County, Ewing partnering to create pollinator habitat
TRENTON—A pilot project converting municipal lawns to wildflower meadows to provide habitat for native pollinating insects is being undertaken by the Mercer County Park Commission, the County Planning Department and Ewing Township.
While the County Park Commission has restored and created many acres of pollinator habitat as part of County park restoration projects, performing stewardship activities on municipal public lands is a new endeavor for the County and the Park Commission.
Under the County’s Partners of Pollinators (POP) initiative, a half-acre of lawn at the Ewing Senior and Community Center, and a half-acre of lawn in Ewing’s Village on the Green will be converted into native wildflower meadow habitat to support our region’s population of native pollinating insects. The POP program allows the County to expand its efforts in habitat restoration by partnering with municipalities to create pollinator habitat in municipal-owned public lands. Partnering municipalities receive a lawn-to-meadow conversion in exchange for an agreement to maintain the created habitat for at least 10 years.
“Pollinating insects such as native bees and honeybees play vital roles in all of our ecosystems and in agriculture and food production, but their populations are decreasing at an alarming rate,” Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes said. “Creating new habitat that provides pesticide-free pollinator food sources is a step we can take at the local level to promote the County’s long-term prosperity and sustainability.
“Ewing was a natural first partner for us because of their longstanding dedication and interest in sustainability and stewardship,” he said.
This partnership will be the first of many to come between the County and a diverse group of people and land managers, from municipalities to corporations to schools. It is the first step as the County begins to take a more holistic approach with ecological stewardship efforts, because wildlife species – including pollinators – do not abide by county or municipal boundaries.
Under the real property management agreement approved by the Board of Chosen Freeholders, Ewing has agreed to manage and monitor both project areas, keeping them in meadow habitat for a minimum of 10 years. The $2,900 cost to create the meadows will be covered by the County’s Open Space Trust Fund, which is funded by a voter referendum-approved tax used for open space, farmland and historic preservation, park development and stewardship in the County. Ewing Township has offered to finance an additional half acre of meadow at the Village on the Green site, bringing the total there to one acre of meadow habitat, doubling the impact of the restoration.
“Partnering with Mercer County to provide critically needed habitat for vanishing wildlife on Ewing public lands supports the efforts of the Township and its Green Team, which are working to promote wildlife through the National Wildlife Federation’s Community Wildlife Habitat Project to create healthier, greener and more wildlife-friendly residential and public spaces,” Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann said. “And it balances our efforts to provide more beautiful open space for our residents with the needs of nature.”
The two Ewing sites are expected to be prepared and seeded with a native wildflower mix this spring. The meadows will need to be cut a few times during their initial growing season; thereafter; annual mows in the winter and invasive plant management are anticipated.
Pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies, moths and beetles are crucial to agriculture production. While the European honeybee is commonly associated with crop pollination, it is the 4,000 native bee species that have the most significant impact. New Jersey’s famous cranberries, blueberries and other crops rely on native bees to make fruit. In fact, the efforts of native pollinators in New Jersey’s farm fields generate approximately $35 million in produce every year.
In natural lands, pollinators are vital to ecosystem health. Similarly to crops, native plants rely on a diverse population of native pollinators to reproduce through the production of seeds and fruit. In turn, wildlife species from songbirds to black bears rely on native plants for food, shelter and breeding habitat. Native plants provide the foundation for a healthy habitat, and without pollinators would suffer effects felt throughout the ecosystem.
In addition to pollinators’ significance to agriculture and the natural world, the County has made pollinator habitat creation a priority because of the drastic drop in their populations over the past few years. According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, 165 insects are critically imperiled and up to 29,000 are at risk in the U.S. due to habitat loss, overuse of chemical pollutants, and displacement by non-native species.
In addition to creating more pollinator habitat throughout the County, wildflower meadows decrease landscape and site maintenance time and costs. Replacing lawn with meadow reduces the need for regular mowing, thereby decreasing the emissions produced; eliminates fertilizer use; and drastically reduces the amount of chemicals applied to typical lawns.
Wildflower meadows also have human benefits, as they increase the aesthetic appeal of areas by creating a color palette, attract songbirds and invite butterflies. Meadows also are better at absorbing stormwater than lawns, which can reduce stormwater runoff.