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If You Plant It (or Restore It) They Will Come- by Mike O'Brien

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

The Friends of the Blufflands is involved in restoring many of the prairies in the La Crosse area. These restored prairies provide many flowers and grasses which in turn provide food and lodging for a multitude of animals, birds and most of all a dizzying variety of insects including butterflies and bees. Worldwide there has been a worrying decline in the number of insects. Bumblebees in particular are declining and one species, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee has been placed on the Federal Endangered Species List. We will talk a little more about this important bee and what we can and are doing to help it right here in La Crosse.

So who cares about bumblebees? All of us should care about bumblebees (and all bees) because they help plants produce many of the foods we eat and are a vital part of our ecosystem. Without them we could face dire consequences in food production. Bumblebees are important pollinators of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, and many other crops. They are the only known pollinators of potatoes in the world.

The Rusty Patched Bumblebee is one of 20 species of bumblebees in Wisconsin. It used to be one of the most common bumblebees here and across the United States. However, its numbers have declined in over 90% of its range in the last 20 years prompting its placement on the Federal Endangered Species List.

Locally there is some good news. The Wisconsin DNR has created a citizen science program called the Bumblebee Brigade. Local volunteers have surveyed areas in La Crosse including the Blufflands tracts. To our excitement multiple sightings of the Rusty Patched Bumblebee have been documented in several Blufflands tracts, including a rarely found nest (more on that later in the year). Not only is it encouraging that this bumblebee appears to be holding its own here and that our restoration efforts are paying off, but the data gained from these findings will guide future efforts to protect this important species.

A Rusty Patched Bumblebee visiting one of the bluff near La Crosse

What can you do? Well to circle back to the title of this article – First, plant native plants including native flowers in your yard because if you plant it, they will come! The more area you can convert to native plants the better but it only takes a small spot of native flowers to make a difference. Not only have the Rusty Patched Bumblebees been sighted in the Blufflands but they have also been documented in private yards in the La Crosse area. Second, volunteer and donate to the Friends of the Blufflands to restore more high quality native habitat for all of our plants and animals that depend on it, including the rusty patched bumblebee.

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