BUFFALO – The fields west of the Putnam County Toyota engine manufacturing plant will soon be a little different.
The factory’s 58-acre “outdoor classroom” has been given a facelift. Mowed grass fields will give way to fields of wild flowers.
The first steps in this transformation came recently when the company hosted a workshop designed to show landowners how to create prime habitat for butterflies, bees and other insects that pollinate flowers.
Toyota hosted the event, with help from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the state Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The workshop attracted 35 landowners from and around Putnam County.
Participants spent the morning learning about pollinator species in general, and the monarch in particular.
Monarch numbers have plummeted in recent years, mainly because landowners have mowed, brushed and weeded countless acres of milkweed, the only plants that monarch caterpillars feed on.
The decline of the species has been remarkable. Each year, adult monarchs migrate south to Mexico, where millions of them congregate so densely that they form a shimmering bright orange layer over the landscape.
MNR biologist Sue Olcott said the monarch mass covers 45 acres at a density of about 4.5 million butterflies per acre.
“Now that area is reduced to 5 or 6 acres,” she said. “On the surface, it still looks like a lot of butterflies, but it doesn’t after they migrate north and spread over much of North America.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service has been considering placing the monarch under the protection of the Endangered Species Act since 2014. In December 2020, officials of the service determined that listing the species was “warranted, but excluded. By species of higher rank.
“If nothing changes by 2024, the monarch will be on the list,” Olcott predicted.
In the afternoon session of the workshop, landowners learned about ways to turn their properties into viable habitat for monarchs and other pollinating species. The organizers set up four stations where participants could observe experts closely demonstrating how to prepare, plow and seed their land for plants that attract pollinators.
At the first station, pollinator specialists Lacey Smith and Rachel Rosenberg, from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, demonstrated how to create small-scale pollinator gardens.
At another station, Grant Bishop and Jeremy Grant from the Department of Agriculture demonstrated how to safely use liquid herbicides to clear the field of competing plant species. Nearby, Jose Taracido of the University of California, Pennsylvania used a tiller mounted on a skid steer to turn the soil and spread the seeds without using herbicides.
At the fourth station, Rob Hoffman of Kentucky-based Roundstone Native Seed Co. touted the benefits of using a tractor-mounted seeder to plant large areas.
“Most people don’t realize it, but most wildflower seeds should be planted very shallow, often no more than an eighth of an inch,” Olcott said. “The planter cuts a slit in the ground and places the seeds at the correct depth. “
Scott Warner, who heads the natural heritage section of MNR, said the workshop has been underway since November 2018.
“Marc Crouse, who oversees the environmental department here at Toyota, was returning from a pollinator presentation held at Jackson’s Mill,” Warner said. “Marc said he hadn’t heard anyone say he wanted to take the lead [expanding pollinator habitat].
“He said, ‘Let me talk to my team at Toyota. We have almost 58 acres which we have designated as an outdoor classroom. I think we could use it to develop pollinator habitat.
While the workshop was still being organized, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“When the masks went up, our plans fell apart,” Warner said. “It took us another year, but we finally got there. “
The take-home message from the workshop, he added, is to let landowners know “that there are people in your area who can help you set up a pollinator zone.”
“If you want to plant a small flower bed, we have people who can help you,” Warner said. “If you’re interested in signing up for some type of federal program where you’re reimbursed for converting some of your acreage into pollinator habitat, we’ve got someone who can talk to you about it.
“Ninety percent of property in West Virginia is privately owned. Some of them may be as little as a few acres and others may be hundreds of acres. The square footage doesn’t matter much; with pollinators, we are all on opportunity. And the opportunities are definitely there.
Contact John McCoy at johnmccoy @ wvgazettemail
.com, 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.