In Wisconsin: put away the mowers, please the bees

As I drove last May through Appleton, Wisconsin, the small town offered a series of idyllic scenes: children playing in tree-lined stree...

As I drove last May through Appleton, Wisconsin, the small town offered a series of idyllic scenes: children playing in tree-lined streets, couples walking their dogs and, all the while, the wind carrying the sweetness of spring.

But something was unusual here. The lawns of many houses were wild. Resembling miniature meadows, they featured long grasses, bright yellow dandelions and purple carpets. crawling charlie — a far cry from the traditional American lawn.

These houses were neither abandoned nor neglected, and no piles of newspapers festooned their porches. The city had instead asked residents to put away their lawn mowers for the month of May. This allowed plants commonly identified as weeds – including violets, white clover and dandelions – to bloom.

Appleton’s No Mow May initiative had a clear goal: to save bees – and not just bees (which are European imports), but also native bees, such as bumblebees, miners and sweat bees.

Bees are facing catastrophic declines. In North America, nearly one in four native bee species is at riskaccording to the Center for Biological Diversity, in part due to habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change and urbanization.

Lawns generally provide poor habitat for bees. But if left to flower, lawn weeds—perhaps best characterized as plants other than grass—can provide scarce spring food for bees emerging from hibernation.

Appleton, about 200 miles north of Chicago, is a small college town nestled on the banks of the winding Fox River. Two adjunct professors at a local liberal arts college, Dr. Israel Del Toro and Dr. Relena Ribbons from Lawrence University, knew that No Mow May was popular in Britain. They wondered if the initiative could take root here too.

They began working with the Appleton Common Council, and in 2020 Appleton became the first city in the United States to adopt No Mow May, with 435 homes registered to participate.

Dr. Del Toro and Dr. Ribbons studied the impacts of No Mow May on Appleton bees. They found that No Mow May lawns had five times the number of bees and three times the number of bee species than mowed parks. Armed with this information, they asked other communities to participate.

By 2021, a dozen Wisconsin communities had adopted No Mow May. It has also spread to communities in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Montana.

I discovered No Mow May in the fall of 2020 when I was looking to make my own yard more bee-friendly. The following spring, I helped organize No Mow May in Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin, where I live. When I realized how quickly the movement was spreading, I started photographing it across Wisconsin.

Mike Wiza, the mayor of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, supported No Mow May last year. “It was a success – and I would say pretty largely successful,” he said. About 230 people registered at Stevens Point for the event, double what they had anticipated.

I met Ana Merchak, a resident of Stevens Point, while taking photos in her neighborhood. Her two young children were picking dandelions in the front yard. “I go to my front yard and back yard and see bees every day,” she said. “It’s cool that my kids can grow up being exposed to that.”

Ms. Merchak was also grateful for how the initiative had brought local people together. “The community connection is awesome,” she said, “especially after this pandemic year where we couldn’t do things and celebrate our community in person with each other.”

Not everyone appreciated the unmowed lawns. Allison Roberts, a resident of Prairie du Chien, Wis., participated in No Mow May even though her town didn’t adopt her. After a few weeks, she woke up from a nap to find police knocking on her door.

“Apparently they were there to make sure I didn’t die,” she said.

His neighbors were also not happy with his unkempt lawn. One of them, unable to bear the sight of it, ends up mowing it without his permission.

Yet, despite the unforeseen antagonism, Ms Roberts plans to take part in No Mow May again next year. “I’m not doing it to drive anyone crazy,” she explained. “I do it because I have the right to and because it’s the right thing to do.”

Recently the Appleton Common Council voted to make No Mow May permanent. Many other municipalities in Wisconsin have already adopted it for 2022 or are considering it.

The effort can pay off. A rusty-patched bumblebee, a federally endangered species whose the range has declined sharply since the 1990swas first spotted at a home in downtown Appleton last year.

But experts warn that the initiative is only a starting point for bee conservation. “What you did for a month, it’s cool, it helps,” said Dr. Del Toro. “But what are you going to do the rest of the summer, or the rest of the year, to make sure our pollinators are protected?”

The role of urban and suburban environments for bees is “absolutely huge”, explained Dr Del Toro, who said he now receives emails from residents of Appleton asking how to incorporate other human-friendly practices. bees, such as planting native flowers, creating nesting habitats for bees. and reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides.

“We need to start thinking about our role in this urban ecosystem,” he said, including how to strike a balance between development and biodiversity.

For many of us, that can mean sitting back and watching the grass grow.

Anne Readel is a photographer, writer, biologist and lawyer. You can follow his work on instagram.

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Newsrust - US Top News: In Wisconsin: put away the mowers, please the bees
In Wisconsin: put away the mowers, please the bees
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