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GLIN==> U.P. teens protect pollinators & plant 26,000 native seeds in Lake Superior shoreline restoration

Submitted by <earthkeeper@charter.net>


With bees dying by the billions, Upper Pensinsula of Michigan teens are protecting pollinators by building butterfly houses and growing 26,000 Indigenous plants.

(Marquette, Michigan) - Millions of Monarchs will begin arriving in Mexico this week in an annual migration that includes thousands traveling through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and some of the butterflies can thank Marquette and Native American teens for their future survival.

The Zaagkii Wings and Seeds Project in Marquette was created to protect pollinators like butterflies because billions of honeybees are dying across the world – especially in the Midwest – in a syndrome called “Colony Collapse Disorder.”

Marquette teens and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) youth spent this summer building the first of dozens of butterfly houses that will be created over the next three years. The white cedar butterfly houses were put up this fall in two U.P. counties (Marquette and Baraga counties). Lined with bark and slimmer than birdhouses, the shelters offer protection, rest and reproduction safety to Monarchs and other butterflies.

While bees are the best known and possible the most effective pollinators, butterflies are a close second in transferring pollen from one plant to another.

Experts are unsure why honeybee colonies are collapsing but pesticides, climate change and other man-made impact are among the suspected causes. Experts say the loss of the honeybees is alarming because without pollinators the world food supply will dry up including fruits, vegetables, flowers, other plants and trees.

The Zaagkii Project was founded this summer by the non-profit Cedar Tree Institute (CTI) in Marquette whose other environment projects have included wild rice restoration and Earth Day hazardous waste collections.

Albert Einstein predicted all life on Earth would fail within four years if bees disappear.

“The problem with disappearing pollinators is a cause for concern (because) all life is interconnected,” said Todd Warner, KBIC Natural Resource Director. “The health of a community is intertwined with the health of their environment, their water, their air, their soil and so on.”

“If the pollinators disappear, then vegetation systems are disrupted and begin collapsing, some plants will disappear, many or most fruits and vegetables disappear, and the ripple of impact moves outward in ways we can't predict,” Warner said.

The three-year Zaagkii Project is sponsored by the KBIC, CTI, Marquette County Juvenile Court and the United States Forest Service (USFS).

As honeybees vanish, the USFS is also worried about the decline in bumblebees including two species that have gone extinct.

“We are seeing a reduction in the number of bumblebees,” said Jan Schultz, Botany and Non-native Invasive Species Program Leader at the USFS eastern region office in Milwaukee.

“Bumblebees are pollinators on steroids – they are tens times more effective in pollinating than a honeybee,” she said. “They engage in a particular type of pollenation that’s called buzz pollenation.”

“You’ll hear this drilling buzzing sound – it’s a loud buzzing sound,” Shultz said. “They violently buzz the inside of that plant.”

“There are some plants species that have to be pollinated that roughly to be effectively pollinated,” she said. “Bumblebees are fabulous pollinators.”

Another important part of the Zaagkii Project is restoring native plants to the once-barren and polluted Sand Point, a Lake Superior beach that the KBIC is restoring from the effects of old copper mining waste. Marquette teens planted over 26,000 native species in seed trays and many of those will be transplanted at Sand Point in the spring of 2009.

The KBIC Summer Youth Program teens built and painted butterfly houses at the tribal hatchery this summer with help from Natural Resource Department (NRD) Water Quality Specialist Kit Laux, NRD environment specialists Char Beesley and Katie Kruse and youth supervisors Cody Blue, Kim Klopstein and Nancy Voakes.

As birds chirped loudly along the shores of Lake Superior, 17-year-old Ethan Smith, 15-year-old Janelle Paquin and other KBIC teens measured, hammered and painted the butterfly houses.

"We put the bark on the inside like so – for the butterflies to rest on," said Smith while showing the strips of bark that line the house. "We put on the top so the sunlight doesn't get in and they can get a good night's rest.”

14-year-old Jorey Cribbs of Baraga said plants reproduce because butterflies “transport pollen from flower to flower” and the butterfly houses offer “shelter in bad weather.”

William Ross-Geroux,14, of Baraga said he learned that when pollinators “land on flowers and then land on different flowers they help them reproduce.”

The butterfly houses sit on 10-foot poles. Butterflies with folded wings enter through seven tiny slits.

“Butterflies use the houses to rest while migrating,” said 16-year-old Dylan DeCota of Baraga.

“I learned that when butterflies land on flowers and they pick up pollen from other flowers this starts the pollination process,” said 14-year-old Briar Nieskes of Baraga.

Warner said it’s important for tribal teens to protect pollinators.

“Young people learning about pollinators and native plants today will carry this knowledge for the rest of their lives, Warner said.

Each fall “hundreds of thousands” of Monarchs “stop and rest” on the Stonington Peninsula in the southern U.P. before joining three million Monarchs from across North America in their annual migration to Mexico, said Jon Magnuson, CTI executive director and founder of the Zaagkii Project.

“A lot of people think butterflies are just pretty but they do important work,” Magnuson told the KBIC teens as they built butterfly houses.

“Butterflies ride the winds” and warm thermals as they fly only a few inches off the ground or soar 2,000 feet in the air, Magnuson said.

“They don’t fly against the wind. If the wind is going against them, they just rest. They hide somewhere.”

“When the wind blows behind them they get on the winds and ride them,” Magnuson said turning around to gesture a tail wind and then using both hands to demonstrate gliding. “That’s how they get to Mexico.”

About 32 years ago, the group Monarch Watch first discovered the annual Monarch migration and began tracking the butterflies, said Zaagkii Project volunteer Tom Reed.

Monarchs “converge in one small area” in Mexico and “drape down off of these trees,” said Reed, who has a bachelors degree in social work. “They are really vulnerable to extinction.”

“Pollinators come in many forms – even the wind is a pollinator – it blows around pollen from one flower to another,” Reed said.

Marquette teens were given a tour of a Negaunee Township bee farm where the hives are home to about 60,000 honeybees.

Beekeeper Jim Hayward, a dentist who prefers honey to sugar, explained the different jobs of bees in a colony like the workers and how a hive produces a queen. Hayward said if all bees disappeared the world food supply would be devastated as “fruits, vegetables, nuts and other commercial crops” vanish.

“If they need to create a new queen, they feed worker larvae an extract from their heads called royal jelly,” said Hayward, who explained bees communicate the location of nectar to others in the hive by the “frequency they wag their abdomens” and using the sun.

“We are all dependent on bees and other things,” Hayward said after several teens thanked him for the tour that included tasting fresh honey, dressing in protective gear, touching drones that don’t have stingers and opening wooden crates that house thousands of honeybees who have been calmed with a smoker filled with slowly burning dried sumac.

Hayward taught the teens to use the dried sumac and honey to make a tea that tastes like lemonade.

“The more you learn about nature and can understand nature – the more you can appreciate the web of life and how we all exist,” said Hayward, adding that bald-faced hornets are one of the biggest killers of honeybees.

Marquette teens planted about 26,000 native plants seeds at the Hiawatha National Forest greenhouse in Marquette. Those plants will winter in the greenhouse and be transplanted next spring across northern Michigan.

“They are planting seeds that are native to the U.P.,” said Angie Lucas, Hiawatha National Forest contractor and greenhouse manager. “Native plants play a vital role in insect populations.”

“For example Monarch caterpillars are specific to milkweed plants and without milkweed plants we have no Monarch caterpillars,” Lucas said, adding that at least 17 Monarchs tagged on the U.P.’s Stonington Peninsula were discovered in Mexico.

Milkweed seeds are collected at the Hiawatha National Forest, raised in the Marquette greenhouse and the young plants are returned to nature, Lucas said.

“The milkweed provides food for the Monarch caterpillars – once the caterpillars mature and turn into a butterfly that pollinates the milkweed plant,” said Lucas describing the symbiotic relationship between butterflies and native plants.

The Marquette teens “went to libraries and studied about the Monarch butterflies and their life cycle and their migration patterns,” said Danny Weymouth, 16, whil talking to a group of Zaagkii Project supporters.

“We ended up learning about bees and we went and looked at some honey bees and learned about their life cycles,” Weymouth said. “Protecting the pollinators is what the project is really about.”

A Monarch’s famous orange wings serve as a warning to birds that the butterfly doesn’t taste good, Lucas said.

“I learned that the Viceroy butterfly mimics the patterns of a Monarch butterfly – and tries to look like a Monarch so it doesn’t get killed,” said Daniale Mills, 16.

While planting seeds, several Marquette teens explained why the Zaagkii Project was important to pollinators.

Restoring indigenous plants is vital to U.P. wildlife “so our native species don't get overruled and extinct by predator species,” said Justin Fassbender, 16, while planting columbine and monarda seeds.”

Ensuring the future of native plants is important because “there are a lot of invasive species,” said Devin Dahlstrom, 15.

Some of the native plants will be used by the KBIC tribe as one of the final the steps in the clean up of Sand Point Beach on Keweenaw Bay that was polluted about 90 years ago with stamp sands from the Mass Mill that refined copper four miles to the north along Lake Superior.

The indigenous plants will attract a wide range of wildlife to the 35 acres left barren by the stamp sands at Sand Point, said Warner, adding “it’s been covered with a 6 to 10-inch thick soil cap.”

The first tribal Brownfield cleanup site in the Midwest, the KBIC was honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for restoring Sand Point. Plans for the prime recreation area include a nature tail, restoring a historic lighthouse, swimming, camping, boating, picnic areas and fishing ponds, Warner said.

The goal is “the propagation of the native species ... rather than having the exotics (plants) come in and destroying what we have established,” said Evelyn Ravindra, KBIC NRD Natural Resources Specialist.

Sand Point “is wide open to the reestablishment of native plants,” Ravindran said. “All the life stages of the butterflies” need indigenous plants.

The USFS says the public can help protect pollinators by being careful about what type of insecticides are used and reducing the amount of “chemicals that we use for gardening and lawn control,” Schultz said.

“The chemicals many times are not very discriminant,” she said. “They will kill these pollinators as well as the undesirable species.”

“It’s really important for people to think ‘Gee, do I really need to use that?’ Try to get pesticides that are more discriminant to what the offender is.”

“Apply the pesticide either really, really early in the morning ... or at dusk when the pollinators aren’t active,” Schultz said.

The Zaagkii Project contributors include the Marquette Community Foundation, the Negaunee Community Fund, the Negaunee Community Youth Fund, the M.E. Davenport Foundation, the Kaufman Foundation, the Phyllis and Max Reynolds Foundation, with assistance from the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum in Marquette and the Borealis Seed Company in Big Bay.
Questions? Call Greg Peterson at 906-401-0109.

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