Mainstreams: Bringing back the bees

Kids, employees dig in to help bees, butterflies at Great River Energy

Great River Energy has launched a project to re-establish 9 acres of native, pollinator-friendly habitat on GRE’s Elk River campus, located along Highway 10.

Matisse Hahn planted some prairie plants at Great River Energy. She is with Elk River SustainER, a youth Energy City program. Bre Bauerly, outreach coordinator for Minnesota Native Landscapes, explained about the planting as the event got underway. Bre Bauerly has bees on her shoes, evidence of her passion for pollinators. Brandon Wisner (foreground) and others planted prairie plants at Great River Energy. Amy Hoskins helped plant the new prairie. She is with Elk River’s SustainER, a youth Energy City program. A prairie planting event was held June 22 at Great River Energy in Elk River. Janeen Wolfsteller planted prairie plants during the June 22 event. She works for GRE.
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Matisse Hahn planted some prairie plants at Great River Energy. She is with Elk River SustainER, a youth Energy City program.

On June 22, approximately 20 people, including kids from Elk River’s SustainER program, planted the first of nearly 11,000 starter plants that will be planted at GRE in Elk River. Their work was part of a celebration of the prairie planting that will re-establish the native habitat that pollinators like bees and butterflies need to survive.
The event came during National Pollinator Week and after the 9-acre plot of land was recently seeded with a cover crop by Minnesota Native Landscapes, the planting vendor for the project.
The project is being developed by Great River Energy together with Elk River Energy City and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, as it is along one of Minnesota’s most heavily traveled highways.
Kandace Olsen, GRE vice president and chief culture officer, said GRE has been re-establishing native habitat for years at many of its facilities.
“This time we chose a highly visible location along Highway 10, where approximately 27,000 Minnesotans drive by every day,” Olsen said. “We feel this location is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of native habitat and our commitment to sustainability.”
Kids from SustainER share that commitment to sustainability, and three of them participated in the June 22 planting.
SustainER is a youth group coordinated by the city of Elk River for students interested in promoting environmental sustainability.
“GRE’s pollinator planting event fits in nicely with our objectives,” said Eric Hoskins, co-president of SustainER.
The project began last year with a lawn treatment and spraying last August. Since then, the lawn has been prepped and seeded with a cover crop of oats, rye and grasses. Bre Bauerly, outreach coordinator for Minnesota Native Landscapes, said this conversion of traditional turf lawn to diverse pollinator prairie is creating extremely valuable habitat in an urban setting.
The new planting area will provide food for adult bumble bees and native moths, host plants for monarch butterflies, and shelter for pollinators and songbirds alike, she said.
Great River Energy, Elk River Energy City and MnDOT all have made commitments to re-establishing native prairie.
Over the years, Great River Energy has re-established approximately 200 acres of native habitat at its facilities.
Last year MnDOT joined five other state departments of transportation and the Federal Highway Administration in an agreement to improve pollinator habitat along Interstate 35, a key migratory corridor for monarch butterflies.
Elk River’s Energy City plan includes a goal of seeing 100 acres of new native plantings in the city by 2024.
“The city of Elk River, as Energy City, is excited to showcase the success of Great River Energy’s native planting area,” said Amanda Bednar, Elk River city’s environmental coordinator. “This project is a great start toward reaching our goal. We hope it can serve as a demonstration of the benefits these plants will provide to pollinators.”
For more information about this project, visit greatriverenergy.com/elkriverbees.

Q & A

Q: Why is Great River Energy planting pollinator-friendly habitat at the Elk River campus?
A: Re-establishing native, pollinator-friendly habitat is a unique opportunity to contribute to the nationwide effort to restore pollinator populations while also supporting the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the city of Elk River Energy City in their goals to do the same. Its location along U.S. Highway 10, one of Minnesota’s most heavily traveled roads, will also create a visible educational tool.

Q: What is a pollinator?
A: Pollinators, such as honeybees, butterflies, hummingbirds and bats, assist plants in reproduction by transferring pollen, allowing those plants to produce berries, nuts and other foods important to the survival of many wildlife species and the human food supply. The ecological service pollinators provide is necessary for the reproduction of more than 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species.

Q: What do you mean by native, pollinator-friendly habitat? Why is it important?
A: Native habitat refers to the plants, grasses and trees that originated in an area before they were replaced with roadways, manicured lawns, crops and non-native gardens, or degraded for other reasons. “Pollinator-friendly habitat” more specifically refers to those plants and flowers that pollinators need to eat, live and do their work. Recently there have been many reports of a steady decline in the population of pollinators. This decline is due in large part to the loss of the habitat they need to survive. The habitat that will be re-established at GRE in Elk River will provide a home for pollinators in the area, and a great stop for migrating monarch butterflies on their way to Mexico where they winter.

Q: Where will the pollinator habitat be located on the Elk River campus?
A: Most of the front lawn that is visible from U.S. Highway 10, which includes approximately 5 acres of GRE property and 4 acres of Minnesota Department of Transportation property, will be prairie.

Q: What will the prairie look like?
A: Within a few days of seeding, the oats and rye (a cover crop) begin to sprout, which greens the lawn to some degree. Prairie habitat typically takes three to five years to fully establish. However, the existing irrigation system in the lawn will help establish the prairie more quickly than usual. The planting will include a mix of grasses and flowering plants. Black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers are common in this type of planting.
Source: Great River Energy