Issues of the Environment: Ann Arbor evolves program to protect pollinators
- The City of Ann Arbor is delighted to announce the launch of the Pollinator-Aware Yard Care program, the successor to last year's No Mow May campaign. The program focuses on encouraging property owners to support native pollinator populations through sustainable yard care practices.
- The Pollinator-Aware Yard Care program builds on the success of No Mow May (NMM), which launched in 2022. NMM promoted allowing grass and other plants to grow without trimming or mowing throughout the month of May, and it relaxed any code enforcement related to grass length until June 1st. Allowing plants--especially flowering ones--to grow during the early spring season is important for native pollinators such as bees. The blossoms of early flowering plants provide a vital food source during the period of scarcity immediately following winter.
- Pollinator-Aware Yard Care takes the city’s efforts to support pollinators up a notch. According to https://www.a2gov.org/, “Ann Arbor’s Residents of Ann Arbor are encouraged to participate in the program and support our native pollinator populations through practices such as: reducing the area of mowed turfgrass in yards by extending maintained garden beds or by planting native groundcover in place of turfgrass; incorporating more native plants into garden beds and natural areas; mowing turfgrass less frequently and keeping it at a height of 6-12 inches during the spring; avoiding chemical applications, especially of neonicotinoid insecticides; and leaving whole or mulched leaves in yards during the fall and winter months. Residents can also request a yard sign from the city to show that their yard is a part of the Pollinator-Aware Yard Care program”.
- In April 2023, Ann Arbor City Council approved Resolution R-23-111 - Resolution to Support Pollinator Habitat in Ann Arbor, which encourages property owners to adopt lawn care strategies that will help support survival of pollinators. Turfgrass lawns are a known “sink” for pollinators and other wildlife, providing little in the way of resources and often requiring pesticides and excessive watering to maintain a uniform appearance. Replacing traditional turfgrass lawns with native ground-covering plants is also encouraged by the city of Ann Arbor’s Office of Sustainability and Innovations. However, residents need to choose species that can conform to the city’s code requirements related to height (either naturally or through regular maintenance) outside of the month of May.
- GIVE 365, Ann Arbor’s Parks and Recreation Volunteer and Outreach Program, is initiating a pilot program in 2023 and partnering with park operations staff to test alternative mowing practices at eight parks. This pilot program will explore mowing practices that diverge from established mowing cycles. The eight pilot sites differ greatly in scope and application. Some of these sites will begin mowing in June, with one site piloting an annual/one time mow and another site being an alternative lawn demonstration garden. This pilot will allow staff and the community to explore the outcome of changing mowing practices such as grass length, community response, maintenance challenges, observed ecological benefits, and more. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.a2gov.org/departments/Parks-Recreation/GIVE365/Pages/default.aspx)
- Ann Arbor sought feedback following NMM, and received 171 responses related to the perceived pros and cons of not mowing for a period or 4-7 weeks in the parks. While nearly a quarter of respondents were favorable to not mowing at all during that period, most respondents were concerned about the losing recreation value, aesthetic appeal of park areas, and promoting unwanted pests like ticks, mosquitoes, and weeds and/or non-native vegetation. Although the minority group would prefer to enforce the mowing schedule used prior to 2022, most respondents expressed a favorable view of a more targeted approach that balances the mowing schedule on a case-by-case basis, depending on the uses of the park. Nearly all respondents recognized the benefit to pollinators of less mowing, and in particular, the replacement of non-native species with attractive native ones as a pleasing alternative.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to a pollinator-friendly edition of Issues of the Environment. Last year, Ann Arbor enacted a No Mow May program. It asked residents to give bees and other pollinators a healthy start to the warmer season by refraining from cutting lawns until the end of May. Well, the City of Ypsilanti hopped on board with that program this year. Now, Ann Arbor is taking it another step. The No Mow May initiative in Ann Arbor this year has evolved into the Pollinator Aware Yard Care program. Now, what does that involve? What impact might it have? We're going to find out together today. Our guest is Sean Reynolds. And Sean serves as the City of Ann Arbor's community sustainability coordinator. Thanks so much for making time today, Sean. I appreciate it.
Sean Reynolds: Yeah. Thank you for having me on.
David Fair: Well, before we look ahead, let's take a little look back. How would you characterize the No Mow May program of 2022? A success?
Sean Reynolds: Yeah, it was very successful. We had a lot of folks who were very interested and participating, a lot of folks who wanted to let folks know that they were participating through yard signs and things like that, and really got out the word about protecting pollinators and doing things in your yard that protect pollinators. So, it was a really great start.
David Fair: So, was that the criteria in determining successful outcome--the number of people who requested the yard signs and kind of proudly displayed the fact they were pollinator protectors?
Sean Reynolds: Yes. We did also keep track of the addresses of folks who were participating, who offered to let us keep track of their addresses. And so, we were able to know roughly the area of land that also was not mowed because of that.
David Fair: I assume that it was the basis for evolving No Mow May into the new Pollinator Aware Yard Care program in having such success and participation. As such, with the expansion of the program this year, what kind of numbers and kinds of pollinators that will be protected?
Sean Reynolds: Yeah, we are really hoping that it will protect really all the pollinators that exist. So, most folks, when they think of pollinators, they think of bees. That's probably the number one they think of. But, really, pretty much all of our native insects are really great pollinators, as well as a lot of our native birds. And also, some bat species are really great pollinators. So, we're really hoping it'll protect really all the pollinators that we have.
David Fair: And, finally, manicured lawns don't always work the most effective to protect the pollinators, do they?
Sean Reynolds: Exactly. So, these native pollinator species that we have, they have evolved over, you know, hundreds of thousands of years to really live alongside our native plant species and be reliant on those native plant species as a food source and as habitat. And so, if we have finely manicured lawns, you know, that grass is not always native. And even if it is native, it doesn't have the best to offer in terms of food source and habitat, especially when it is cut really short. So, really, it's important to have native plants that these pollinators have evolved alongside of and can actually make use of, as opposed to non-native that they really don't know what to do with because they didn't evolve alongside them.
David Fair: You are listening to 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment, and we're talking about Ann Arbor's Pollinator Aware Yard Care program with Sean Reynolds. He is the city's community sustainability coordinator. And, Sean, explain the difference between the No Mow May program of last year and the new program this year.
Sean Reynolds: Yeah, sure. So, No Mow May is a great program, as I mentioned earlier, and it's got a really catchy name. I mean, it's really easy to remember, but it is a little bit kind of restrictive in that it implies, you know, just don't mow at all during the month of May, and that's really all it says. So, we just wanted to evolve that into a program that really is a little bit more holistic in terms of the solutions that we're offering, the practices that folks can follow, and also is a little bit more a year-round. So, No Mow May was focused really just on that month of May, but this Pollinator Aware Yard Care program is a year-round program. So, we're suggesting courses of action in the spring, summer, fall and winter that you can follow to help protect pollinators.
David Fair: Being that we're at mid-spring and headed toward summer, what should I be doing right now?
Sean Reynolds: Yeah, great question. So, it is May right now. So, this is the ideal time to be thinking about your mowing practices. What we are suggesting is, rather than not mow at all for an entire month, we are just suggesting that you instead mow less frequently and set your blades on your mower to a higher height. And, really, we're suggesting that you keep your grass at around 6 to 12 inches in height during the entire spring months, so, until, you know, late June, early July, in that 6-to-12-inch range.
David Fair: 6 to 12 inches in some municipalities. That'll get you cited. I assume that in the resolution passed by Ann Arbor City Council, people are protected from such citations.
Sean Reynolds: Yes. And, actually, Ann Arbor's code does allow vegetation up to 12 inches on private property, as well as in the lawn extensions. So, that is part of the reason why we suggest that 6-to-12-inch range is to make sure that folks are not letting their grass get higher than what we allow by code. But up to 12 inches is allowed in the code.
David Fair: Okay. So, city code allows up to 12 inches. That is not necessarily the case for all the homeowners' associations in the area. Some tend to have pretty strict rules as to what is and isn't allowed, including the height and lengths of grass and other plants. So, does the resolution by Ann Arbor City Council address that, or do you kind of have to work in your neighborhood?
Sean Reynolds: You really have to work with where you are and if you have a homeowners' association, what they allow, unfortunately. But, like I said earlier, we do offer some solutions beyond just the mowing solutions. So, if you're not able to allow your grass to grow that high, we have some options in there, such as, you know, increasing the number of native plants that you have in your garden beds, for example, maybe extending your garden, maintain garden beds out into your lawn, getting rid of some of that grass and adding and native plants and beds instead. And, like I said, we also have some things year-round. So, in the fall, you can actually leave your leaves on the ground where they fall to help provide habitat for insects, especially that are overwintering during the cold winter months.
David Fair: So, one of the things that was attractive to folks last year in the No Mow May program was being able to kind of consciously think about it and then request from the city the sign that they could place in their yard, so that they kind of remind people, "Hey, we can protect pollinators, and we can do it together." If I want to earn a Pollinator Aware Yard Care sign from the city that I can post, what do I have to do to qualify?
Sean Reynolds: Yeah, great question. So, anyone who lives in the City of Ann Arbor is eligible to get one of our yard signs. If you are interested, you can go to O-S-I dot A2 gov dot org slash pollinators, and then scroll down to our little get involved section, and there you'll find a link to a registration form where you can actually sign up to receive email updates, as well as sign up for a yard sign.
David Fair: Our Issues of the Environment conversation with Sean Reynolds continues on 89 one WEMU. He is Ann Arbor's community sustainability coordinator. Ann Arbor has a good number of parks, and it covers quite a bit of acreage, perhaps in affiliated program. But is the city going to include those properties it owns and maintains in this program and take a look at how best to protect pollinators there?
Sean Reynolds: Yeah. So, our Parks Department has been heavily involved in the development of the Pollinator Aware Yard Care program, and they are also working on their own program. So, our GIVE 365 section of our Parks Department has developed a pilot program that is going to be alternative mowing in eight of our city parks. So, those eight city parks, they are going to be designating certain areas of the parks that are going to be no mow or low mow during the spring months just to see how that works out. And then, they are also working on expanding the number of native plants that we have in our parks, putting in pollinator-friendly gardens, putting in rain gardens. There's actually going to be a demonstration garden at, I believe, Veterans Memorial Park that's going to show different types of grasses and lawn cover that you can have in your yard, starting with, you know, shorter things and then moving up in height slowly as you walk along the garden. So, you can really see what the different options are.
David Fair: And what about the more urban city-owned properties? Are those going to be participants in the new program?
Sean Reynolds: We don't have plans for them to participate at the moment, but we are hoping that our kind of these test programs, these pilot programs, that we are starting right now will eventually show that this is working, and it's something that the city can do. And we'll move into more of the city properties.
David Fair: One of the things that we've seen in this community is people really have taken to the bees in particular and understand that with colony collapse and all of the other maladies that have been facing them, including loss of habitat, finding ways to protect them is vitally important. So, as we look at this new and evolving program, will there be further expansion in 2024? Or do you anticipate that you've gotten to a place where you'll continue on and kind of evaluate year by year?
Sean Reynolds: Yeah, definitely going to evaluate year by year. We do anticipate to expand this work, though, perhaps even in 2023. You know, we're thinking about doing some educational programming, maybe having some webinars, some events that folks can come to to learn about pollinators as citizen science opportunities, you know, like a BioBlitz or being able to just take photos of pollinators that you see or of native plants that you see and putting them on iNaturalist. You know, a lot of different opportunities for folks to get engaged.
David Fair: Well, I really appreciate you taking the time today and sharing the information, Sean.
Sean Reynolds: Yeah, no problem. Thank you for having me.
David Fair: That is Sean Reynolds. He serves as the City of Ann Arbor's community sustainability coordinator, discussing the new Pollinator Aware Yard Care program. Now, for more information on the program and to find out how you can participate, visit our website at WEMU dot org, and we'll get you linked up to all the right places. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, and we bring it to you every Wednesday. This is your community NPR station: 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.
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