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Conservation Corner

Got Pollinators?

Fri, January 13, 2012

Why should private landowners across Illinois should support pollinators.

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants rely on the help of pollinators to reproduce. Some scientists say one out of three bites of food can be attributed to animal pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, beetles and other insects.

Pollinators provide crucial assistance to fruit, vegetable and seed crops as well as other plants that produce fiber, medicine and fuel.

But as you may know, our pollinators are in trouble worldwide. Habitat loss, disease, parasites and environmental contaminants have posed many challenges for pollinators.

But you can help – by providing pollinators with habitat. Here are a few ideas to accomplish that:

• Incorporate pollinator-friendly plants in your yard. Trees and shrubs like the dogwood, blueberry, cherry, plum, willow and poplar produce ample pollen or nectar in early spring when food is scarce.

• When the weather warms up, use a variety of flowers, mixing colors, shapes and scents. These different plans will attract a variety of pollinators.

• Reduce or stop spraying pesticide in your landscape. Rather, you can use plants that attract insects to control pests.

• Butterfly and moth larvae do damage plants. Do not poison these hungry caterpillars because one day they will be beautiful butterflies and moths.

• Provide a shallow water source for pollinators. This can be done by tossing a few rocks in a bird bath.

• Leave dead tree trunks in your landscape. Bees and beetles prefer wood nesting and these aging trunks make a perfect home.

Insects often get a bad reputation as being pests, but they play an integral role in sustaining our Earth. The honey bee is single handedly responsible for billions of dollars worth of American crops each year. Pollinators, like the honey bee, visit flowers in search for food (nectar or pollen). During the visit, a pollinator may accidentally brush against a flower’s reproductive parts, depositing pollen from a different flower. The plant uses the pollen to produce a fruit or seed.

For many plants, without the help of pollinators, they would be unable to reproduce.  Bees are the main pollinators, and North America is home to more than 4,000 species of bees. They nest underground, in twigs, in debris or in dead trees.

Butterflies seek nectar during the day time, and their nocturnal counterparts, moths, seek it at night.

Birds and bats also play an integral role in the pollination process. The most common avian pollinator is the hummingbird, which prefers brightly colored tubular flowers.

Thousands of beetles play an important role in the pollination process, and in fact, beetles compose 40 percent of the world’s insect population.

Other insects, like flies, also help pollinate plants. Actually, midges are the only known pollinators of cacao trees, which is what we use to produce chocolate.

Not all pollinators are birds—to learn more about other animals and crittrers who play a part in the Pollinator Puzzle in your community, visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/pollinators .

For more information on mulching and other Backyard Conservation practices, visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service online at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/backyard  or call 1-.888.526.3227 (toll free) and press 2 for a free colorful Backyard Conservation booklet and tip sheets.



USDA conservation program extended

Thu, January 12, 2012

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White today announced USDA/NRCS has extended the cut-off date for the current Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) ranking period to January 27, 2012. Previous deadline was January 13th. Producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship are eligible for CSP payments. 

“This extension will help ensure that producers who want to be considered for CSP during this first ranking period have the time they need to complete their applications,” White said. “CSP is a very popular program and I encourage interested producers to apply at their local NRCS office as soon as they can.” White acknowledges that agency program sign-up periods are always open—farmers can apply any time—but he hopes to see Illinois producers start the new year off with their application in the front lines for 2012.

Funding for this program and frankly, current funding for most conservation programs in Illinois looks pretty good. As always, we accept applications continuously. But some folks wait until all the ranking dates are announced and then they rush to get their paperwork in when its spring and they’ve got a million other things to do.  The simple message: Sign up sooner, not later, for conservation programs this year.


The Conservation Stewardship Program is offered in all 50 states. CSP is a statewide program—available in every county and every watershed.  Administered by NRCS, CSP provides many conservation benefits including improved water and soil quality, enhanced wildlife habitat and conservation activities that address important farm and non-farm resource concerns. Signing up for the program does not obligate participants in any way; it simply gets the process started and positions applicants for quicker action.


Producers are encouraged to apply for CSP throughout the year to be considered for current and future application ranking periods. Those who apply by January 27, 2012, may be eligible for current available funding. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland and nonindustrial forestland.


A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if CSP is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, contracts, obligations and potential payments. It is available from local NRCS offices and at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/csp  To l.earn more about CSP and other NRCS programs, visit wwww.il.nrcs.usda.gov or call your local USDA Service Center



What makes good quail habitat?

Tue, January 03, 2012

Safe nesting cover for quail is sparse, not dense grass

You might think the heavier the grass cover for quail to nest, the better they could hide from predators.  But that’s not the case.  Bobwhite nests are usually found in sparse vegetation, near the edge of a patch of grass.  Their small size gives quail limited mobility, so they avoid heavy matted vegetation like bromegrass, timothy and native warm season grasses like switchgrass.

You’re more likely to find quail nests in shorter native grasses with forbs, moderately grazed pastures, idle land, weedy food plots and brushy fence rows and hedgerows. They’ve been known to nest in no-till fields. Quail may need only one clump of grass every 30 feet to nest, with sparse vegetation in between.

The grass clump forms an overhead canopy to hide the nest, incubating bird and eggs. Quail make nests on the ground in slight depressions, from leaves and stems of grasses and forbs, or of pine needles. They nest from April through September; the females may lay eggs in a nest and leave the incubation to the male, and start another nest. This “double clutching” is one reason for the long nesting season for quail.

Establishing nesting cover.

If you already have a mixture of erect grasses, forbs and scattered shrubs or brambles on idle land, you have the habitat quail look for in nesting. Old fields like this will be used by quail for nesting as long as the planting stays diverse and the ground surface is not covered with a densely matted grass.

If the existing plant mixture is good, but too dense, consider lightly discing some of the area or burning it. The disturbance will thin the vegetation and promote new plant growth that attracts insects. This should be done early or late in the year, before or after nesting.

Another option is to plant a mixture of lightly-seeded legumes and bunch grasses. Within a year or two, they should be suitable for nesting, and they will become more attractive as native forbs and woody plants invade.

The new nesting cover should be planted near woody cover if possible, but quail will travel a quarter of a mile to get to good nesting cover.

For more information, visit the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Management Institute’s website at www.whmi.nrcs.usda.gov or the NRCS home web site at www.nrcs.usda.gov