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An endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee pollinating a purple wild bergamot flower

UW-Parkside and Root-Pike WIN Partner for “Pollinator Patch Program”

July 2, 2019  |  Topics: Events, Places

The watershed-wide project was launched with a joint effort to enhance and improve a 210-acre cross-country course

By Dave Giordano and John Mielke

Standing together on the Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course, one of the most iconic cross country venues in the nation, representatives from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network (WIN) announced a new initiative to develop a land enhancement plan called the Pollinator Patch Program. The goal of the plan is to create more habitat for a bumble bee, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, to bee exact.

Dave Giordano, George Stoner, Amanda Johnson, Dr. Julie Kinzelman, Dr. Dave Rogers and Chancellor Dr. Ford

UW-Parkside is in a unique position to rehabilitate and enhance the approximately 210 acres of forest and open space between county highways JR and E, and state Highway 31. These areas provide appealing native vegetation and prime habitat for wildlife, including the endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee and other pollinators. 

The 210-acre UW-Parkside Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course parcel

The UW-Parkside cross-country course parcel is the hub of many important regional assets. It’s an awesome place to run, bird watch, and cross-country ski in Southeastern Wisconsin. As part of the UW-Parkside campus and UW System, it’s also a vital educational hub. Furthermore, it is located near the center of the Pike River watershed where the North and South Branch meet to form the main branch in Petrifying Springs County Park. This is where Kenosha County is doing some impressive restoration work. The course and campus also happen to be at the epicenter of the federally-endangered rusty-patched bumble bee’slast known sightings in Southeastern Wisconsin. When that became apparent, Root-Pike WIN drafted The Pollinator Patch Program.

Dave Giordano of Root-Pike WIN and Chancellor Ford of UW-Parkside pen the Patch Partnership. Photo courtesy UW-Parkside

UW-Parkside Associate Professor of Biological Science Dr. David Rogers pointed to the expertise of UW-Parkside faculty and student involvement in developing the Pollinator Patch Program. Several UW-Parkside faculty members are very familiar with the UW-Parkside landscape and have experience in pollinator ecology and ecological restoration. “UW-Parkside faculty and students will provide program partners, including Thompson and Associates Wetland Services, with maps and data we have collected over the years and work directly with them to develop the Pollinator Patch Program,” Rogers said.

Chelsea Snowden-Smith and friend setting up plugs for planting

With the help of Chelsea Snowden-Smith, a recent UW–Parkside Ranger graduate and a Root-Pike WIN contractor, Root-Pike WIN developed the idea and took it to Chancellor Dr. Debbie Ford, faculty and administration. The idea was quickly met with energy and enthusiasm. It was clear from early on the Pollinator Patch Program would bee an initiative that could reach beyond the course, through the campus, into the classroom and out to the community. This is the Ranger way – and so fitting to launch this new program on this campus and on this course with a diverse mix of community stakeholders!

The federally endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis) is attracting attention locally as the Midwest is the only territory where the once wide-ranging bumble bee has remnant populations. The stressors to bumble bees in general, and the Rusty Patched in particular, include habitat loss, land disturbance, native vegetation loss, herbicide and pesticide use, disease, and possibly climate change.

Rusty patched bumble bee feeding on wild bergamot. Photo: Kim Mitchell; USFWS

“The Pollinator Patch Program is a great opportunity to further promote UW-Parkside programs in biology and environmental sciences,” Rogers said. “The campus is a great outdoor lab space. The Pollinator Patch Program will enhance the utility of our academic programs by increasing the diversity and quality of natural habitats so that faculty can better teach students the practicalfield skills they will need to contribute in their professional careers.”

Attendees at the groundbreaking dig the new native flowers

The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee is a ground nester. Plowing, mowing, construction, removal of patches of bare ground and other soil disturbances can destroy an active underground burrow or the overwintering queen bumble bee. The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee may also be the canary in the mine, illuminating the ecological importance of pollinators, and the consequences of their decline to humans, agriculture, and the ecosystem. 

“UW-Parkside was founded by the community for the community. During our half century of serving southeastern Wisconsin, faculty, students, staff and alumni have been excellent stewards of the natural resources entrusted to our learning community. Building habit for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee will be an exciting initiative.” ~ Chancellor Debbie Ford, UW-Parkside 

A partnership is planted!
Dave Giordano and Chancellor Ford

UW-Parkside faculty, working in partnership with Root-Pike WIN and Thompson & Associates Wetland Services, will help identify native flowers and vegetation most critical to the success of the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee. The open areas adjacent to the cross country trail could be restored to food sources for the bee and other pollinators from spring through late fall.

The Course project will start with planning, curriculum integration, fundraising and design. If all goes well, selective improvements could begin in 2020. Root-Pike WIN is grateful for this new and far-reaching partnership, and we encourage other educational and commercial institutions to bee a part of the program!

For more information about the UW-Parkside Cross-Country Course project and The Pollinator Patch Program, contact Root-Pike WIN!

From blazing star to coreopsis – the first patch has been planted!

Dave Giordano is the Executive Director of the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network. John Mielke is the Executive Director of Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Photographs by Eddee Daniel, project director of A Wealth of Nature, except as noted.