GACD Partners with Georgia DOT for Pollinators

Agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry, and pollinators play a hugely important role in state and national crop production. It is estimated that one out of every three to four mouthfuls of food we eat and beverages we drink are delivered to us by pollinators. Georgia’s primary pollinators include bees, wasps, birds (especially hummingbirds), butterflies, moths, flies, mosquitoes, beetles, ants, slugs, and snails. Their numbers however are in decline due to the loss, modification, and fragmentation of habitat and the use of pesticides.

Georgia Association of Conservation Districts’ Pollinator Initiative

The Georgia Association of Conservation Districts (GACD) supports pollinators through their Pollinator Initiative. Through demonstration gardens, habitat installation, and outreach and education, GACD, Georgia’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and partners are helping pollinators across the state provide their essential services.

With grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS), GACD and Georgia’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts have installed 52 pollinator demonstration gardens at schools and community spaces using Soil3 Raised Garden Kits.

The grant funding is also helping to install in-ground pollinator habitat sites across the state through GACD’s partnership with the Georgia Department of Transportation (Georgia DOT). GACD has provided Georgia DOT’s Roadside Enhancement and Beautification Fund with funding to install and maintain 15 pollinator habitat sites at rest areas and Welcome Centers across the state. Educational signage at these sites will be provided by GACD.

These sites are currently being prepared and planted with seed mixes developed by GACD and GDOT that are appropriate for each site. Travelers who visit the pollinator habitat sites at the designated rest areas and Welcome Centers will see new varieties of blooms and pollinators each season and learn about the plant species that benefit pollinators, most notably native wildflowers and grasses. “With the specific mix of wildflowers and native grass being planted, the gardens will also provide year-round interest and habitat for insects and small animals,” said GACD President Mark Masters.

Individual Support and Citizen Science

Georgians can contribute to these efforts by donating to Georgia DOT’s Roadside Enhancement and Beautification Fund or by purchasing a wildflower license plate through the Department of Driver Services.

Georgians can further engage in these pollinator demonstration gardens and habitat sites through community science initiatives spearheaded by GACD and Georgia’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts. To monitor the types of pollinators these gardens and sites are attracting, GACD is encouraging visitors to take pictures and upload the photos to iNaturalist. A QR code on each sign will direct visitors to a website that contains information on Georgia’s pollinators, as well as information on iNaturalist. GACD is hoping to further enhance community science through BioBlitz events at the rest areas and Welcome Centers that have pollinator habitats.

Pollinator Outreach and Education

In addition to spearheading these efforts, GACD’s Pollinator Coordinator Irenee Payne has compiled lesson plans to educate individuals of all ages about the importance of pollinators. The lesson plans include a honey taste test—in partnership with the University of Georgia’s Great Georgia Pollinator Census Coordinator Becky Griffin—a lesson on farming with pollinators for older students, a lesson on “picky pollinators” for younger students, a pollinator tournament activity, and more. Payne has shared all of these educational materials at this Google Drive link for others to use.

Pollinators and the Infrastructure Bill

“GACD is always working with other groups, and these partnerships are crucial for us to be effective,” said Payne. Indeed, Georgia’s Pollinator Initiative could serve as an example for others, especially with the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The law provides the U.S. Department of Transportation with $2 million each year over the next five years to provide grants to states, tribes, and federal agencies for activities that benefit pollinators along the nation’s roads and highways. Activities include planting native flowers, adopting pollinator-friendly land management practices, such as reducing mowing, and removing non-native vegetation.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also includes $250 million for the Invasive Plant Elimination Program, which provides funding for states to remove invasive plants along roads, highways, railroads, and other transportation routes. This funding will help to combat invasive plant growth and revegetate these areas with pollinator-friendly native species.

Conservation districts are well-positioned to approach these grantees as local implementation partners of projects and activities that benefit pollinators and their habitats.

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