Wisconsinites support pollinators by taking part in No Mow May

By: - May 4, 2022 5:30 am
honey bees on a flower

Photo by Michael Hodgins from Pexels

Wisconsin’s transition from cold winter weather to the wetter conditions of spring offers many things for residents. Migratory birds return as habitats and ecosystems across the state prepare for warmer days. Pollinators return as well, either coming out of over-winter dormancy or returning from their own migrations.

Once May rolls around, some Wisconsin communities make their lawns pollinator-friendly. Called No Mow May, the annual initiative encourages Wisconsin residents to not mow their lawns for the whole month. By doing so, flowering plants craved by pollinators, from bees to butterflies to hummingbirds, can grow freely.

From the Milwaukee County suburb of Greenfield, to Appleton, and Green Bay. communities across the state are participating in No Mow May. Pollinators are critical to healthy ecosystems, and help ensure the cycles needed to sustain agricultural crops and natural areas are supported. By feeding, pollinators transfer pollen, which helps plants reproduce and grow fruits and seeds.

Jay Watson, a conservation biologist with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said the decline of pollinators is a major concern. “Various studies across the state, or across the country, are showing declines in bumblebee species,” Watson told Wisconsin Examiner. “Almost half of the ones in the state of Wisconsin, which we have 20, are thought to have declined. So we’re really digging into that, learning more about them. Since digging into that, the rusty patch bumblebee has been assessed and now is federally listed [as endangered]. And then there’s another [species] being proposed for the American bumblebee.”

Butterflies and moths are in the same boat, he added. “Many of the species have shown declines across the whole state, across the region. For example, monarch butterflies have decreased. And our grassland and prairie skippers too.” When most people think of pollinators, they draw up a mental image of a honeybee, especially the widely known European honeybee. Watson highlights that there are over 400 native bee species across the state.

The participation of Wisconsin residents in creating more spaces to support pollinators can help their survival. No Mow May provides a simple, community-oriented avenue to help.

“It’s really important for our early spring bees, and early pollinators that are out at that time in May,” said Watson. Many plants haven’t made flowers yet.  “So things that pop up in our lawns like dandelions, little white cloves, maybe creeping charlie, or different things like that can be really important resources. Especially for the solitary bees that don’t really fly too far … That can be a really important resource for them to feed to their offspring.”

Bees and butterflies are keen to take advantage of the flowers that  appear in people’s unmowed lawns. Watson noted No Mow May as an easy opportunity for Wisconsinites to get involved. Planting native plants throughout the year is even more valuable, however. “That really will help out with pollinators, providing a constant resource of flowers throughout the season,” he said.

He also recommends minimizing the use of pesticides and leaving natural areas in your yard  — even piles of leaves, twigs, or stems. Some pollinators, Watson said, experience their entire life cycles in a twig or stem.

Moving beyond May, the DNR offers citizen monitoring opportunities, such as its Bumblebee Brigade which monitors bumblebee populations. Providing habitat is also very important. Residents can donate to endangered species funds, and volunteer for monitoring programs as well.

“Every little spot in your backyard adds up to multiple people doing that,” said Watson.


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.