How bee and butterfly habitat is connecting urban kids and their families to the land
By Johnny Sain
More than four-fifths of the nation’s citizens live in urban areas, and the percentage is growing. With shifts away from rural areas, connections to the land, wildlife, and how it all melds together to keep us alive, are lost.
“A lot of kids these days might not ever go out of the city,” says Anna Swerczek, special initiatives coordinator for Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever. “I know people who have never seen a cow, which is a little terrifying.”
More people may be moving to towns and cities, but the PF/QF Youth Pollinator Habitat program can ensure that they don’t lose touch with nature. The program, a collaborative effort with organizations such as the Monarch Joint Venture Project, encourages PF/QF chapters to engage with schools, churches, youth groups and families, with a focus on pollinators and habitat. From 2013 to 2018 the habitat restoration program has been implemented on more than 335 sites in 23 states. Many are on school grounds.
GETTING SCHOOLED IN POLLINATOR HABITAT
“A lot of urban area schools have this ground and they’re just mowing it,” says Swerczek. “Chapters have been able to fill that niche. Instead of paying someone to mow, the chapters help the school turn that land into pollinator habitat. Then the schools use that area year after year as an outdoor classroom.”
One of the star chapters involved in the program is in York, Nebraska, says Swerczek. “They keep adding to the section of land, so when the kids go out and hand-cast new wildflower seed and plant more pollinator plugs, they can see areas already growing. They can see what it’s going to look like instead of just bare ground.” It’s inspiring.
“In the fall, they use that same ground for monarch tagging,” she adds. Kids see the results of their efforts, and hold those results in hand. It’s magical.
A key to the York PF chapter success is a long-term agreement with the school, which Swerczek says is ideal.
TAKING POLLINATOR HABITAT HOME
Another facet of the pollinator program is the Take Habitat Home brochures — a fold-out information brochure that also contains a seed packet with enough native wildflower seeds and milkweed seeds to cover a 10-ffor by 10-foot area. “One of the cool things about this is that the kids can show their parents,” Swerczek says. “And they can plant pollinator habitat right in their backyard.”
Swerczek says habitat awareness is easily taught and learned. “Once you get those kids out there, and show them the insects and tell them about the monarchs, it’s pretty awesome,” Swerczek says.
One powerful visual aid for teaching is a pollinator-free food game where ingredients are deducted from a favorite dish one-by-one as pollinators disappear. “My favorite is the ice cream sundae,” Swerczek says, “because all they’re left with is the bowl. I use this even with adults. It really connects and hits home.”
Drew Larsen, director of habitat education programs for PF/QF, says it’s not just about the kids.
Larsen says a star Kansas City chapter helped bring a pollinator weekend to a Harley Davidson plant: “They had employees and their families out on a Saturday. We also have chapters working with garden clubs, and then we’ve started ‘Miles for Monarchs.’” Miles for Monarchs is based on a fund-raising model of runners and cyclers collecting pledges from sponsors for every mile ran, walked or ridden. “Our goal is to have them raise money for a local habitat project or outdoor classroom for a local school,” Larsen says.
Larsen says another goal of the program is to demonstrate the connection between hunters and conservation. “I wouldn’t say there was a huge impact in terms of hunter recruitment,” Larson says. “But one of our biggest goals is to engage the general public and educate them about how a hunter-supported conservation group like PF/QF is much more than just about hunting. We do care – a lot –
about monarch butterflies and native bees. I wanted to make a positive spin, to show people in urban areas that hunters are conservationists.”
The invitation to join the ranks of hunter/conservationist is always open as well. “All the kids are invited to the hunting events, and there are some success stories,” Larsen says.
HABITAT CAN HAPPEN ANYWHERE
But Swerczek says it’s not really about hunter recruitment. It’s about raising awareness. “We have an introductory talk that goes through what is a pollinator,” Swerczek says. “Then we have a photo of some pheasant chicks and ask them if they know what that is and then we make the connection that what the pollinators need, the songbirds need, and the pheasants and quail need. We show them a picture of a young pheasant’s crop and explain that they need those soft-bodied insects for this stage in their life.”
The goal? Getting kids – even those in urban areas – to understand that it’s all about the habitat. “This program takes a holistic view,” says Swerczek. “Habitat is important to pollinators, habitat is important to all wildlife, and habitat can happen anywhere – even in town.”