he liked the program, pointing out it will benefit the county, and Commissioner Dave Maple said it’s exactly the kind of thing they should be using oil and gas revenue for, “an actual improvement to the county.”
“As it is a pilot program, we don’t know if it will be a huge success or just a trickle,” Dodds said.
Applications will be available soon and the program will run in conjunction with JSW’s native tree sale, Dodds said. “This year our tree sale will include such species Franklina, Paw Paw, Ohio Buckeye, Umbrella Magnolia, Redbud, and Flowering Dogwood all in 3-plus feet tall and in 3-gallon pots.
For information, call JSW at (740) 264.9790 or email [email protected]
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