By Emma Fiala
Minnesota’s Legislature just approved a spending plan that would set aside $900,000 over one year to assist homeowners in turning their lawns into bee-friendly habitats. That’s right—the state of Minnesota wants to pay residents to make their lawns better for bees.
The plan aims to replenish the food source of the rusty patched bumble bee—a fuzzy and fat bee on the brink of extinction—though it will be beneficial to pollinators of all shapes and sizes.
Available funds will cover some of the costs associated with transitioning a traditional grass lawn into one full of wildflowers like creeping thyme, self-heal, ground plum and dandelions, as well as clovers and grasses native to the area.
“When people look at these flowers, they see a nuisance, they see a weed. I see a forage for pollinators,” James Wolfin, a graduate student working at the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab, said.
“A pound of Dutch white clover is about $7 and it grows low enough that people wouldn’t even have to change the way they mow their lawn,” Wolfin said. As many as 55 of Minnesota’s 350 species of bees have been observed snacking on Dutch white clover, “so just by not treating white clover like a weed and letting it grow in a yard provides a really powerful resource for nearly 20% of the bee species in the state,” Wolfin added.
Research at the university has shown how important bumblebees are to the Upper Midwest. Unbeknownst to most people, these bees vibrate in a frequency close to a middle C note and, when sitting on a flowering plant, this vibration unlocks pollen that other insects would have otherwise been unable to reach.
Under the plan, 75% of the cost of converting a traditional lawn to a bee-friendly one will be reimbursed by the state of Minnesota’s Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), with up to 90% of the cost covered in areas considered to have a “high potential” to support the rusty patched bee.
The new law was buried within the state’s omnibus Environment bill and is awaiting Governor Tim Walz’s signature. And while an earlier version of the plan would have provided funds for a three year program, the pared down version is a step in the right direction nonetheless.
Even though the funds won’t be available until 2020, locals are already excited at the prospect. State Representative Kelly Morison, who introduced the bill, said:
I have gotten a ton of emails and so much feedback from people who are interested in this. People are really thinking about how they can help.
It is not yet known how and when residents will be able to apply for the program. According to BWSR spokeswoman Mary July, officials are still putting together the program’s specifics.