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Pollinators are essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems; they pollinate one third of the world’s crops, stabilize soils, and support clean air and other wildlife. But as their populations continue to decline from urban development and climate change, bees, birds, bats, and other creatures are in dire need of our attention. Fortunately, Colorado is full of innovative thinkers who are taking the lead in habitat restoration—not only by planting pollinator gardens but also through education and creative land-use policies.
Visitors can learn about pollinators along the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Birds and Bees Walk, a trail of abundant flowers, multilayered landscaping, and insect “hotels”–manmade wooden structures where native bees and other bugs can nest. In addition to interpretative signs scattered throughout the walk, Denver Botanic Gardens holds events every weekend to engage visitors in gardening and inform them about pollinators.
The Gardens has also partnered with the Colorado Pollinator Network to create a “pollinator highway” along I-76. “The pollinator highway is based on a survey of native plants and pollinators and backyard gardens to best serve its sensitive environment,” says Sonya Anderson, a horticultural specialist at the botanic gardens. “It not only provides pollinator habitat on a large scale, but is a means to increasing pollinator awareness for all parties creating it as well as all the people using the roadway.”
The movement to sustain pollinator populations has also reached the mountains. Most people ascend Lookout Mountain to escape the city and explore its beautiful hiking trails. Yet another reason to visit is that the visitor center now hosts a newly planted pollinator garden.
According to Lookout Mountain Nature Center’s horticulturalist and lead ranger, Shaun Howard, the garden was designed to connect people to environmental resources.
“We want [visitors] to value native plants and pollinators, and show people how to use the landscape efficiently,” Howard says. Once the garden is completely planted, the nature center will begin holding workshops for visitors on how to grow their own pollinator garden. “It’s all interconnected,” she explains. “The impact of what you do in your garden has a much bigger impact on the larger ecosystem, from pesticides to the plant diversity.”
In 2017, a group of CSU students brought public attention to the use of pesticides on campus dandelions and voiced their concern for pollinators to the CSU Board of Trustees. Since then, a Pollinator Friendly Campus Committee was created, pollinator gardens were planted, and educational workshops are now held twice a year to inform students on safe gardening practices.
The CSU board is now in the process of setting up garden walks to inspire visitors to save pollinators. The horticulturalist coordinator at CSU, Holly Miller, says the gardens are a “conversation starter on their own.” While Miller is out gardening, people often come up and ask her questions about pollinators. “The garden itself calls attention to the issue,” Miller says. “We need to protect our ecological surroundings, especially in an urban environment.”
Forgotten Hive Project
Danielle Bilot, an environmental design instructor at CU Boulder, started a project to change land-use policies throughout the country. As a way to counteract the threat of urban development on pollinators such as habitat loss, Danielle founded the Forgotten Hive Project to plant gardens beside parking lots. After planting a pilot plot in downtown Boulder, Danielle and a team of students recently completed a second garden on the CU Boulder campus.
Except for a complete lack of pesticides, the gardens do not take advantage of any specific pollinator-friendly practices. “We want to place these gardens in a way that they would exist anywhere else in the U.S.; they need to prove their resilience,” Danielle says. And there’s no doubt that the result would be transformative for pollinators if the gardens are implemented alongside parking lots nationwide.
Environment for the Americas, a Boulder-based nonprofit that coordinates the Western Hummingbird Partnership, is studying how to improve pollinator habitat. The partnership focuses on hummingbirds because they pollinate so many flowers due to their high calorie requirements, which are typically half their weight in nectar sugar each day.
Through citizen science projects, pollen-collection guides, and other resources, the partnership shares informational resources and sponsors grants that fund hummingbird conservation research such as the consequences of pesticide exposure and hummingbirds’ preferred flowers in different areas.
“Our goals are to support projects, develop programs, and build partnerships that aid in hummingbird conservation,” says Susan Bonfield, EFTA’s director. “These inform land managers, policy makers, and the public so that habitats can be managed in ways that meet pollinators’ conservation needs in Colorado—and across the Western Hemisphere.”