The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) is observing National Pollinator Week and continuing its commitment to promote the establishment of pollinator sites across the state.
DelDOT has recently established two new pollinator areas on its’ campus in Dover, adding to the 60 sites previously created through the Department’s “Enhancing Delaware Highways” initiative. The Department’s largest pollinator site, Dove’s Nest, is a 43-acre meadow located adjacent to U.S. 301 in Middletown planted with native wildflowers that bloom across the growing season to ensure that pollinators have a food source all year long and Milkweed to provide a breeding habitat for the monarch butterfly, which has seen its numbers drop by nearly 80 percent.
In addition to supporting pollinators these sites beautify roadside landscapes with native plants and reduce the need for mowing.
“In an average year, DelDOT mows more than 51,000 acres of grass across the state and making some of these areas pollinator-friendly is another way we can increase our commitment to environmental stewardship,” said Secretary of Transportation Nicole Majeski.
In May, the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles’ Support Pollinators license plate was recognized by the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association’s (ALPCA), receiving the Best Plate Award for 2021. The Support Pollinators Plate showcases a combination of vibrant colors, native plants, birds, bees, and butterflies. Purchasing the plate for a one-time fee of $50 online or at any DMV location, helps support pollinator habitat maintenance throughout the State of Delaware. Seventy percent of the fee or $35 goes directly to DelDOT’s Environmental Stewardship Office to assist with creating, enhancing, and preserving pollinator habitats. To date, more that 500 plates have been purchased.
To celebrate the national recognition, visitors to the Delaware State Fair will be able to enter for a chance to win one of the new Support Pollinators plates by stopping by the DelDOT booth in the Delaware building.
National Pollinator Week was initiated and is managed by Pollinator Partnership to address the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations, as pollinators provide pollination services to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1200 crops. Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration, promoting the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, moths, wasps, and flies. More information can be found at pollinator.org.
Controlled burn sets stage for U.S. 301 pollinator site
Photographs available online for media use at Flickr
MIDDLETOWN, Del. — State officials hope that a controlled burn on a 43-acre former farm field along U.S. Route 301 will provide fertile ground for “Delaware’s first pollinator mitigation site” – a place where native wildflowers will flourish and restore lost habitat for pollinators such as bees and birds.
The Delaware Forest Service conducted the successful firing operation on March 20 in cooperation with DelDOT and DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, which supplied valuable personnel, logistical support, and equipment. Thanks to favorable weather conditions and DelDOT lane adjustments on U.S. 301 North, the four-hour burn caused minimal disruptions to traffic and virtually no smoke effects on the adjacent Spring Mill housing development.
A “controlled burn” is a fire that is intentionally set for forest management or other natural resource goals and carefully monitored by trained firefighters and emergency personnel. The Delaware Forest Service uses controlled burn exercises to improve wildfire response capabilities, increase staff training, and ensure equipment readiness. However, fire also helps achieve critical land management objectives. Controlled burns are an effective way to complete site preparation for reforestation and help remove undesirable invasive plant species. For the U.S. 301 project, planners concluded that fire was the best way to remove woody encroachment in order to create and maintain an “early successional habitat” favorable to pollinators. Conversely, if the site was simply left on its own, the area would likely revert to forestland over time.
“The Delaware Forest Service was happy to participate in this multi-agency cooperative project to benefit pollinator and wildlife species along U.S. 301. We hope that Delaware citizens and visitors to the First State will enjoy and appreciate this site for many years to come,” said Kyle Hoyd, Delaware’s assistant state forestry administrator who oversees its wildlfire program.
DelDOT’s plans for the Dove Nest Mitigation Site noted that “pollinator diversity and prevalence have declined in the Middletown area over the past half century, due in part to lost habitat. Pollinators need native, flowering plants and places to lay eggs/nest. Many parts of Delaware that were once agricultural strongholds are rapidly being converted to residential uses, leading to fewer fallow fields and marginal areas, where many wildflowers grow.” That’s when officials began exploring plans to create a pollinator mitigation site.
National Pollinator Week: Pollinator Practices Take Root at DelDOT
Delaware’s drivers may notice more flowers sprouting up on the state’s nearly 14,000 lane miles of roadside this year. The steep decline of monarch butterflies and other pollinator species is believed to be due in part to loss of suitable habitats. Pollinators are animals that help plants reproduce by moving pollen from one part of the plant to another. Because many crops depend on pollination, pollinators contribute billions of dollars’ worth of value to the economy each year.
Over the past several years, DelDOT implemented changes to its management practices to benefit pollinators. In the past, the agency promoted well-manicured turf grass along the state’s roads. These management practices effectively create food deserts for pollinators who depend on blooming plants. To support pollinators, DelDOT started incorporating more native species and clover into its seed mixes, and has transitioned to a reduced mowing regime. For instance, along portions of SR 1, the agency continues to mow a safety strip adjacent to the road, but land beyond the safety strip is not mowed during most of the growing season. This allows wildflowers an opportunity to thrive, which can benefit pollinators.
“There are numerous areas along our roads throughout the state that we have regularly mowed just to keep the natural growth down. This innovative program allows DelDOT to not only help pollinators, but it reduces the amount of mowing in some areas and provides a much more visually appealing landscape by our roads,” said Secretary of Transportation Jennifer Cohan.
“Conservation is an all-hands-on-deck effort and I’m so glad that DelDOT is committing to being part of the solution for Delaware’s native species decline,” said Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, who chaired the Ecological Extinction Task Force and has been a champion for conservation in the General Assembly. “This is a win-win for the agency, for our environment, for taxpayers, and for motorists who get to drive past miles of wildflowers. It’s also a valuable demonstration to individual landowners, businesses, and neighborhoods that best practices for conservation aren’t just ecologically friendly, but also often look better and cost less than the alternative. I’m grateful to Sec. Cohan and her team for their partnership in protecting Delaware’s pollinators and promoting conservation.”
DelDOT is also partnering with other organizations to create more pollinator habitats. DelDOT’s Roadside Environmental Supervisor, Darin Callaway, created experimental pollinator plots through a partnership with Dr. Susan Barton from the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources Extension Program. The results of the experimental plots will inform Delaware’s future pollinator plantings. The agency is also set to break ground on a 43-acre pollinator meadow mitigation site outside of Middletown. DelDOT’s Environmental Planner, Erika Furlong, partnered with DNREC’s Eric Ludwig to design and install the site, and the Delaware Forest Service’s Todd Gsell will help maintain it.
DelDOT has joined 24 energy and transportation organizations to develop a conservation agreement for the monarch butterfly. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is expected to decide whether or not to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act next year. The conservation agreement’s purpose is to facilitate voluntary conservation measures to benefit the monarch butterfly (and other pollinators) by energy and transportation organizations that manage large tracts of land. In exchange, USFWS would provide greater regulatory certainty and help streamline requirements under the Endangered Species Act if the monarch is listed. The efforts are led by the University of Illinois at Chicago and are an outgrowth of the Rights-of-Way as Habitat Working Group.
DelDOT’s pollinator efforts reflect the agency’s commitment to environmental stewardship and to staying in line with industry practices, which increasingly recognize the ecological value of roadsides. At the start of National Pollinator Week, DelDOT hopes residents will help spread the buzz about pollinators and the important role that they play!
Multi-agency approach helps DDA and DNREC protect pollinators in Delaware
DOVER, Del. – Farmers throughout Delaware depend on both honeybees and native bees to pollinate their crops each year. It takes nearly 300 million honeybees to successfully pollinate these crops, which bring more than $38.7 million to the state’s economy.
“The health of pollinators within Delaware is extremely important to the success of our family farms,” said Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse. “From early spring all the way through late summer, bees are pollinating crops that Delawareans love to eat – strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, cantaloupes, cucumbers, apples, squash, cranberries, and pumpkins. Our staff works throughout the year to ensure the safety of bees and to help increase the number of healthy colonies within the state.”
In 2016, the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) released
Delaware’s Managed Pollinator Protection Plan that outlines strategies, best practices, and resources that beekeepers, farmers, landowners, and pesticide applicators can use to help protect and enhance bees and other pollinators. In conjunction with the release of this plan, the Department’s Plant Industries section secured a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant to engage Delaware fruit and vegetable growers and beekeepers in the implementation of the plan to improve the availability and quality of bee forage and to decrease the bees’ risk of pesticide exposure. Both efforts combined to improve the health and vitality of bees, which in turn enhance pollination of crops and also enable increased production of local honey.
“One of the key best management practices that we learned in talking with all the groups involved in developing the pollinator protection plan is communication,” said Laura Mensch, DDA Hydrologist III. “We invested in DriftWatch so that pesticide applicators could check where beekeepers have their hives located before spraying – either on the ground or by aerial application. We are excited to see the recent release of the mobile DriftWatch apps, increasing the potential use and benefit of the tool.” In April 2018, FieldWatch launched two free mobile apps (both Android and iOS) called FieldCheck and BeeCheck. The goal is to make it easier for users to access the DriftWatch map while they are on the go. These new apps will allow more users, especially applicators, to access the specialty crop and beehive data on a highly functional mobile platform.
DDA asks beekeepers to register with BeeCheck so that pesticide applicators know where hives are located when they head out to spray. According to DDA State Apiarist Meghan McConnell, there are 289 registered beekeepers with 5,934 colonies in-state for 2018, but there are only 77 beekeepers registered with BeeCheck. One of those pesticide applicators is the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Delaware Mosquito Control Section. For public awareness, including beekeepers, the Mosquito Control Section implemented a Spray Zone Notification (SZN) System, enabling a registered user to receive an alert via text, phone, or email of upcoming spray activities. Recently, two beekeepers expressed concerns regarding mosquito control aerial spraying in Sussex County and alleged impacts to the health of honeybees used for pollination there. Neither had registered with the Spray Zone Notification System.
The Mosquito Control Section’s primary work is preventing mosquito-borne diseases in humans, domestic livestock, and pets, and helping promote and maintain good quality-of-life for Delawareans and visitors, while also lessening adverse impacts to local economies that severe mosquito infestations can cause. Nineteen of the 57 mosquito species found in Delaware are known to bite humans and several can transmit mosquito-borne diseases such as Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus. In particular, the native common house mosquito is primarily a nighttime biter but is also active around dawn and dusk, and is the primary transmitter for West Nile virus in Delaware.
Eliminating breeding habitat is the best means of controlling several types of mosquitoes, but control of other species that can also transmit disease or severely affect quality-of-life often relies on timely insecticide treatments for larval or adult mosquito stages. Therefore, the Mosquito Control Section flies over areas that could become mosquito-infested, applying larvicides to water bodies as a preventive measure and adulticides if an area is already infested, and spraying only by adhering to strict protocols for public health and safety including use only of EPA-approved pesticides.
In collaboration with DDA on the Delaware Managed Pollinator Protection Plan, DNREC’s Mosquito Control Section updated standard operating procedures (SOPs) when treatments are needed around honeybees or their hives. More information on DNREC’s rationale behind their work with bees is available online.
DNREC utilizes Integrated Pest Management (IPM), employing wherever practicable non-insecticidal, source reduction measures such as water management or fish-stocking for larval mosquito control. If source reduction cannot be used or is ineffective, larvicide spraying for mosquito control is used – but such spraying does not have potential for conflicts with pollinating activities, since larvicides are applied primarily in marshes or wet woodlands, and do not have modes of action that would adversely affect honeybees.
As a last option, if larviciding cannot be done or has proven ineffective, DNREC’s Mosquito Control utilizes adulticides applied by aircraft or via truck-mounted sprayers. Aerial applications occur during late evening or early morning, for more effective mosquito control and also to minimize adverse impacts to honeybees, since they are less active or already back in their hives. Ground application of adulticides by truck-mounted sprayers (“fogging”) almost always occurs at night when honeybees are in the hive.
“The Delaware Beekeepers Association (DBA), along with Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) share a common goal – to maintain a healthy population of managed honeybee colonies in Delaware,” said DBA Secretary Rebecca Rendeiro. Aerial spraying for mosquitoes is complex, and while it does not affect every beekeeper, it is important that that there are measures in place to help protect bees to decrease the chance of a colony loss due to pesticide application, while at the same time still enabling adequate mosquito control.
Also, Delaware Department of Agriculture’s pesticide inspectors work in each county to ensure pesticides are properly applied. “Our inspectors conduct announced and unannounced visits throughout the state, including inspections of DNREC’s Mosquito Control applicators,” said DDA Pesticide Administrator Christopher Wade. “We make sure that applicators are using the product properly and safely according to the label specifications in order to protect the health of the public and pollinators.”
If beekeepers suspect that their colonies have been affected by pesticides, they can file a complaint with the Department of Agriculture. In the past year, three complaints were filed and investigated, all crop-related and none involving Mosquito Control spraying. Wade said, “We take a team approach to our investigation since we now have Meghan (McConnell, State Apiarist) on staff. Our inspectors collect samples for pesticide analysis and Meghan looks at the health of the colony and can determine if there are any other health concerns for the bees. It’s helpful for the beekeeper to have their colonies inspected.” In one instance, a notice of warning was issued to the applicator and the grower to be mindful of label directions, and an advisory was issued to the beekeeper for not alerting the grower that hives were on the premises.
Similarly, after decades of Mosquito Control adulticiding, reports of suspected damages to honeybees or hives from such treatments are few. “When we look at bee health and the number one loss for colonies in Delaware, it’s not pesticides,” said State Apiarist McConnell. “Delaware has been fighting Varroa mites since 1994 and Small Hive Beetle since 2001. When we look at colony loss in Delaware, the majority is caused by Varroa mites and the viruses transmitted by them. Bees will not survive the winter, even with enough honey stores, if there are viruses and diseases present.”
Collaboration between state agencies and beekeepers is the key to keeping honeybees safe. DNREC’s Mosquito Control Section has implemented tools to assist beekeepers and to help keep the public informed in advance of mosquito control spray activities. Beekeepers (and members of the public) can sign up for the Mosquito Control Spray Zone Notification System, a two-step process that allows a user to select their spray zone area of interest and then register to receive an alert via text, phone, or email of upcoming spray activity in that area. If beekeepers have concerns on where or when spraying is scheduled to take place relative to beehive locations or honeybee foraging areas, they should contact the Mosquito Control Section to express their concerns.
As a pesticide applicator, DNREC’s Mosquito Control Section also has the ability to check the FieldCheck and BeeCheck apps, and plan spray operations to the extent practicable around data taken from those apps. But if beekeepers have not registered with Mosquito Control’s spray notification system, or if their beehive locations are not kept up to date in FieldCheck and BeeCheck, DNREC’s Mosquito Control Section will not know that hives are located in an area when spraying there for mosquitoes.
The Delaware Department of Agriculture, DNREC’s Mosquito Control Section and the Delaware Beekeepers Association urge anyone who keeps bees in Delaware to register their bee hives and sign up for all the apps that are available that can help protect the state’s valuable pollinators.
Southern Delaware School of the Arts student wins Arbor Day Poster Contest
Amelia Meyer, a fifth-grader at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts in Selbyville, won the Delaware Forest Service’s 2018 Arbor Day School Poster Contest, beating entries from more than 3,200 students in 43 classes. “Trees Are Terrific…and Perfect for Pollinators!” was the theme chosen to highlight the important role of trees in the health of pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The annual contest is open to grade K to 5 students in all Delaware public, private, charter, and home schools. Winners were selected from each county in the following grades: K, 1-2, 3-4, and 5. Posters were evaluated on originality, use of theme, neatness, and artistic expression.
Kindergarten – Michael Foracre – Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary, Laurel Grades 1-2 – Yojana Garcia-Lopez – Mispillion Elementary, Milford Grades 3-4 – Samantha Geidel – Southern Delaware School of the Arts, Selbyville Grade 5 – Amelia Meyer – Southern Delaware School of the Arts, Selbyville
Winners will receive their awards from Delaware Governor John Carney at the Delaware Forest Service’s Arbor Day Ceremony in Dover on May 4, 2018. Each winner receives a tree-themed book and a print reproduction of their poster on fine art canvas. Thanks to corporate sponsor Delmarva Power, a free tree planting ceremony will also be held at each winner’s school. In addition, every participating classroom receives free pine seedlings for all participants. Once again this year, students from the Middletown High School FFA Chapter and senior volunteers from the Modern Maturity Center in Dover are wrapping thousands of seedlings to distribute to schoolchildren statewide.