On May 11, 1858, the U.S. welcomed its 32nd state to the union - 18 million acres of prairie, 21 million acres of wetlands, 31.5 million acres of forests, and 11,842 lakes, now lovingly known as Minnesota. Over the years, Minnesota has grown and prospered. Settlers drained wetlands to make way for cities and farms, and loggers felled towering pines, which they floated down the rivers to become houses, boats and stables. During the 1970s, a wave of environmentalism swept through the U.S. and, in the years since then, we've mostly towed the line, maintaining roughly 50% of the original wetland and forest acreage in our state to support a vibrant culture and economy of tourism, hunting and outdoor recreation. What, though, became of the prairie?
Today, a mere 250,000 acres of native prairie remains in the state. It is a little more than 1% of the total that once covered the land. As the prairie has vanished, so too we have seen the decline of native bees, butterflies, grassland birds and, in many places, clean water. But, there is still a spark of hope.
Over the past 15 years, a new wave of environmentalism has swept the state - much of it focused on individual action and locally-led change. People have come to realize that their backyards, whether large or small, can be part of the solution. The "Pledge to Plant" led by West Metro Water Alliance, Metro Blooms, Wild Ones, Blue Thumb and Monarch Joint Venture, calls on Minnesotan's to plant 10,000 native gardens for pollinators and clean water by the year 2020. In Washington County, watershed management organizations offer plant grants and cost-share assistance to area residents to transform their yards with raingardens, prairies and native shoreline plantings.
Pollinator Friendly Alliance, a citizen-led organization that got its start in Washington County, has also worked with local cities and counties in recent years to pass resolutions to increase habitat and eliminate the use of systemic insecticides. To date there are 39 "Pollinator-Friendly" communities in Minnesota.
In addition, Pollinator Friendly Alliance is working with Washington Conservation District, Washington County Parks, and local communities to restore pocket prairies for pollinator habitat.
Next month, Pollinator Friendly Alliance will hold its annual POLLI*NATION FESTIVAL from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25, at Kieran's Kitchen, 1404 Marshall St., Minneapolis. Proceeds will be dedicated to building a new sanctuary for the rusty-patched bumblebee, a federally-listed endangered species. The event will include food and drink, music and dance, stilt walkers, art and science interactives, honey, butterflies, bees, and games. Tickets and more info at pollinationfest.eventbrite.com.
In my own yard, I dream of a home where the bees and butterflies roam. We've steadily worked to replace lawn with herbs and native plants and have witnessed firsthand the number of bees and birds that come to visit as a result. There's a buzzy hum from the wild rose bushes and it's gotten me to wondering: What would Minnesota look like with a few more acres of prairie?
To sign-up for a free site visit in Washington County or ask about cost-share grants, visit www.mnwcd.org.