Protecting the Pollinator Population One Acre at a Time

Thursday, June 22, 2017
By: Rick Johnstone, President

This feature is part of a series of blog posts spotlighting unique AgVocates for their efforts to educate others and support the agriculture community. This June, we are happy to highlight Rick Johnstone, President of Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) Partners. As president, he leads a unique nonprofit organization that acts as a liaison for industry, agency and conservation, developing programs and providing education on vegetation management and conservation best practices.

In this interview, he shares how he and partners like Bayer are strategically and creatively helping to create millions of acres of pollinator habitats across the country – and why it’s more important now than ever before.

Q: What is integrated vegetation management?

A: Integrated vegetation management is incorporating all the tools in the toolbox. So, you have choices you can make: You can hand cut, you can mow, you can broadcast treat, you can selectively treat. What IVM ends up being is the incorporation of those best practices at the right time, so that it then takes it to the next stage, where you’re able to take advantage of biological control.

If you encourage the right plants to grow and thrive, those plants then maintain a foothold to keep out undesirable and invasive plants. Animals who then feed on plants will also help keep it that way. That biological control doesn’t cost companies anything, but it does help to maintain those rights-of-way that so many people depend on for things like electricity, gas and transportation.

Q: What have you observed about the current state of pollinator habitats in the United States?

A: We have lost a lot of habitat because of routine mowing on rights-of-way and the change in agricultural practices. We used to have a lot of fallow fields that farmers might put into a conservation reserve program, where they would plant grasses and wildflowers that could potentially be beneficial. Those marginal lands have largely been converted back to crops, or have been invaded by non-native plants, eliminating a lot of land for wildlife.

As such, it’s that much more important to utilize lands that have a dedicated use that won’t change anytime soon. If managed correctly, electric and gas rights-of-way and the back-slope of highways could start replacing those millions of acres that we have lost and restore a good balance for the pollinators.

Q: Why is restoring and creating pollinator ecosystems important in this country?

A: The importance of restoring pollinator ecosystems is that a lot of our food is pollinated by birds and bats, by bees, by butterflies and moths, and without those animals providing that pollination, we are going to lose a lot of foods that we take for granted.

It is important to create pollinator habitats wherever we can. People in the public are doing their part on various properties, including home gardens, while companies are doing plantings around buildings. I see those as laudable efforts, of course, but really just a piece of the puzzle. We need millions of acres. The best place to do that are on rights-of-way. We have to keep them open, so why not manage them correctly, supporting pollinator habitats?

IVM Group

Q: Beyond the scale, what makes utility and highway sites and open areas ideal for establishing pollinator habitats and ecosystems?

A: Open sites on rights-of-way are ideal for pollinator habitats because they require direct sunlight – you are not going to find a lot of these flowering plants in a shaded forest. Yes, there are some plants that will flower in a forest, but the bulk of them need full sunlight. These millions of acres along rights-of-way are ideal because they are going to keep that canopy off, so there is a lot of sunlight, providing a prime growing space for flowering plants.

IVM Field

Q: So what types of results have you seen to date with IVM?

A: From studies in the wetlands of Florida to the deserts of Arizona, the same thing holds true. Of course, there are different plants, different plant communities, but when you adopt the best IVM practices, you will see the return of native vegetation, low growing vegetation coming back and pollinator plants that are going to benefit butterflies, native bees, bats and birds.

By incorporating IVM, we are going back and restoring that early successional habitat that a lot of species really need for their lifecycle...transforming millions of acres of land and all those rights-of-way into greenways for wildlife.

Q: When you think of your AgVocacy” work to support wildlife, are there any partnerships or initiatives that quickly come to mind?

A: We have one study, for example, that we are doing with US Fish and Wildlife and US Geological Survey in Maryland, where they’ve discovered that one right-of-way is providing habitat for 120 species of birds. Some of them are the interior forest dwelling birds that nest in the forest, but they go out in to the rights of way to feed, because that is where the insects are going to be and they pick up those insects and take them back to their young. So even though a species might need a forest, they also need that early successional habitat someplace. In that case, we’re also creating habitats for wildlife, too. It’s all connected.

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