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Issues of the Environment: City of Ann Arbor introduces its 'No Mow May' campaign to protect pollinators

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Washtenaw County Democratic Party
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washtenawdems.org
Erica Briggs

Overview

  • In March 2022, Ann Arbor passed a conservation initiative to encourage populations of bees and other pollinators. “No Mow May” requests that city residents don’t mow their lawns until after May 31st.
  • Early spring is a vulnerable time for pollinators that overwinter, and pollen and nectar tend to be in short supply just as bees need more fuel to get going again. Clusters of flowering plants that are closely spaced allow bees to forage without expending as much energy.
  • Earth Day is April 22, 2022, and this year’s theme is “invest in our planet”. Moving away from manicured green lawns and embracing dandelions, clover and other wildflowers is part of investing in a future where pollinator populations are strong enough to support agriculture and plant diversity.
  • Bee populations, as well as butterflies and other native insect species, have been on the decline for decades because of habitat loss, monoculture crop farming, pesticides that target insects, and aggressive herbicide programs that nearly eradicate “weeds." “No Mow May” debuted in Appleton, WI in 2020, and the results were encouraging to researchers. They found that No Mow May lawns had five times the number of bees and three times the bee species than did mown parks. (Source: *directly quoted* https://apnews.com/article/11a89d12a0174df79a237949cf25d1c3)
  • Council offered special thanks to Ann Arbor’s Rita Mitchell of the city’s Environmental Commission for bringing the idea forward. Mitchell and her neighbor Eileen Dickinson have worked for several years to promote pollinator-friendly neighborhoods through the Bee Safe Ann Arbor campaign to get people to stop spraying chemicals on lawns and create toxic-free spaces for pollinators and other insects, wild animals, pets and people. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2022/04/ann-arbor-promoting-no-mow-may-to-help-save-bees-other-pollinators.htm)
  • Erica Briggs, Ann Arbor City Council - 5th Ward, was a sponsor of the resolution. She says “No Mow May” is a win-win; residents can save time and money by forgoing mowing, while pollinators get a boost.

Transcription

David Fair: We've had some warmer days over the past week, and while it's cooled off a bit, nature is getting ready to fully acknowledge spring in full bloom. I'm David Fair, and welcome to 891 WEMU's Issues of the Environment. There is absolutely a temptation to get out and start tackling all of that yard work that's accumulated and begin the beautification process for our lawns. You're being urged to hold off on some of that work in the effort to protect bees and other pollinators. Our guest today is 5th Ward Ann Arbor City Councilwoman Erica Briggs, and she was sponsor of the council-approved "No Mow May" resolution. It urges you to hold off on mowing lawns until June. Thank you so much for the time today. I appreciate it.

Erica Briggs: Yeah, thank you very much.

David Fair: This is not an ordinance, and I want to make clear to that to everybody, it's a resolution. So, if I understand correctly, it simply encourages people not to mow lawns for now. Correct?

Erica Briggs: Yeah, that's correct. It's entirely voluntary, but it's definitely something that we're encouraging residents that have launched to take part in.

David Fair: As a sponsor of the resolution, where did you really come up with the idea? Where's the genesis?

Erica Briggs: Well, we are lucky to have engaged and informed residents, and we had a few folks who are part of a group called Bee Safe Ann Arbor, who reached out to Ann Arbor and encouraged-- reached out to City Council--and encouraged us to take up this resolution. And it also had been kind of percolating in cities and the environmental commission as well.

David Fair: Well, the Bee Safe Ann Arbor campaign. It spent a lot of time lobbying property owners to stop with all the chemical treatments for lawns and gardens, treatments that are in part attributed to the decline of bees and other pollinators. Does this resolution also specifically ask for consideration when it comes to lawn chemicals?

Erica Briggs: t does not. Its focus is it speaks to sort of the benefit of those and that--or rather the detriment of those--in the text of it. But, really, it's encouraging folks to think about just the action of mowing their lawns and focusing on that.

David Fair: Earth Day. Just a few days away now. And so, it seems appropriate we have this discussion on how we care for the Earth on our personal properties. The theme of Earth Day this year is "invest in our planet." How does No Mow May kind of meet that larger objective?

Erica Briggs: Right. So, you know, pollinators are incredibly important to our ecosystem, and you may know 75 percent of our plants rely on pollinators, such as butterflies of bees, to spread their pollen. Unfortunately, what we're seeing is a major decline in their population. So, one of the simple things that we can do is to provide more pollinator-friendly habitats. And one of the ways we can do that is, you spoke earlier around, you know, not using pesticides and herbicides, but we can also create more habitat by not mowing lawns in early spring, so that those emerging pollinators can have a good start this year.

David Fair: 891 WEMU's Issues of the Environment continues. And today, we're talking with Ann Arbor City Councilwoman Erica Briggs. So, let's dig a little deeper into how to apply the intent of the resolution on our properties and create that habitat. There are many who either like or simply don't mind when the dandelions appear, when other wildflowers and plant life pops up. The grass grows and other native plants return. But as you know, there are also plenty of folks who sincerely dislike that aesthetic. Do you have kind of an elevator speech ready for them?

Erica Briggs: Well, you know, as I've been digging into this and, you know, I enjoy those manicured lawns as well, and I've been raised with that aesthetic as well. But, as I started digging into this a little bit, I started realizing that, you know, that aesthetic has changed over time. I found out that in England in the 16th century, that wealthy landowners had wildflower meadows, and they actually had the job of a garden boy was to creep in among the flowers and pick out the grass. And so, sort of, we'd have changing viewpoints on that. And I think it's useful for folks to look at the merits of this and to think about kind of what the roots of their love for that short grass in the spring is.

David Fair: Have you ever belonged to a homeowners association?

Erica Briggs: I have not.

David Fair: For those that have, they can probably speak to this as well. Some neighborhoods have very specific and well-enforced rules. A smiling admonishment can quickly become a frowny litigation situation if that standards are not maintained. Do you have a message for the associations as we consider how best to protect our natural future?

Erica Briggs: Well, I think those homeowner associations can take a look at this and figure out if maybe this is a time to revise their rules. Certainly, one of the things that folks can do is put up a little sign in the yard, if you go to some place, like Bee Safe Ann Arbor or any of the organizations that work on this, you can print out a little sign and put something up in your yard. So, that let folks know, you know, why your lawn's a little bit longer this year. And, you know, what the goals are behind that. So, it may take away some of that disapproving stares from neighbors of, you know, feeling like you're not out there doing your job. But, you know, sometimes you can do more by doing less.

David Fair: And there are plenty of folks throughout the city that do not belong to an association. Sometimes folks can, however, be cited if the grass grows too long or the lawns appear unmaintained. Does the resolution mean there's going to be no such enforcement measures in Ann Arbor until June?

Erica Briggs: Oh, it means we need to be practical about this. So, if you live on a corner and, you know, and you're finding that grass is creating an obstruction to folks being able to have a good sight line or being able to turn and be, you know, creating a safe driving environment, then, obviously, that's something that folks are going to need to pay attention to. So, it's about balance. And, you know, there may be a few occasions where this becomes an issue, but, likely, we should be able to be able to accomplish both goals together.

David Fair: We're talking about Ann Arbor's No Mow May resolution with city councilwoman Erica Briggs on 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment. To what degree will city-owned properties be included in the No Mow May effort?

Erica Briggs: Yeah, well, a number of our parks are already taking part in this. I live near West Park, and you'll notice that some areas of the park are mowed during the season, and some aren't. And those spaces that aren't really for, you know, creating pollinator habitat. The city is already on a kind of a biweekly mowing process, which is something that is recommended by organizations. And this is going to be trying to keep this in balance with making sure that we have our field for folks to be able to use for athletic purposes, but also, you know, integrating this objective.

David Fair: Beyond making natural choices, supporting measures that ensure the survival and proliferation of pollinators, it's very much an economic issue, not only in the city, but the county, state, and nation as well. Was that a part of your consideration in deciding to put forth this resolution?

Erica Briggs: Well, you know, I don't think...there certainly is the economic impact to our agricultural industries in terms of the decline in pollinators, and this is one step that we can take as a community to be thinking about that.

David Fair: Will there be any kind of assessment through the summer as to whether the resolution achieves some of the success it aspires to and whether there's something that can be built on for future years?

Erica Briggs: Well, you know, it'll be interesting to see if any researchers take this on. That's my knowledge. There isn't sort of an evaluation process going on, but in Appleton, Wisconsin, where this was the first city in the United States a couple of years ago, that did this, there was a research project. And what they found in Appleton was that the participating lawns had five times the number of bees and three times the number of bee species as the parks in Appleton that were mowed during that time period. So, there has been research into this. It's demonstrated that it is impactful. And so, I would expect that if we see lots of folks participating here, we see the same benefits.

David Fair: Well, that is certainly good for the ecology and environment of the Earth, and it's only two more days until Earth Day. Are you planning to attend the Ann Arbor Earth Day festival at Leslie Science Center on Sunday?

Erica Briggs: Absolutely.

David Fair: What is going to be the thing you most look forward to?

Erica Briggs: You know, I just love visiting all the different tables. You know, I've often in the past been working at the bike valet and checking in bikes, and, this year, I'll actually be able to go and visit all these different organizations and presidents. So that'll be fun.

David Fair: Actually engaging with people. What a novel concept after a couple of years, right?

Erica Briggs: Exactly. That would be wonderful.

David Fair: If we've been engaging nature over the past couple of years, it's been almost solitary. So, this will be special. I'm looking forward to it. And folks can see you there, right?

Erica Briggs: Yup, absolutely. I'll be looking forward to it.

David Fair: Hey, thank you so much for the time and sharing information today. I do appreciate it.

Erica Briggs: Well, thank you. Appreciate you're looking at this.

David Fair: That is Fifth Ward Ann Arbor city councilwoman Erica Briggs discussing the city's No Mow May resolution. If you'd like more information on that, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. And you hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR Station. It's 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD1 Ypsilanti.

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Nearly three-quarters of David Fair’s 20+ years in radio has been at WEMU. Since 1994, he has been on the air at 5am each weekday on 89.1 FM as the local host of NPR’s Morning Edition. Over the years, Fair has had the opportunity to interview nationally and internationally known politicians, activists and celebrities. But he feels the most important features and interviews have been with those who live and work here at home. He believes his professional passions and desires fit perfectly into WEMU’s commitment to serving a local audience.
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