By SARA RUBERG
Lisa Salamon gardens out of guilt.
She began gardening for aesthetics. When she started, Salamon used a powder on her plants to kill off worms that resembled bird droppings. Years later, Salamon discovered the worms she was killing were actually black swallowtail caterpillars.
She realized the impact she was having on pollinators, such as butterflies and bees. Now, at her home in Minerva, she chooses to garden ethically, keeping in mind the insects and pollinators that use her garden for shelter and food.
“If we don’t have pollinators, we don’t eat,” Salamon said.
A majority of global crops, like fruits and vegetables, rely on pollinators. They are in steep decline due to various factors including habitat loss and climate change.
Salamon was one of the organizers involved in AdkAction’s first pollinator symposium Wednesday in North Creek, focusing on planting for pollinators. The event was part of a collaboration between AdkAction, Lake Placid Land Conservancy, The Wild Center and Paul Smith’s College called the Pollinator Project. The project’s purpose is to educate citizens, farmers, government officials and all land owners on the importance of protecting pollinators.
Brittany Christenson, the executive director of AdkAction, was another organizer for the symposium.
“I think that helping to create habitat for pollinators is really empowering because it’s something that’s so seemingly small,” Christenson said. “But it opens up a door to a whole world of conservation and organic and sustainable practices and a whole set of ethics that can inform the way we live our lives.”
Five speakers presented on ways citizens can take action to help pollinators. Keynote speaker, author and garden designer Benjamin Vogt, not only taught the audience how he designs gardens, but introduced various philosophical and cultural reasons for creating a garden that recreates habitat for pollinators. He even exhibited his own garden—a yard flourishing with native plants and flowers, and only a sliver of grassy lawn, set in the middle of suburban Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Plants are not art,” Vogt said during his presentation. “Gardens have a deeply ethical component that we can’t ignore in a time of mass extinction.”
Vogt and other speakers encouraged audience members to create pollinator gardens at their homes, and also push for them in their communities’ recreational spaces and outside of businesses. The gardens are meant to revive the massive pollinator habitat loss in North America.
Sarah Foltz Jordan, a Xerces Society senior pollinator conservation specialist, revealed the endangered rusty patched bumblebee has suffered an 87 percent loss in its habitat range. They are not the only bumblebees vanishing—roughly a quarter of all North American bumblebee species face the threat of extinction. Bumblebees were used to represent the widespread disappearance experts are seeing in many pollinators across the country.
“(Pollinators) are essential to the longevity of our natural landscape,” Foltz Jordan said, “They are a keystone species. They are pollinating more 85 percent of our flowering plants.”
Many attended the event to get details on what they could do to save pollinator populations and ethically balance a beautiful garden with a useful one. They learned about killing weeds without chemicals, and judging the right times to mow.
Susan Sheridan, a master gardener from New Jersey and part time resident of Schroon Lake, attended the symposium because of her love of gardening and interest in native plants. She has pollinator gardens at both of her homes.
“I’ve evolved beyond having perfect roses to wanting native (plants),” Sheridan said.
There are many ways home gardeners can help pollinators: use little or no chemicals like herbicides, grow plants native to the region, leave your garden up for the winter and enjoy the little details that can connect you with your garden and nature in general.
The Pollinator Project will continue to help gardeners achieve these goals throughout the summer. With the help of their new mobile pollinator garden trailer, their goal is to distribute 20,000 seed packets, install 10 to 15 pollinator gardens, engage with gardeners at farmers markets and more. Their ultimate goal is to spread awareness of pollinator decline and empower action in Adirondack communities.
Jay Burney presented one example of what can be accomplished when communities work together to save pollinators and native species. Burney is the special project director and founder of the Pollinator Conservation Association.
For years, Burney, his colleagues and other community members protested the construction of apartment buildings around Times Beach Nature Preserve in Buffalo. After years of meetings, protests and lawsuits, New York State bought the land and promised it would be an area for conservation and protection of the native species and plants.
“The Buffalo Greenway project really inspires me,” Christenson said in reaction to his story. “I think that there’s a lot of opportunities to do more of that in the Adirondacks.”