Lawns to Legumes: Protecting Pollinators in Minnesota

A statewide conservation effort is “bee-autifying” lawns and landscapes to create pollinator-friendly habitats abuzz with environmental benefits.

Karen Moon worked with neighbors to design and install a pollinator-friendly garden at her Minnesota home.
Photo by Karen Moon

The addition of the rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) to the endangered species list in 2017 did much more than make it the first bumblebee in the United States and the first bee of any kind in the continental U.S. to be declared endangered. The recognition also sparked widespread concern about other pollinator declines; raised awareness about the impact of decreased insect populations on food production and sensitive ecosystems; and inspired Minnesota to launch an innovative statewide pollinator conservation program.

Photo by Karen Moon

The Minnesota Legislature named the rusty patched bumblebee its state bee in 2019, and in the same session, it approved a cost-share pilot program with the catchy name Lawns to Legumes. Equipped with the slogan “Your Yard Can Bee the Change,” the Lawns to Legumes program encourages residents statewide to use native plants to transform their lawns and landscapes into high-quality pollinator-friendly habitats.

The rusty patched bumblebee was quickly established as the mascot of the Lawns to Legumes program, which heightened interest in gathering data on Minnesota’s 450-plus native bee species, since bumblebees can be indicator species of the health of other bee populations. The status of these populations is key to the program’s long-term goal to decrease the number of at-risk bees and other pollinators and insects losing habitat to climate change, pesticides, plant pathogens, and lack of nutrition.

Photo by Karen Moon

‘Bee’ the Change

Lawns to Legumes, administered by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), is achieving its conservation goals by offering Minnesota residents a combination of workshops, coaching, planting guides, and Individual Support grants up to $350 to help offset the costs of establishing pollinator habitats. The program also includes “Demonstration Neighborhoods,” which are large-scale conservation sites run by local governments and nonprofits with support from BWSR.

Karen Moon in her pollinator-friendly yard.
Photo by Karen Moon

The program supports four project types for creating pollinator habitats that allow for planting flexibility based on site conditions and gardening experience: native pocket plantings, pollinator lawns, pollinator meadows, and beneficial trees and shrubs. The program also helps residents identify projects that meet community ordinances. In the program’s first year, 7,500 people in 84 of Minnesota’s 87 counties applied for Individual Support grants in two application periods; 1,000 applicants received grants; more than 50 partners and 100 dedicated volunteer coaches joined the effort; and 33,000 people accessed the program’s website. The number of applications received far outpaced available funding, demonstrating strong public interest in programs that support pollinator habitat.

“We had a good response from around the state,” says Dan Shaw, senior ecologist and vegetation specialist at BWSR. “Talking to residents early on, it was evident that people are motivated to be part of the solution for environmental challenges they hear about, including pollinator decline. It can be difficult for the general public to determine what they can do individually to help solve some of these problems. This program provides a way for them to do things that directly benefit the environment,” Shaw says.

6/26/2021 9:27:30 PM

Pollination is the key to survival, too many do not understand this, one small step by Karen Moon in Minnesota leads to many more steps, a Nationwide program even World wide is needed, Education is the key, that and action !

Wendi Volkert
6/25/2021 3:30:54 PM

Yeah for Minnesota! We need our pollinators to survive!

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